In what could be termed as a gross violation of people's privacy when they are most vulnerable, a London-based television production company named True Visions Productions (TVP) snooped on pregnant women using CCTV cameras and microphones without obtaining their consent for the same.
On Wednesday, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued a fine of £120,000 to True Visions Productions under the Data Protection Act 1998 for using CCTV-style cameras and microphones in examination rooms at the clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge for a documentary on stillbirths.
The production company recorded footage of pregnant women in examination rooms at the hospital between July to November 2017 without adequately informing patients about the filming or getting adequate permission from those affected by the filming in advance.
Sensitive medical information of expecting mums compromised
"The recorded footage would have included the sensitive personal data of patients who could already be suffering anxiety and stress," noted Steve Eckersley, Director of Investigations at the ICO.
"Patients would not have expected to have been filmed in this situation, and many will have been very distressed when they learned such a private and potentially traumatic moment had been recorded.
"We recognise the public interest in programmes that aim to educate and inform, but those responsible for making them must operate within the law, particularly when the subject involves the processing of highly sensitive medical information. In particular, we took the view that there was no valid reason for the television company to have failed to adequately inform patients in advance that they would be filmed," he added.
According to the ICO, True Visions Productions did take prior permission from the hospital's trust to be on site, but should also have adequately informed individual patients and obtained their permission to record them prior to the filming.
True Visions Productions removed sensitive footage from the documentary
The company posted notices advising visitors about the filming near to the cameras and in the waiting room area and also placed letters on waiting room tables. However, upon examination of the notices and letters, the ICO found that they did not provide adequate explanations to patients and the letters also incorrectly stated that mums and visitors would not be filmed without permission.
Thankfully, the footage recorded by True Visions Productions was not included in the documentary broadcasted in October 2018 after negative media coverage about their filming technique forced the company to adopt different filming techniques. The documentary was aired on Channel 4 in October last year and included fresh footage recorded by the production company in spring 2018.
In 2016, the ICO had issued a fine of £180,000 to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for disclosing email addresses of more than 700 users of an HIV service by including their email addresses in the "to" rather than the "bcc" field.
A newsletter sent out by 56 Dean Street, a well-known clinic run by the Trust, contained full names of 730 of the 781 patients who availed the HIV service and a majority of the recipients were HIV positive.
"What makes the incident even more unacceptable is that the trust failed to learn the lessons from a similar smaller-scale incident, also investigated by the information commissioner, that occurred in 2010. Had the trust taken the necessary remedial measures then, it is likely that this later more serious breach would not have occurred," said Sean Humber, from law firm Leigh Day to The Guardian.