Digital Transformation

Police helicopter’s Michael McIntyre spy-cam tweets spark privacy debate

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By John McCarthy | Media editor

July 15, 2015 | 5 min read

The National Police Air Service’s London Twitter account was the focal point of a privacy storm on Wednesday afternoon after the force shared images of comedian Michael McIntyre.

Captured from an airborne helicopter, the surveillance footage was shared on Twitter.

However, the force came under fire for sharing the footage it mustered under its right to surveil the public in the interests of maintaining order.

The sharing of the image, which was captured outside the Global Radio offices in Leicester Square at about 8am, was widely deemed to be an abuse of this power.

It was tweeted – and later deleted by @NPASLondon, following criticism.

Ground operations director for NPAS, Supt Richard Watson, told the Guardian: “We are aware of the tweet and, as far as we are aware, it does not breach any data protection legislation. We feel however it was inappropriate and it has since been removed.

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“We will be speaking to the person who posted the tweet.”

The incident sparked a debate over whether the unwarranted release of the CCTV footage was a data protection breach.

James Tumbridge, partner and privacy law specialist at the law firm Pillsbury, said: “The police will take large numbers of incidental images when carrying out aerial surveillance, that is inevitable. What they do with those images is the question. The data protection act and the guidance of the information commissioner is clear: Where you no longer have a legitimate need for data (an image) you should securely delete it.”

“McIntyre’s image was taken by the police, they did not need it for their duties, and so in line with data protection guidance they should have deleted it, not published it. People also have a right to private life under the Human Rights Act, and again this is another support for privacy from unwarranted photographs and their publication.”

“Making the image public absolutely gives Mr McIntyre a right to complain. For PR reasons I doubt he will, but the principle is clear. We should all be safe in the knowledge that the police will not unnecessarily take our pictures, or use them other than in pursuit of police duties.”

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