Jul 17, 2015

Twitterverse Reacts to Helicopter Surveillance Image of McIntyre

The comedian, Michael McIntyre, and his publicist Alison Peters, have been spotted, snapped and tweeted on the National Police Air Support Unit (NPAS) official Twitter account. A photograph of the pair has raised lots of question as to whether someone's image from such a camera does invade their privacy, why would it be used on an official twitter account, and is it unlawful?

The photograph posted on Wednesday at 10:34, looks as though it had been taken just after 09:00 and although the image is grainy, the caption made it clear "Whilst on tasking in central London this morning we spotted a certain energetic funny man... Can you guess who?...". The grainy image when posted still showed the latitude and longitude co-ordinates which appears to show that the helicopter was circling between Leicester Square and Covent Garden Tube stations.

This Unit provides helicopter air support to ground police to help find criminals and missing people with their on board camera. The police unit states that the helicopter's tasks can fall into four categories:

Public and Police Safety
Intelligence Gathering
Tactical Support
Counter Terrorism

The answer as to whether the picture is lawful or an invasion of the comedian's privacy is that taking the photograph is not a breach but the publication of photo could be. The Metropolitan Police have denied that this act was a breach and insist that no laws were broken, saying: "this tweet does not, as far as we know, constitute a breach of data protection legislation", adding that it "was deleted due to negative responses on Twitter". Many on Twitter believed that it was an invasion of his privacy and are oppose to this type of tweet.

The tweet has since been deleted but the Information Commissioner's Office has launched an investigation stating: "The police especially must ensure that they have legitimate grounds for processing personal data, and disclosing images of this nature without a justifiable policing purpose could potentially breach the Data Protection Act. We will follow this up with the force concerned."

The UK has built up its privacy laws through the Human Rights Act and case law. Simon McKay, a criminal and human rights lawyer, claimed "The Metropolitan Police is a data controller and this is personal data, so there are compliance issues. On the face of it, it also breaches the CCTV Code of Practice." The UK's camera commissioner Tony Porter said it seemed to violate a code of conduct that ensured cameras are used for crime-fighting or public safety, he said: "If there is no operational requirement you shouldn't be invading that person's privacy."

This post has put the NPAS under scrutiny and NPAS ground operations director Richard Watson said "we will be speaking to the person who posted the tweet".

Many have the same view on this type of police privacy invasion. Rachel Robinson, of human rights group Liberty, stated the tweet is the latest example in a "blasé attitude" towards privacy. UKIP MEP Gerard Batten called it a "gross misuse" and went on to state: "It isn't some private citizen taking a snap of a passing celebrity, this is the police, abusing their authority."

Michael McIntyre is yet to comment on this post.

Posted by: in: Digital/Tech, News

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