Trump and privacy rights…again!

April 5th, 2017

For those of you who feel that, despite my recent Trump-related posts, we do not spend nearly enough time on Panopticon waxing lyrical about Donald Trump and his sprawling business empire, I have some good news…yes you’ve guessed it, the judgment in Beyts v Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited is out.

The background to the case is that a Trump Club employee had taken photographs of a known anti-club protester urinating on the golf course. The anti-club protester in question was one Ms Beyts. Ms Beyts went on to bring a claim under the DPA 1998 against the Club. What was interesting about the case, apart from its rather remote link to the current supreme leader of the Free World, is that Ms Beyts’ claim under the DPA was mounted, not on the basis that the Club had breached the data protection principles in connection with the taking/processing of the photographs, but rather on the basis that the Club was liable because the photographs had been taken in circumstances where the Club was not registered as a data controller, in breach of its duties under s. 17 DPA. Ms Beyts claimed £3,000 in compensation for distress resulting from the alleged breach of her rights under the DPA.

The Sheriff who heard the case in Scotland was obviously deeply unimpressed with the fact that the photographs had been taken. He stated unequivocally that Ms Beyts had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of her act of urinating on the golf course and she should not have been photographed. Indeed, he went on to allude to the risks of potential criminal liability arising out of voyeuristic activities of this nature. Notably, the Sheriff reached these conclusions despite the fact that Ms Beyts was effectively urinating in a public place (i.e. in the midst of a golf course) and, further, despite the fact that police had clearly seen fit to investigate Ms Beyts on the basis that she may herself have been guilty of a public disorder offence by urinating in public. However, ultimately the Sheriff concluded that the claim brought by Ms Beyts was clearly not made out because, whatever distress she may have suffered as a result of the taking of the photographs, it had nothing to do with the Club’s failure to register per se. He went on to comment obiter that, had liability been established, he would in any event have awarded only £750 for distress. Accordingly, the claim was dismissed.

As for why Ms Beyts did not bring a claim for contravention of the data protection principles, well that’s one mysterious issue which I’ll leave you to ponder at your leisure.

Anya Proops QC

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