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ICO makes mincemeat of nativity data protection piffle

Parents can take pics of their kids. Sing hosanna!

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (pdf) is sending a seasonal note to schools to reiterate that parents taking pics of their offspring kitted out as angels or shepherds is not a Data Protection matter.

Meanwhile, Leicester police - previously castigated as bearers of bad tidings - have declared goodwill to all men bearing cameras, and stated publicly that no one will be arrested just for snapping the school play.

Back in 2007, the Information Commissioner was praised for injecting what was then described as "a welcome dose of common sense" into the debate. He did much the same last year, and now he is issuing fresh guidance that states quite categorically: "The Data Protection Act does not prevent family and friends from taking photographs at school concerts or plays [this Christmas]".

Schools, of course, still need to obtain permission, as does any other individual or body where photographs are not merely for personal use and where they are likely to end up as processable data. That last caveat is important, and in most cases almost certainly exempts old-fashioned hard copy photography from the rules.

Slightly confusingly, the guidance (pdf) also talks about media possibly needing to get permission to take photographs of children. A spokeswoman for the ICO explained that the DPA does not necessarily apply in such cases, but they simply wanted to clarify "good practice".

Not that such guidelines prevent the "banned by the DPA" line from circulating as one of the modern age’s most persistent urban myths.

A report in the Mail this week tells the sorry tale of Lee Ingram, a parent supposedly barred from taking photos of his children during the nativity play at Imperial Avenue Infant School in Braunstone, Leicester. The report implies that this is for reasons of Data Protection – although this is strenuously denied by the local LEA.

Their official line is that the school’s Head Teacher Jenny Pickering consulted with governors, and decided on balance that since some parents were happy for their children to be snapped and others weren’t, she would impose a blanket ban on all parental photography during plays.

The Mail's report also claims that police were called to the school, and Mr Ingram was then threatened with arrest for breach of the peace. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The LEA tell us that the police intervention was a local CSO who just happened to be in the audience at the time – and that claims by Mr Ingram that the police phoned him this year to warn him off were untrue.

Leicestershire police, too, are adamant that they would assess all calls on a "case by case basis", and that they clearly would not need to intervene in a dispute over a purely civil matter.

According to Laura Midgley, co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, Ingram is known as a supporter of a number of their campaigns.

As far as photo-bans go, Midgley told us: “The problem is an over-zealous desire to protect children and a willingness to quote data protection, which doesn’t in fact solve any problems - and is more likely to create problems by missing the real issues.”

The official line from the ICO, from LEAs (not just Leicester) with whom we have spoken today and local police is that this is not obviously a data protection matter: that in most cases, schools aren’t even claiming it is. But on the evidence so far, that won’t stop some schools claiming it is – or even more papers claiming that they have claimed it is. ®

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