A correspondent has written and said

I found this article online last night, and notwithstanding the (alleged) poor professional and ethical conduct of the individual who released the images, it is interesting that an individual can be suspended (and potentially prosecuted) for sharing photos, yet the Services’ as a whole are freely able to broadcast ‘000’ calls, show the public undergoing BAC tests and interviews in a police station, and (in the case of ambulances) show patient care in the back of ambulances and in private homes. I do wonder if the arrested individual hadn’t been so high-profile if the release of the photos would have received the same level of attention.

Police officer suspended over leaked images of former AFL coach Dean Laidley in police station

Victoria Police suspends an officer over an “unlawful and criminal” privacy breach after images were released of former North Melbourne coach Dean Laidley in custody inside a police station. Read the full story

I share my correspondent’s concerns – see:

The Victoria Police Act 2013 (Vic) has detailed provisions on the confidentiality of police information (ss 225-251). Police information is defined (s 225) as:

(a) in relation to a member or former member of Victoria Police personnel, any information that has come to the knowledge or into the possession of the member—

(i) in the performance of functions or duties or the exercise of powers as a member of Victoria Police personnel; or

(ii) otherwise as a result of being a member of Victoria Police personnel…

It is an offence for an officer or former officer to ‘without reasonable excuse, access, use or disclose any police information…’ (ss 227 and 228).  There are provisions to release to the media ‘agency photographs’ (ie a photograph of the face of a person who has been found guilty of an offence) but as the definition notes, that is after a person has been convicted.  Where an agency photograph has been released by the Chief Commissioner the convicted person cannot sue for defamation or breach of confidence (s 243).  There are also provisions to allow police to release information ‘for the purpose of protecting the public or gaining information that may be of assistance in the investigation of an alleged offence’ (s 234).

Even so, as my correspondent has noted ‘… the Services’ [feel free to authorise the] … broadcast [of] ‘000’ calls, show the public undergoing BAC tests and interviews in a police station, and (in the case of ambulances) show patient care in the back of ambulances and in private homes.’

The argument would, no doubt, be that in these ‘fly on the wall documentaries’ the material is not broadcast unless the patient or prisoner consents but as I have argued in those earlier posts, it is actually the process of taking the video or photos and allowing it to be shared even among the production crew that represents a breach of privacy.  It can also be Breaching patient privacy to tell a good news story (February 1, 2020).

I infer from this story that the officer is alleged to have taken photos which have been posted rather than post ‘official’ police photos. The deputy commissioner is appalled that the photos were taken. I suggest that must also be true where TV stations record material in a police station. Even if the footage is not shown on TV, it is still an invasion of the person’s privacy and an abuse of power to allow those images to be recorded.

I commend Victoria Police for recognising that taking, let alone releasing the photo of a prisoner was an ‘”appalling” privacy breach’.  I would urge the other emergency services and Victoria Police to consider the same issue when next approached to install cameras in an ambulance, emergency department or police interview room.  Individual police and others should also be cautious when they are asked to take part in these programs and are asked to wear body cameras or have cameras installed in police cars, ambulances, police stations and hospital casualty rooms to record, for TV, their interaction with the community.