Last week, David Cameron asserted that “we will not let any phoney concerns about human rights” prevent the publication of images that might help identify rioters. I didn’t hear anyone raising such concerns, but Cameron clearly felt that the privacy and human rights mob were waiting in the wings to take over where the looters had left off. This weekend, Theresa May compounded this by stating that she thought that reporting restrictions should be lifted more often, replacing the standard line of ‘a 17 year old who cannot be named for legal reasons’ with the real name of the disagreeable young hoodlum.
I’ll leave the debate on stigma and shame for Peter Hitchens. The important point for information law is simply that there is nothing in the Human Rights Act or Data Protection that stops law enforcement agencies from publishing pictures of perps in order to identify them, nothing to stop them sharing images with the media to achieve this, and nothing to stop members of the public sending their own images to the media or the police. Even if the publication interfered with the privacy of rioters (which I doubt), identification of offenders would surely be necessary in a democratic society for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime (Article 8’s condition for interfering with privacy). Meanwhile, Data Protection neatly uses the same wording to allow the sharing of data in an exemption, while the sharing of images to identify rioters would surely be a “legitimate interest” that wouldn’t cause unwarranted harm.
Cutting through the schedules and sections, the summary is that you don’t have to ignore Human Rights and Data Protection – they fall entirely into line behind the sensible use of images to identify and apprehend offenders. What I’d like to know is why Cameron felt the need to make this remark as part of his landmark speech in Downing Street. I’m sure the Prime Minister’s Human Rights Act is as well-thumbed as mine, so surely he knows that privacy law supports criminal investigations. Was this a little smash-and-grab against Human Rights, just because the opportunity was there, and he couldn’t resist it?