3 Feb 2015

Christchurch couple's privacy not breached

8:34 am on 3 February 2015

Any privacy complaint laid by the couple whose intimate office encounter was filmed and shared online would be unlikely to succeed.

Windows of the Rabobank office building in Christchurch.

Photo: RNZ

Privacy Commissoner John Edwards said even though publication of the images may have been extremely hurtful to those involved, the law cannot protect them.

Footage of the couple taken by some of the 200 patrons from the nearby Carlton pub and other passersby made its way on to social media, attracting hundreds of shares and comments.

"There's very little likelihood that [the couple] would have any legal remedy," said Mr Edwards.

"The people who were watching, we may criticise them for a lapse of decency in taking advantage of that, but it's unlikely there'd be any legal liability for their action."

Because the pair did not take steps to ensure their privacy, there was little the police could do.

Christchurch's Carlton Hotel.

Christchurch's Carlton Hotel. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

Privacy lawyer Kathryn Dalziel said even though the couple did not give their consent for the images to be taken, they would have to show their privacy had been breached to make a successful case under the Crimes Act.

"If the person is in a place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, then the crime hasn't been commited," she said. "I also don't think there was intent in this situation to commit a crime."

But that does not mean the pair have no options.

NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker said they could ask social media websites to take down the images.

The internet safety organisation was prepared to help them with that, though under present law it was not easy to achieve. Mr Cocker said the Harmful Digital Communications Bill, was currently before Parliament, would make it easier for people to remove such images.

"If New Zealand passes the Harmful Digital Communications Bill to become a law, then an agency's there that they can go to in the first instance to start making progress against those postings and against the harm they cause very quickly."

Ms Dalziel said the case raised questions about whether the law was keeping up with technology at a time when everyone had a camera on their cellphone.

"The big question we have to ask is, should it have been illegal [to film the pair]?

"Should we be changing people's behaviour based on technology, or do we have to simply accept the technology's there and people's rights to privacy have changed?"