A television production company which unfairly and unlawfully filmed patients at a maternity clinic has been fined £120,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

True Visions Productions (TVP) of London set up CCTV-style cameras and microphones in examination rooms at the clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge for a Channel 4 documentary on stillbirths. The walk-in clinic is for patients who have concerns about their pregnancy.

The ICO investigation found that although TVP had the hospital trust’s permission to be on site, TVP did not provide patients with adequate information about the filming, which took place from July to November 2017, or get adequate permission from those affected by the filming in advance.

Steve Eckersley, ICO Director of Investigations, said:

”Patients would not have expected to have been filmed in this situation, and many will have been very distressed when they learned such a private and potentially traumatic moment had been recorded.

“The recorded footage would have included the sensitive personal data of patients who could already be suffering anxiety and stress.

“We recognise the public interest in programmes that aim to educate and inform, but those responsible for making them must operate within the law, particularly when the subject involves the processing of highly sensitive medical information.

“In particular, we took the view that there was no valid reason for the television company to have failed to adequately inform patients in advance that they would be filmed.”

TVP had posted limited notices advising of the filming near to the cameras and in the waiting room area and had left letters on waiting room tables. However, the detailed investigation found that these letters did not provide adequate explanations to patients, with one notice incorrectly stating that mums and visitors would not be filmed without permission.

The law says that personal data must be processed fairly and transparently. A patient attending the clinic would not have reasonably expected there to be cameras in examination rooms and would expect to be made aware of any filming.

Recording stopped following negative media coverage of the filming in November 2017. It then resumed until spring 2018 using different filming techniques and the documentary was broadcast the following October. The unlawfully obtained footage was not broadcast and was deleted.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR).
  3. Due to the timing of this investigation, the civil monetary penalty has been issued under the previous legislation, the Data Protection Act 1998. The maximum financial penalty in civil cases under former laws is £500,000.
  4. Under past and current law, the ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
  5. The GDPR and the DPA2018 gave the ICO new strengthened powers. Since 25 May 2018, the ICO has the power to impose a civil monetary penalty (CMP) on a data controller of up to £17million (20m Euro) or 4% of global turnover.
  6. The data protection principles in the GDPR evolved from the original DPA, and set out the main responsibilities for organisations. Article 5 of the GDPR requires that personal data shall be:
    • Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals;
    • Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
    • Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
    • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
    • Kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary; and
    • Processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.
    • Article 5(2) requires that “the controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles.”
  7. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) under past and current law are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  8. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by ICO.

To report a concern to the ICO go to ico.org.uk/concerns.