Jenni Whitehead provides clarification on when the Data Protection Act applies to photographing and filming students in school, in end of term productions, nativity plays, certificate presentations etc

End of term productions, certificate presentations, nativity plays…these are some of the occasions when a school has to decide whether or not to let parents take photos or videos of the event. In Christmas 2007, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) decided to make a statement about the Data Protection Act and parents’ rights in respect of recording their child’s involvement in productions.

The ICO press office issued a statement reminding parents that the Data Protection Act does not prevent them filming or taking photographs of their children and their friends participating in such events. The ICO claimed that this guidance would clarify the law and dispel any confusion. What the statement actually says is that schools should not be citing the Data Protection Act to stop parents filming these events.

The press statement said:

The Data Protection Act is unlikely to apply in many situations where photographs are taken within schools. The Act does apply when photographs of children are taken for official use by a school or college such as for issuing identification passes.

In the other small number of instances where the Data Protection Act does apply, if the photographer obtains permission from the parent or individual to take a photograph then this will usually be enough to ensure compliance.

The ICO also produced a press statement to schools and LAs. The statement started with the same two paragraphs given above but added:

  • Photos taken for official school use may be covered by the Act and pupils and students should be advised why they are being taken.
  • Photos taken purely for personal use are exempt from the Act.

Examples are given to demonstrate when the act applies and when it does not:

Personal use

  • A parent takes a photograph of their child and some friends taking part in the school sports day to be put in the family photo album. These images are for personal use and the Data Protection Act does not apply.
  • Grandparents are invited to the school nativity play and wish to video it. These images are for personal use and the Data Protection Act does not apply.

Official school use

  • Photographs of pupils or students are taken for building passes. These images are likely to be stored electronically with other personal data and the terms of the Act will apply.
  • A small group of pupils are photographed during a science lesson and the photo is to be used in the school prospectus. This will be personal data but will not breach the Act as long as the children and/or their guardians are aware this is happening and the context in which the photo will be used.

Media use

  • A photograph is taken by a local newspaper of a school awards ceremony. As long as the school has agreed to this, and the children and/or their guardians are aware that photographs of those attending the ceremony may appear in the newspaper, this will not breach the Act

Does this clear up the issue?

In some respects it makes it clear that the act cannot be cited. However, what about child protection issues? I am not talking about the fear that photographs of children in the nativity play would possibly being used by paedophiles. I have another example:

Child goes home to mum and is thrilled to tell her that her photo is going to be in the paper the next day. The photo has been taken by school to celebrate achievement. This particular mum has just managed to establish herself in the community after fleeing a violent partner. The photograph will identify her child and her whereabouts and may place both mum and child in considerable danger.

It is cases such as these that concern child protection officers – not whether it contravenes the Data Protection Act.

Make sure you remind parents about your school’s policy and let them know that you are ready to listen and take seriously the concerns of individual parents.