Garante issues guidance on videophones and privacy

07 March 2005

Debora Stella

The use of third generation telephones has raised a new “privacy issue”. On 20 January 2005 the Garante (the Italian data protection authority) issued guidance on the lawful use of videophones.

Videophones can be used to make video-calls where caller and recipient can see each other on the telephone screen. Any images and sounds that are around the caller during the telephone call may also be recorded and “broadcast” to videophones.

Generally videophones are used by people who know each other to communicate. Although this normally occurs without any “privacy violation”, videophones can, potentially, be used in an illegal way. For instance, it is possible to violate people’s privacy when using a videophone where people are recorded without their consent or knowledge.

Data Protection Code rules are not applicable where the videophone is only used for personal purposes and data recorded is not transmitted or communicated to other people. Nevertheless, security measures will be implemented to avoid violation of image/portrait rights and payment of damages (including moral damages) to third parties.

The Garante has provided guidance for videophones not for personal use, e.g. those that are used in the course of work, or for the cases in which the recorded data is transmitted or communicated to other people, e.g. by internet. In both cases, videophone users must comply with the Data Protection Code rules, which require that:

  • certain information is disclosed to third parties
  • consent is obtained from third parties

In any case, the use of videophones is forbidden in many public places.

In addition, the Garante has made strong recommendations to companies manufacturing videophones and software for videophones, such as:

  • the possibility of incorporating signs, in particular lights, into the next videophones, to make people aware that videophones around them are in use (as for cameras and video-cameras)
  • introducing an additional device in videophones to block recording and transmission of images without stopping conversation

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