Privacy in public 

To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t had my image posted on the websites ‘People of Walmart’, ‘Neighbour Shame’ or ‘Fail Blog’.

These types of sites crowdsource photos – no doubt mostly through social media – of people looking eccentric or conforming to particular stereotypes in public places.

The unsuspecting people who have had their image published on these types of websites have not consented to the use of their image and indeed one of these sites takes great glee in publishing angry e-mails from people who find themselves portrayed in clothing that is deemed too tight, with unusual makeup or, in some cases, lacking underwear.

When I step out my front door in the morning I necessarily surrender some of my rights to privacy – my image may be captured as I walk past a CCTV camera recording traffic conditions, for example. But does stepping out each day mean I need to give up all of my privacy and allow the world to know where I was at a particular time and what I was wearing?

Germany has a law on its statute books which provides that a person in a picture holds the copyright in that image and controls the ability for the image to be published, regardless of who took the photo and whether it’s taken publicly or in a private setting.

That law prevents situations like those relating to Adam Holland, a young man whose photo has been used across the internet as a punchline. Adam has Down syndrome and posed for a photo when he was a teenager with some of his artwork. That artwork has been edited out and various messages have been placed on the new blank piece of paper.

The German law also prevents any ambiguity around the legality of the photos in the case of Caroline Wimmer. Ms Wimmer was 26 when she was murdered in March 2009, and one of the first paramedics on the scene took a number of photos of Wimmer and uploaded them to Facebook. The German law states that the heirs of the person pictured are able to execute the same rights.

The question to apply here in Australia is should a person have the right to privacy in public, including ‘public’ of course as being on the internet? With the rise of social media, surely this would be hard to police.

If they were to wear something embarrassing and a photo was taken of them, should it be open slather for sites such as ‘People of Walmart’? Perhaps it’s time to open the discussion in Australia about laws allowing individuals to retain their right to privacy in public.

Over to you.

Dan Wood

Consulting Manager