However, special permission for photography need not be obtained
Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt considers it desirable that a person who wishes to take photographs in the waiting area of a health centre is asked to contact the personnel there before beginning to take pictures. That way, it can be ensured that the privacy of patients is protected. The importance of this fundamental right is heightened when matters of a person's health, which are required to be kept secret as a general rule, are involved. In itself the information that someone is a patient of the health care system must be treated as confidential.
However, the Deputy-Ombudsman also takes the view that special permission can not be required in order to take photographs in the waiting area of a health centre. Requiring that permission be obtained is not lawful, because an aspect of freedom of speech is that its exercise does not require advance permission.
The complaint to the Ombudsman was made by a person who had been interrupted while taking photographs in the waiting area of a health centre.
In his decision, Deputy-Ombudsman Lindstedt weighs freedom of speech against protection of privacy in various situations. He refers to an earlier decision by the overseer of legality in relation to photographing in train and metro stations and airports. According to this decision, photography can not be forbidden in the areas of these facilities that are open to the public and permission to take photographs can not be required.
A district court, in turn, has dismissed a charge of illicit surveillance in a case where a person had been photographed in the waiting area of a health centre. The ground for this decision was that a waiting area can not be regarded as a space that is closed to the public.
The Deputy-Ombudsman finds that, although the waiting area of a health centre can be equated to, for example, the public waiting area of a metro station, account must be taken of the kind of privacy that people can be calculated to expect in various places. A person in the waiting area of a metro station is not a priori there for a reason that would require special protection of privacy. It can also be assumed that when going to a metro station a person does not expect a great deal of privacy or believe that he or she would never under any circumstances be photographed in some conjunction while there.
By contrast, in the Deputy-Ombudsman's view, it can be assumed that most people consider matters relating to their own state of health or illness to be of a very personal nature and that expectations of privacy when they attend medical treatment institutions or similar facilities are high. It is possible that a person working with a camera in the public area of a health centre can cause - more easily than in a metro station - a sense of privacy being violated or of the risk of this happening, even when no individual is the object of photography.
In the Deputy-Ombudsman's appraisal, protection of the privacy of patients attending a health centre and the more precise regulations pertaining to patient privacy that guarantee this protection require active measures on the part of health care personnel to protect privacy.
Deputy-Ombudsman Lindstedt has asked the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of Justice to inform him, by 30.9.2008, of whether they consider, on the basis of the points that he has raised in his decision, that protection of patients' privacy calls for legislative measures.
Additional information will be provided by Referendary Mikko Eteläpää, tel. + 358 (0)9 432 3359.