Virgin could have broken the law by publishing CCTV footage of Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn VirginVirgin TrainsCorbyn pictured here in one of stills published by Virgin.

The UK’s chief data protection body has confirmed it is making enquiries after Virgin Trains published CCTV footage of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn using one of its London to Newcastle services.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) — which is responsible for dealing with data protection law — told technology news website Ars Technica UK that it will be looking into Virgin’s decision to publicise the footage on the grounds that it could have breached the Data Protection Act (1998).

Virgin published images of the footage on Tuesday in response to the Labour leader’s claim that there were no seats left on the service he used to travel from the capital to Newcastle earlier this month. Corbyn was recorded describing the service as “ram-packed” as he sat on the floor of one of the carriages.

The Richard Branson owned company, however, rejected Corbyn’s suggestion, arguing that he actually walked past unreserved seats prior to recording the footage, and then sat down on a seat in coach H once finished.

“We are aware of the publication of CCTV images of Jeremy Corbyn and are making enquiries,” the ICO said.

“All organisations have an obligation to comply with the Data Protection Act and must have legitimate grounds for processing the personal data they hold. Where there’s a suggestion that this hasn’t happened, the ICO has the power to investigate and can take enforcement action if necessary.”

Virgin could be in trouble because, as a passenger on one of its trains, Corbyn was technically a data subject. This means he is protected by strict data protection law. Virgin would need to justify the publication of the footage on the grounds that it was “fair and legitimate,” according to Ars Technica UK.

The Data Protection Act (1998) provides legal protection for any personal data or data which if published could lead to a person being identified. It requires companies to keep this type of information to itself in order to protect the rights of the individual.

Virgin seemed to breach its own company policy by publishing the footage, too. When you read the company’s privacy policy, it claims it will only use CCTV footage for the following reasons:

  • prevent, deter and detect crime
  • apprehend and prosecute offenders, and provide evidence to take civil action in the courts
  • help provide a safer environment for our staff
  • protect public safety
  • help to provide improved customer service, for example by enabling staff to see customers requiring assistance
  • monitor operational and safety related incidents
  • assist with the verification of claims

The company’s policy, as it appears above, doesn’t appear to allow exceptions for expressing political points. Virgin was not immediately available for comment when Business Insider phoned its press office.

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