Sunday 15 September 2019

Irish privacy watchdog says schools wrong to ban parents for taking photos at communions or sports days 'because of GDPR'

Communion. Stock image
Communion. Stock image
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Irish school principals who tell parents they cannot take photos at communions or sports days “because of GDPR” are wrong, says Ireland’s data privacy authority.

The Data Protection Commissioner has issued new guidance because of confusion among parents, teachers and children's organisations over the matter.

“This type of activity falls under the so-called household exemption under the GDPR,” says the DPC’s newly-published guidance.

“This provides that the GDPR does not apply when a person processes personal data, for example, a photograph of someone, in the course of a purely personal or household activity.”

The privacy authority also says that GDPR doesn’t strictly prohibit posting photos taken at school events on social media, either.

“Personal or household activities could include social networking,” the watchdog says. “However, if a parent published a photo of their child online that also contained images of other children, and the parent of one of the other children was uncomfortable with this and asked the parent to take the photo down, common sense and indeed common courtesy would suggest that you should take the photo down.”

The data watchdog has issued the advice following a large number of questions on the subject.

“The DPC often receives queries from schools, parents and even photographers about taking photographs at school events,” the authority says. “These events range from concerts and football matches, right up to sports days, holy communions and award ceremonies.”

In general, the DPC says that people have a right to take photos of others in public places.

“There is nothing under the GDPR prohibiting people from taking photos in a public place,” it says. “Provided you’re not harassing anyone, taking photographs of people in public is generally allowed.”

But publishing a photo of someone may not be allowed, depending on the audience and the nature of the publication.

“Whether you can publish a photograph to a broad-based audience is a different question,” the guidance says. “In other words, taking a photo in public is generally fine, it’s what you do with that photo that can potentially become a data protection issue.”

The DPC says that outright school bans on photos may not be enforceable under data protection law.

“While it is at the discretion of schools to create their own policies on these matters for closed school events, it may be rather difficult to enforce an outright ban in the name of data protection on taking photos at, for example, the school’s production of Grease the Musical which members of the public can also attend,” it says.

While the advice from the DPC gives some clarity to basic legal presumptions around taking photos at school and public events, it does not specify when there is a clear right to object to a photo being taken. In the case of a parent who objects to another parent taking a photo of her child in a sports match, the DPC is unable to say who has the law on their side.

Instead, it says that parents and schools should try to use “common sense” to resolve disputes.

“We live in a world where every owner of a smartphone is a potential photographer,” its guidance says. “The GDPR does not provide an exact roadmap on when it’s permissible to take and publish photographs in the context of school events.

"However, a balanced, common sense approach will go a long way towards ensuring that individuals’ rights are respected, while also ensuring that data protection doesn’t become an obstacle to capturing and celebrating significant school events.”

Online Editors

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