Healy O'Connor

Privacy Rights Contravene Luas Website

The operators of a website that encourages people to take pictures of strangers they are attracted to on public transport will be contacted by the Data Protection Commissioner to establish if they have considered the legal obligations of their actions.

Luascrush.com carries a number of pictures of men, apparently captured unawares on public transport or waiting for buses and trams.

Johann Taljaard, who runs the site, said yesterday it was based on a similar idea in Britain called Tubecrush.

Mr Taljaard said it was “just a bit of tongue-in-the-cheek fun, a bit of craic”.

It was a site to share pictures of “chance encounters – photos of a guy or a girl that you think is good looking and you share it with other people”.

“Most people nowadays have phones that can take pictures and you can upload them straight from your phone. We have a look and if it’s a decent photo then we put it up for everyone to see,” he said on RTE radio.

The pictures on the site yesterday were all of men, but Mr Taljaard said it would also publish pictures of women.

He admitted to some initial concern that people might “take it over the top” and start taking “boob photos”.

But he added: “We are not going to allow photos like that on the website.”

Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes told The Irish Times his office would contact the site to ask the operators if they had considered their legal obligations – including under the Data Protection Acts.

He said the fact that the section marked ’legal stuff’ on the site referred to an article on US law, “might suggest that they might not have done so to the extent necessary”.

Mr Hawkes said he had not examined the issues surrounding the website in detail.

“With that proviso, the issues that arise in relation to the operation of the site are as much, if not more, in the general area of the extent of the right to privacy when in a public space, and the right to control the use of one’s image, as strictly data protection,” he said.

He said the taking of the photos by members of the public would be unlikely to give rise to data protection issues as this would probably be covered by the exemption for “personal data”.

But the site, in publishing them, seemed to be a “data controller” processing personal data without the consent of those whose images were involved.

Mr Hawkes said without such consent, there was “no other obvious legal basis” in the Acts permitting publication of the photos, unless the site could legitimately claim the publication was covered by the exemption for journalism, literature and art, which he said it “possibly can”.

This is the exemption relied upon by newspapers.

Asked for comment on the privacy and data protection issues raised, Mr Taljaard said in an email he could not comment on the matter as the site’s solicitors were “in the process of looking into this”.

A spokeswoman for Luas said it was not associated with the site. She said that any concerns people may feel on public transport – whether on the Luas or on any other type of transport – should be brought to the attention of the operator.

(The Irish Times, 26th August 2011)

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