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Police protester snap did not breach rights

High court finds for plod in privacy case

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Police-ordered photography of an anti-arms trade protester did not breach the protester's privacy rights, the High Court has ruled. It is one of the few times that such alleged intrusion by the state rather than the media has been the subject of a UK ruling.

Andrew Wood, a media co-ordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), claimed that the taking and storage of police photos was a violation of his privacy, but because they were taken in the public street and retained only for a specific purpose, the High Court rejected the claims.

Wood attended the London annual general meeting (AGM) of Reed Elsevier, part of which is Spearhead Exhibitions, a company that holds arms trade fairs. Though he asked one question described by the court as "unobjectionable", he was photographed by a police photographer outside the hotel where the AGM was held.

He refused to identify himself and was followed to an underground station where police attempted to learn his identity from his travel documents with the help of London Underground staff.

Article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights safeguards the right to a private and family life, and Wood claimed that this was infringed by the taking and retention of the photos.

The police argued that there was no permanent file being kept on Wood, and that the photographs would be stored and used only by public order officers in order to prevent offences at future events.

Mr Justice McCombe of the High Court said that the case was complicated by the involvement of the state, rather than the more common privacy invader, the media.

"It is perhaps intrusion by the state with which the draftsmen of the Convention would have been particularly concerned in 1949 and I felt throughout the case the importance that the courts should attach to vigilance in this area, while recognising the difficulties of police forces in democratic societies in protecting us all from criminal behaviour," he said in his ruling.

The Court examined high profile cases of alleged privacy invasion, the case of Princess Caroline of Monaco in which the press were found to have intruded on her privacy in a series of photos of her undertaking mundane daily activities.

It also looked at the case of Naomi Campbell against the Mirror group of newspapers, in which it was found that the publishing of a photograph of the model leaving narcotics anonymous was an invasion of her privacy, though the actual taking of the photographs was not.

"It seems clear from these cases that the mere taking of a person's photograph in a public street may not generally interfere with that person's right of privacy under Article 8," said the ruling. "More is usually required before that threshold is crossed, for example if there is the type of encyclopaedic press recording and subsequent publication of photographs of the comings and goings of a person, as there was of Princess Caroline in the Von Hannover case, or the taking and publication of photographs tending to expose medical confidences to the public gaze, as in the Campbell case."

The judge ruled that the taking of the photos did not infringe Woods' rights, and that the retention of the photos could not be considered an interference if DNA samples, a much more personal record of identity than a photograph, could be lawfully retained.

Mr Justice McCombe pointed out that Woods was attending a public AGM in an official protesting capacity as media co-ordinator of the protest group, and that the company was one which had been the victim of protesters' criminal activity in the past.

"[Woods] was photographed in a public street, in circumstances in which police presence could not have been unexpected by [Woods] or by anyone else," he ruled. "The images were to be retained, without general disclosure, for very limited purposes. The retention of the images was not part of the compilation of a general dossier of information concerning [Woods] of the type that has been held in the past to constitute an interference with Article 8 rights."

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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