Data Protection and public photographs

Oxford Times Online has a story about a man who, whilst being given a parking ticket by a traffic warden, spotted that she had herself parked on a double-yellow line and took a photograph of her. She “ordered” him to delete the photograph, saying that taking photographs of her was in breach of the Data Protection Act, and threatened to call the police when he refused to do so.

There are four distinct elements here – the alleged parking offence, the warden’s own parking, the Data Protection Point and the threat to call the police. Of those, three are easily disposed of.

If the man was parked on a properly-placed line he cannot (and in fact does not) complain abot the ticket.

The fact that the warden was herself illegally parked is part of the hypocrisy of government which we expect, from Gordon Brown all the way down to – well to traffic wardens at the very bottom of the bureaucratic slime-heap. Oxfordshire County Council is forever arguing that yellow lines are used only where absolutely necessary for safety or traffic-flow reasons. If that were really so, then it is just as unsafe if the car belongs to a traffic warden. Actually it is wrong to say that traffic wardens are at the bottom of the heap; it is said that if you fail the traffic warden’s entrance exam – you can’t write your name, or tell the time or read a number-plate – they give you a job in the highways department of Oxfordshire County Council designing the next set of signs, lines, barriers and blockages.

As to calling for the police, well, good luck dear. In Oxford you might as well call for a man from Mars or for the Deity to appear as try to get a policeman out. It is a different matter if you want a middle-aged woman councillor beaten up for defending trees (see Westgate Plods duff up Green woman) but if you just want protection from crime in the street, forget it. Or no crime, in this case.

For that leads us to the worst part of this story. It is not a breach of the Data Protection Act to photograph a public servant carrying out public duties. Every two-bit Jobsworth invokes the Data Protection Act when they want to stop you doing something, or feels like being difficult. I have taken to doing it pre-emptively whenever some official asks me for information – “Sorry, can’t tell you that. Data Protection”.

The police, or some of them, go further and try and restrain public photography by relying on the Terrorism Act. It is said that black and brown photographers are finding it increasingly difficult to take photographs in the street. Those policemen whom you can never find when you are being mugged or raped appear from nowhere and drag them off for interrogation. Part of Gordon Brown’s difficulties when trying to increase the state’s powers to bang up passers by stem from the fact that every new power gives some thick official the excuse to redefine on the hoof what is illegal.

So, if someone in apparent authority “orders” you to delete your photographs, you should decline – politely, of course. Ask them by what authority they make this demand. What Act, and what section of that Act, gives them the power to issue the order? Ask them, in turn for their name, rank and where you can contact their superior. If they lay a finger on you, report them for assault.

The story linked to above, about Oxford’s police (three of them – she was a very dangerous middle-aged female councillor) beating up a tree protester behind the Westgate has a variant on this. As they were dragging the woman away, a uniformed policeman held up his hand in front of the video camera recording the incident. If that happens to you, ask why. What, you might ask, are they so ashamed of that they seek to block the evidence?

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Bureaucrats, Civil Liberties, Oxford, Oxford parking, Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire Highways, Police, Uncategorized, Westgate. Bookmark the permalink.

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