The legal and ethical issues around using Google Glass for journalism in the UK

Google Glass is now on sale in the UK. And as hordes of journalists are no doubt rushing out to buy the £1,000 device, it’s worth look at the legal issues.

For the uninitiated, Glass (picture above: Reuters) is a pair of spectacles with built-in features that include a camera and video recorder.

They are voice activated, and can connect to the web by wifi.

So a journalist could, for example, wear it to carry out a vox pop, or to provide live streaming from a press conference or a council meeting (providing (s)he didn’t sneeze or move too much).

But here are several legal and ethical issues.

The Press Complaints Commission code prevents the use of ‘hidden cameras’ unless there is demonstrable public interest. Glass certainly counts as a hidden camera: a journalist should not ‘pinpoint’ anyone without their consent.

At present, photographers can argue that people give implied consent to being photographed, because it’s easy to work that a bloke walking round with a camera and a Press badge is likely to be a press photographer.

But it will be many years before an editor could similarly argue that a target gave ‘implied consent’ to being filmed, just because the journalist left Glass’ red ‘filming’ light switched on for all to see.

Glass is also likely to count as ‘subterfuge’ under the PCC code. In this case, a journalist could only use images in the public interest, and only if the material could not be obtained another way.

There are also privacy issues. The code says that the media must not photograph individuals in private places without their consent – again, unless there’s a public interest issue.

Taking photographs on private property may also be seen as trespass, and journalist who was ‘caught in the act’ could be removed from the premises.

Now there’s a difference between taking photographs and publishing them.

There’s nothing to stop a journalist walking down the high street with Glass video running, in the hope they happen upon a celebrity or a bank raid.

But publishing the images would either require consent, or a degree of public interest. This might be easier to establish for the latter than the former, especially if they are JK Rowling.

So in short, journalists should resist the temptation to use Glass unless pinpointed targets consent – or they’re acting in the public interest.

The reality on the street may be less formal, though. In America, Glass wearers have been thrown out of establishments and sometimes even attacked.

I would advise journalists planning on using Glass for work to carry a crash helmet as well as a press card – at least for the next five years.

Cleland Thom runs media law refresher courses  

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