BirdLife Malta has been warned by the Commissioner for Data Protection, in the wake of a complaint filed by the Federation for Hunting and Conservation – Malta (FKNK).
The commissioner’s decision of 22 December, 2011 warned BirdLife Malta not to repeat processing through the use of filming or any other means where individuals may be identified, without those individuals having given their consent and when such processing does not satisfy any one of the other criteria established under Article 9 of the Act.
FKNK said that on 21 October, 2010 FKNK requested the Commissioner of Data Protection to investigate an alleged private-right breach of the Data Protection and Privacy Act by different people from BirdLife Malta during an incident that occurred on 20 September, 2010 at FKNK’s hunting reserve of Miżieb between BirdLife Malta and FKNK.
In its complaint FKNK said that different people from BirdLife Malta were taking videos and pictures of FKNK representatives, not just without the representatives’ consent, but also notwithstanding several warnings to stop taking pictures and videos. The footage from these videos was then uploaded on BirdLife’s website.
FKNK said that in his decision the Commissioner also said that BirdLife Malta acted incorrectly when it uploaded the videos on its website in such a manner that FKNK representatives could be identified and as such processed personal data of those representatives. Such a process certainly was not done in the public’s interest and so was not in conformity with the provisions of the Act.
BirdLife Malta had taken off the videos from its website when the commissioner requested clarifications regarding FKNK’s complaint.
Regarding the same incident, FKNK had lodged a similar complaint against the Germany-based CABS, and the commissioner’s decision is still pending.
The FKNK called on members to follow its guidelines if they find themselves in similar situations.
In reply, BirdLife said that recent communication received by BirdLife Malta from the Data Protection Commissioner does not, as the FKNK claims, request that BirdLife Malta gains the consent of hunters before filming them or say that BirdLife Malta may not process such footage. The letter actually refers to only one incident where footage was released prior to the sentencing of an individual. The Commissioner deemed that BirdLife Malta had been acting in the public interest when publishing the video concerned, but that individuals ought not to be identifiable in such material.
The filming of individuals engaged in illegal acts or otherwise is not prohibited as long as the footage is taken in the interests of the public. The communication from the Data Protection Commissioner related to the person being identified and not to the actual filming of the incident. Footage gathered by BirdLife Malta involving illegal hunting and trapping is regularly passed on to the appropriate authorities and identities are disguised when footage is utilised for other purposes.
In 2011 alone, BirdLife Malta submitted over one hundred investigation reports to the police including footage and photographs of individuals committing hunting and trapping offences.
BirdLife Malta also regularly receives reports and video material from members of the public which are passed on to the authorities for investigation purposes. There is no reason why BirdLife Malta, other NGOs and the public should not continue to report hunting and trapping illegalities by gathering video and photographic evidence to assist the police with their investigations, BirdLife said.