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Use of camera phones can not be completely prohibited in health care units

11.3.2009

The use of camera phones can not be completely prohibited in health care units to ensure protection of privacy in the view of Parliamentary Ombudsman Riitta-Leena Paunio. That is because freedom of expression is guaranteed as a fundamental right.

The matter was taken under investigation by the Ombudsman as a result of a complaint. The Director of the Satakunta Health Care District had imposed a total ban on the use of camera phones in the hospitals and other operational units belonging to the authority with effect from 1.4.2004. The purpose of the decision was to protect the privacy of patients. The information that a person is a patient in a health care operational unit is required to be kept secret. By using a camera phone it is possible to violate privacy if a person is photographed secretly or without  their consent.

Weighing fundamental rights

In the Ombudsman's assessment, what is involved is weighing two fundamental rights, freedom of expression and protection of privacy, against each other. Ranged in opposition to each other are, on the one hand, the camera phone user?s right to freedom of expression and, on the other, the patient's right to privacy. Then, the importance of competing fundamental rights is weighed.

In the Ombudsman's view, photographing with a camera phone in a health care unit does not constitute the exercise of a right that belongs to the core area of freedom of expression. By contrast, the need to protect privacy in health care is accentuated, and belongs to the core area of protection of privacy.

Provision against illicit observation protects privacy

The borderline between photography that belongs to the sphere of freedom of expression and what is forbidden is generally regarded as being set forth in the provision of the Criminal Code that prohibits illicit observation. Its purpose is to protect privacy in situations and places where people feel they are within the sphere of their privacy or are otherwise of a delicate nature.

However, in the Ombudsman's view, it follows from the freedom of expression that is guaranteed as a fundamental right that the use of camera phones can not be completely prohibited in health care units in order to ensure protection of privacy.

The Satakunta Health Care District Joint Authority has announced that it is drafting a set of guidelines in which the areas where photography in general is permitted and those where there is no right to photograph are defined.

Additional information will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Kaija Tanttinen-Laakkonen, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3377