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A teenage girl was accused of shoplifting with a group of friends in a clothing shop. The shop manager used security camera footage to post photos of the group on the business’ Facebook page.

The father of the teenager complained to the shop about the photos which he said unfairly branded his daughter as a shoplifter. He said that his daughter was innocent and she had not been aware that two of the others in the group had taken items from the shop without paying for them.

In his complaint to us, the father said the Police spoke to each member of the group and the stolen property was recovered. His daughter was not charged with any offence but gave her account of what had happened to Police.

While two of the youths in the group were charged with theft, the father said the shop’s use of the security camera photos gave the impression that all of those shown in the images were shoplifters. His concerns were that his daughter was unfairly labelled a thief and this resulted in her feeling humiliated in the small community they lived in. She had a pre-existing medical condition which was worsened by the stress of the event and the subsequent Facebook posting, and had even talked about suicide.

Security camera signage

Signage on the shop’s front window said that any security camera footage might be shared with other retailers but it did not mention any use beyond that.

The manager said she had published the photos but had not included their names, simply saying “these people forgot to pay for their items”. She felt justified in publishing the photos on Facebook because of the notice on the shop’s front window.

The father said he had left his contact details at the shop but the shop manager did not reply to him directly. Instead, the manager defended her actions on the shop’s Facebook page and blocked him from commenting in his daughter’s defence.

Privacy principles

The complaint from the teenager’s father raised issues under principles 10 and 11 of the Privacy Act. Principle 10 states that agencies that hold personal information must not use it for any purpose other than the purpose for which it was collected.

We formed the opinion that the publication of these images in the shop’s Facebook page entitled “Wall of Shame” was for the purpose of embarrassing the people in the photos, and was not consistent with collecting personal information for security reasons.

Principle 11 states that an agency must not disclose personal information unless it believes on reasonable grounds that an exception in the Privacy Act applies. We were unable to find any proper basis for publishing the images on a public website and none of the exceptions to principles 10 and 11 applied.

Although the girl was not named, the Privacy Act also applies in situations when a person is identifiable from an image alone.

Alternative dispute resolution

We concluded that the shop had breached both principles 10 and 11 by posting the photos online. The shop eventually did remove the photos of the group from its Facebook page. We began to mediate a settlement between the two parties.

We set up a confidential meeting that was attended by both parties. These meetings are a forum for complainants and respondents to explore options for resolution.

The complainant and his daughter rejected the shop’s initial offer of part time employment for the daughter as well as an initial monetary offer for the emotional harm and humiliation suffered by the teenager. A settlement was eventually reached and we closed the file.

February 2016

Security camera footage – publication of photos – Facebook – unfairly labelled - security camera signage – disclosure of personal information – alternative dispute resolution – Privacy Act 1993; principles 10 and 11