Exposing a myth about photography

VICTORIA JUDGE, a partner in the business law department at Gotelee Solicitors, explodes a seasonal myth concerning data protection

IT’S that time of year again.

Halls are being decked with holly, trees are being trimmed and the Information Commissioner (the body responsible for policing the data protection laws in the UK) has issued a press release stating that it does not breach data protection laws to take photographs of children in school plays.

Press releases of this nature are now a festive favourite, with similar releases having been issued twice in 2009 (in April and November), in September 2008 and as long ago as December 2005.

Yet the myth about data protection preventing taking photographs in schools persists.

It is entirely clear, and always has been, that the data protection laws do not apply to personal information (which sometimes includes a photograph) recorded for personal or domestic use – including, for example, pictures of your kids in their nativity play or another school event.

However, that does not mean that you are free to snap away.

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If the school says you cannot take pictures or can only take pictures at a certain time then usually it is entitled to do so. This has nothing to do with data protection.

Remember, if you are on school property, the school has, in effect, licensed you to be there. If one of the conditions of your licence to be there is that you do not take pictures or only take pictures at a certain time then abide by those rules.

If you breach the terms of your licence to be on school premises the upshot is that you are trespassing.

Ridiculous you may think but hang on a minute. The school may have good reason to restrict taking photographs to a particular time.

Those reasons may be very serious indeed (child protection) or simply that flash photography might make Mary and Joseph forget their lines.

Think, what if there is a child protection issue?

Perhaps there is a vulnerable child who has been moved to the school for his or her own protection; a child from a violent or otherwise abusive background whose whereabouts need to be kept secret for fear of repercussions.

It may be harmful if the image of that child is, say, disseminated via Facebook or another social networking site.

If photography is restricted I suggest you abide by the school’s rules.

However, if photography is banned and data protection is used as the justification this plain wrong and always has been.