Privacy and photography

Privacy is an important right to protect, but it should not obstruct our right to freedom of expression.

Privacy has not been traditionally protected as such under Omani law. It is not included as an explicit right under the Omani constitution and there is no standalone privacy law in Oman. However, the Electronic Transactions law prohibits processing personal data in certain circumstances and the Cybercrime Law prohibits the violation of the sanctity of family life using technological means such as camera-equipped mobile phones.

The privacy provision under the Cybercrime Law has been a great addition to the Omani law because it is the first provision that granted a general privacy right, but it is important to acknowledge that this provision does not mean that photography of people in Oman is prohibited. The prohibition is only for photographs that violate the privacy of family life.

This is a different position from laws in other countries in the region that prohibit photographers from using any photo of another person without the permission of the person photographed. The UAE copyright law has a specific exception to this rule that allows photographers to take and use photos of official figures, public figures, and celebrities without the need to seek their permission as long as these photographs do not harm them.

The Omani law is more lenient than the UAE law because photography of normal people is allowed without their permission as long as their privacy is not violated. Defining what exactly is meant by violation of privacy can be extremely difficult because it depends on culture and society values as well as the context and situation in which the photograph is taken.

For example, it is obvious that using flying cameras to take private photos of family activities inside the house is a violation of privacy. It is also difficult to argue that taking photographs of attendees at a public official event is a violation of their privacy. However, the distinction becomes blurry when privacy could potentially be violated in certain public spaces.

For example, it is probably not a violation of someone’s privacy to take a photograph of them walking down the street, but it could be a serious violation of their privacy to take a photograph of them walking into a mental clinic.

The issues becomes even more complicated in Oman when the subject of the photograph is a woman. A female Omani speaker at a public event should not expect to be able to tell the press not to print her photograph, but maybe she can ask people not to take her photograph walking down the street doing nothing special.

It is impossible for any legal text to specifically identify every single incident that would or would not violate privacy, but it is important for the law to acknowledge that the right to privacy should be balanced against other rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, which should entitle us to take photographs and communicate information which might not be desirable by some people, but still necessary for society to operate.

SOURCE: Muscat Daily