EU Court Says Simply Taking Someone's Photo Can Violate Their Civil Rights

from the who-did-what-now? dept

I’m definitely a big supporter of privacy rights, but sometimes it seems that big time privacy rights supporters go too far. The latest is that an EU court on human rights has declared that simply taking someone’s photograph can be a violation of their privacy. In the past, laws in Europe have said that you can’t necessarily publish a photo of someone without their permission, but merely taking the photo was allowed. No longer. In the press release about the decision, the court explained its reasoning:

“The Court reiterated that the concept of private life was a broad one which encompassed the right to identity. It stressed that a person’s image revealed his or her unique characteristics and constituted one of the chief attributes of his or her personality. The Court added that effective protection of the right to control one’s image presupposed, in the present circumstances, obtaining the consent of the person concerned when the picture was being taken and not just when it came to possible publication.”

Now, I could potentially understand such reasoning in private settings, but the statements above don’t seem to limit the issue to private settings. The situation in the case itself also highlights what’s a gray area between public and private. It involved a hospital that photographed a newborn baby — as it does with all newborn babies. The parents protested and demanded the negatives, claiming that the photograph violated their baby’s privacy rights — and the court agreed. What’s troubling is the implications of such a ruling, that you simply cannot photograph anyone without their official approval. This will almost certainly lead to new lawsuits, and even begins to raise some other questions. If it’s a violation of someone’s privacy rights to photograph them, at what point is it a violation of their rights just to see them?

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Comments on “EU Court Says Simply Taking Someone's Photo Can Violate Their Civil Rights”

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

This will almost certainly lead to new lawsuits…

Considering this decision was made by lawyers, why am I not shocked by this?

at what point is it a violation of their rights just to see them?

I remember back in the late 80s when the radical women’s right movement considered a guy staring at a woman to be guilty of a hate crime.

And I seem to remember the UK banning non-parents from public parks because they might look at children.

hegemon13 says:

Mixed feelings

I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I do feel that the parents had a right to demand that the negatives and/or digital files be destroyed/deleted. On the other hand, I do NOT think that this should extend to the parents’ right to sue for damages. What damages could possibly exist? Also, I don’t think that it should be automatic that it is wrong to take a picture of someone. However, if they specifically demand the photos be destroyed, they should be.

This right, however, should also be forfeit in a public setting, or security cameras, etc, would be useless. Whether a room in a postnatal ward is a private setting is debatable, but I would say it is. It is secure, not just anyone can wander in, and even doctors are supposed to knock before entering when the door is closed. That creates a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Death to Tourism

How long before some innocent tourist gets slapped with a lawsuit for simply taking a picture that includes some local yokel or their dwelling? How long after that before tourism in Europe drops to zero? It seems like people will lose interest in visiting places where something as routine as taking a photograph might get you sued — in a foreign court, no less.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Death to Tourism

“It seems like people will lose interest in visiting places where something as routine as taking a photograph might get you sued”

Well, you guys are certainly ahead of us in that regard…. At least we let people into the country before abusing them of their dignity and rights. You wouldn’t believe how many people return from a US holiday swearing never to return thanks to the treatment they get at the hands of the TSA.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Death to Tourism

“Only when the people themselves have a direct say in its makeup will it be worth anything.”

Like the European Parliament elections? Or are you thinking of something more direct? If so, please supply us with your idea of a system that would equally benefit all 27 member nations in a more direct way that currently implemented…

Carmon says:

Re: Re:

Are you guys in 3rd grade or what?

Of couse security cameras won’t be illegal. Because thats what they are for, security of ones personal property. You can’t say you want your privacy when your in someone’s private business.

The point of the story is you just can’t go up to someone out walking with their family and start snapping photo’s of them. I think it’s for your safety and the safety of the person taking the picture. I don’t know about you but if I had some wierdo following me taking pictures I can’t be responsible if I just decide to shove his camera in his you no what because he is invading my private space. I have small kids also. Would you like it if someone who could be a pervert starts snapping photos of your children even though you tell them to stop? I dont think so.

Kirk says:

Honey! get those people away from the fountain. I want a picture!

If it’s illegal to photograph someone without his or her consent, how can you reasonably take photographs of anything when in a public place? How long will it be until they have camera control laws to mirror gun control laws? Where do I get my camera license? Will government officials and police be included in this new reality? East Berlin, anyone? It seems a great way to put a lid on some of that damnable accountability created by citizen-level photographic and videographic evidence.
Maybe some in Europe will form the European Camara Association.
The ECA reminds you: Cameras don’t take pictures of babies; people take pictures of babies.
It sounds like the couple bringing the suit are afraid of government reaching too far into their lives. Maybe they should have though things through to the next logical step.

GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

Extremely bad lawyer-ing here.

The parents of the baby have no rights the light bouncing off of their baby while in the hospital. That light clearly belonged to the hospital, as the hospital pays for the light fixtures and the electricity to run them.

Now had the the photo been taken outdoors in sunlight, it would have been another matter. The owner of the Sun would have majority standing in this case.

What’s really, really sad about what I have just written, is that there will be a lawyer or two out there that will actually agree with this argument.

Anonymous Coward says:

From the article…

“As a commercial service operated by the hospital his photograph was taken” and “he Court added that effective protection of the right to control one’s image presupposed, in the present circumstances…”

It sounds like the Court restricted the effect of the ruling somewhat so it didn’t rule that ALL pictures taken in public are now a violation of someone’s privacy. The picture was taken as a commercial service – without asking the parents. THAT seems to be the problem.

If it was just a holiday snapshot that happened to catch the baby in the frame, or for ID purposes, then the Court might have ruled otherwise.

ChrisB (profile) says:

In this down economy, here is a new opportunity to make money:

1. Go the the UK
2. Walk around the tourist attractions
3. Sue the pants off anybody who catches me in a photo of said tourist attraction.

…horrible, horrible decision.

More thoughts: How about if a News camera “photographs” someone? The tape might not make it off the cutting room floor, but it sounds like from this ruling that if they taped you it would be in violation of your rights.

LostSailor says:

Likely to be a narrow decision

The article and the English press release on which the article is based, may possibly be overstating the ruling of the decision. The first part was procedural (whether the Greek court should have heard the case) and it’s unclear to me at least what the ruling means in that regard.

But the wording “in the present circumstances” seems significant. The hospital had a commercial service supplying photographs of all newborns. They sent a commercial photographer into a sterile room to photograph the newborn child. They took photographs of a minor child without the parents permission. These are problematic circumstances and it appears that the parents couldn’t get a court to deal with these circumstances, so they took the route of going to the ECHR on a procedural and substantive privacy issue.

Before rushing to judgment or extending this to tourists taking photos in public, the entire ruling should be read (it’s available only in French). This wasn’t a photo taken in a public place.

If it turns out that the ECHR ruling is being interpreted and implemented broadly to forbid taking photographs in open public places, I’ll gladly join in the condemnation. But these things aren’t always what they seem at first blush.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Likely to be a narrow decision

As you so aptly note, the facts pertinent to matters such as this are quite important. It is interesting, however, that this issue arises in Europe. Some time ago Eugene Volokh had an article that reflected an interesting aspect of how some in Europe view the dignity of “individuals”, to wit:

Ever since I read it I have felt quite guilty about doing the simple act of mowing my lawn.

Wiggins says:

Blown out of proportion

All the commenters here are blowing this out of proportion, much like they always do when they just read masnick’s interpretation of an article instead of the source article.

The baby was not in a public place walking around, it was held under duress and its picture taken for COMMERICAL gain without its or its gaurdians consent. When the parents requested the copies, the hospital, along with a greek court REFUSED it.

At a restaurant i like to eat at they have old photos hanging on the walls, one booth i sit at has a large photo of some civil soldiers before going off to battle. One of the soldiers faces has a clear expression of utter despondance, Did this man know he was going to be brooding over someone’s chicken strips for all time? DO you think he would have agreed to it if he knew? He wasn’t given the option, and now he is forced to stare out his death stare for all time.

But to get back on point, yes if i am walking around town and you take a picture of me, and then REFUSE to destroy it or get my consent to publish it, you have very much so violated my civil rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Blown out of proportion

Yet it’s just a short slide down a slippery slope to the point where anyone taking a photo, where the photo includes the personal characteristics of another person (i.e., their image) is also considered a violation of privacy. I’d bet my last dollar that in less than a year, such a suit will be filed, at great expense to some poor sap who was simply taking a photograph to remember his vacation.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Blown out of proportion

It was such a short slide that he was already there.

He started out the comment by saying that it was not about public pictures (ignoring the insult to Techdirt readers)…

“The baby was not in a public place walking around, it was held under duress and its picture taken for COMMERICAL gain without its or its gaurdians consent. When the parents requested the copies, the hospital, along with a greek court REFUSED it.”

…and then ended his comment by stating that public pictures violate his rights.

“But to get back on point, yes if i am walking around town and you take a picture of me, and then REFUSE to destroy it or get my consent to publish it, you have very much so violated my civil rights.”

He made it down that slippery slope and kept going. News reporting must suck in EU.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Blown out of proportion

He’s the guy planning to file the lawsuit. I saw him hanging around the Eiffel Tower, hoping someone would accidentally take his photo. And I saw his photo hanging on the wall in a restaurant, staring at my bowl of ravioli. Did he even ask me if he could stare at my ravioli? Isn’t that a violation of my civil rights? I think photographs should ask my permission before looking at me or my things.

nasch says:

Re: Blown out of proportion

But to get back on point, yes if i am walking around town and you take a picture of me, and then REFUSE to destroy it or get my consent to publish it, you have very much so violated my civil rights.

Violated your right to what? Maintaining privacy in a public place? Why should you be granted any such right? Or if not that, then what right would that violate?

Jesse says:

To add to the above point, if one took a picture of a Muslim woman who was covering her face, would that be an invasion of privacy? If it is not uniquely identifying, then it would be less of an invasion of privacy than say writing down somebody’s full name.

Is it an invasion of privacy to write down somebody’s name and say I saw them at the mall? Aren’t I tracking their whereabouts?

Fentex says:

Protecting of privacy

I too find it odd that courts should apparently find it abusive of someones civil rights to take their photo, but when considering the particular context of the case I see a sound reason.

Hospitals owe duties of care to their patients, and a newborn in their care is not a person in a public place.

A person in either a positon of authority, or with a duty of care, to that newborn has a relationship with them quite different from a passerby who might take a photo of someone sitting in public.

And it is not unreasonable to insist that the situation not be used for any purpose that the parents of the newborn may reasonably disagree with (who knows why the don’t want their child photographed and we don’t need to know, it wasn’t neccessary to care for the childs health and safety).

Annony says:

Re: Protecting of privacy

I think people assume that it is ok for a hospital to photograph and keep the pictures of a new born baby. I can understand it being done for security reason (in case a baby is taken from the hospital &they need a pic. of the child), however the hospital/photographer has no right to keep the pictures once the parents request them or want the pictures deleted.

David says:


As the law stands in the UK at the moment, I understand that it is not illegal to take a photograph of anything (with the exception of certain “secret” establishments – but how do we know that?) in a public place but police can twist it around so you are an “obstruction” or “likely to provoke public disorder” and move you on. Not sure about the publication bit, though. Would have thought if you were snapped in a public place, it was fair game.

dan sullivan says:

photographing en masse

what about taking photos of events – if your at the race track, people in the background can be made out? where is the law with this – in fact if you take a photo at any tourist spot, I defy you to make sure no one else is recognisable. So what happens here? this is relevant to my work so really interested if anyone knows…!

brandon says:

Honey! get those people away from the fountain. I want a picture!

You can take pictures publicly, all you have to do is use your freaking dumb respectless mind and think, “i hould ask for permission first”

People who makes photos for their living, they always have a contract of permission, as a model you have the rights of the photos that are being taken, until you have sold those rights.

Maybe you as a mentally ill person who thinks he can rob someones private areas should consider the fact if you are harrassing people with your illness or not.

Staring at people in a way that people are feeling uncomfortable should actually be taken seriously as it goes against article 3 of the european convention of human rights, but suprisingly to my experience, the only people who are against such things are not the victims, but the idiots who do not have any respect to other people or their private lifes.

At the moment that you stare to other people, who are you to have the rigt to say that you are not harrassing the victim with it. It is exactly the same if you say, that when a woman is being raped, that it is the fault of the woman for being too sexy… do not have the right to interfere with someones private life, you think staring is a normal thing to do? NO it is a mental illness, and only disgusting mental ill people who have problems and issues about themselves, do these kind of things, good looking people do not stare as ugly people do

and if you want a picture of that fountain, you have two options, either you ask them nicely to move away, or you wait until they have left, you do not take pictures without permission, that is very disrespectful, and that is what its al about, having respect to others.

Do you really think you are being respectful? 95% of the world civilization doesnt even understand what it is by showing some respect, but they do complain when they are not treated with respect. this world is mentally ill, as for mentally ill people, with mental problems and issues, which they have caused themselves are harrassing others with it.


brandon says:

Blown out of proportion

it is not only the news, it is human nature to think whatever they do, they have the right to do ith without any reflection back what they might cause to other people, this is a selfishness with what we are living nowadays, and only mentally ill people can think like this, without searching through the whole matter, they assume things that are totally incorrect, welcome to the new world order

brandon says:

Isn't UK the surveillance capital of the world

the police annot take pictures of every move you do unless, it is a part of an investigating that proves you are violating the law, you have that exactly same right to do, for personal and commercial usage, you have to have permission of the owner. welcome stupid, for thinking you know everything

brandon says:


this goes under civil rights, it is something between you and the other party in a private matter. you are allowed to take pictures, if you are intending to make a case of it in the court, to prove what you thought is true, but you are not allowed to make pictures without permission for personal gain

why do you people dont read your laws before you even try to do something

it is stated int he law that you have to know what rigts you have and that you know the laws, but it seems you do not know anything at all, and you put your own opinion in it

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