Brand guidelines

Data protection

Whenever you are capturing images of people you need to make sure that you have the individual’s permission to use their image. In the case of children or minors you will need to get the permission of the child’s parent or guardian. Always check with your legal advisor for any local legal requirements regarding data protection or rights usage.

British Council policy (and legal obligation) is to apply the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) globally, except where part or all of any local law is stronger. All data protection law aims to protect people’s rights and privacy and, ensures that organisations which handle personal information do so responsibly in line with principles of good information handling. In this section we are concentrating on protecting people’s rights in terms of photography and film.

Collecting consent

Photographing or filming individuals is the collection of ‘personal data’ and therefore falls under data protection rules. In most cases we need to get the individual’s consent, and fully inform them of how their image will be used. The easiest way to do this is to ask them to sign one of our standard consent forms.

You can also use the photographic permissions process chart to help you decide what permissions, if any, you need to ask for.

Consent forms

For adults (18 years and over) to consent to using your photograph for the purposes of promoting British Council activities (web and print) globally.

As DP1, but for the parent or guardian to give their consent on behalf of their child (under 18 years).

Consent to use your (or your child’s) visual material(s) – including any images, videos, text, photographs, graphics or audio – for the purpose of promoting British Council activities.

When using the data protection forms they must be kept on record as proof of our rights and the subjects consent. Forms can be obtained from the Data Protection Team.

Data Protection frequently asked questions:

When do data protection implications not apply?

Data protection implications do not apply if:

  • the person photographed or filmed is no longer alive
  • if you are unable to recognise the person, for example if you can only view the back of someone’s head or their image is very blurred.

Be extra careful, however with children (under 18 years). A school uniform, for example, might make them identifiable.

Do you always need written consent?

Not always. Written consent is not required if:

  • It is reasonable to assume that the person is aware that their photograph may be published and that neither the photograph itself nor the context in which it is used could cause any potential harm or distress to that person. For example, a Council in the UK had legal action taken against it for using a child’s photograph in a brochure about HIV. The parents took legal action as they felt the implication was that their child had HIV and this was not what they had given image consent for.

Do I need to use a consent form for general photography at events?

Prior to the event, if possible, advise that a photographer will be present on the registration form or letter.

At the event, use appropriate signs to:

  • let attendees know a photographer will be present
  • how the photographs will be used, and
  • that people should make themselves known if they do not want to appear in publicity materials.

For example:
’The British Council is using a professional photographer at this event. The photographs may be used for marketing and promotion in our publications and on our digital channels. If you do not wish to be photographed please let the event organisers know.’

If you want to specifically focus on an individual at an event or will be using their name, the photographer should ask them to complete the relevant consent form.

Whether you need to seek consent or not, you must always make sure that any photographs are not used out of context or to the detriment of someone’s character.

What are the implications if my event is aimed at children?

  • The policy is different if the event is for children (under 18 years).
  • It is not appropriate to rely on signage as we cannot assume that children have the capacity to understand the implications.
  • If a child is identifiable, specific parental consent is needed.
  • Sometimes a school can distribute and collect consent forms in advance of an event taking place, which need to be signed by a parent or guardian.
  • If you are not in a position to gain parental consent, for instance at an open event where pre-registration is not required, you will be restricted in your use of photographs where a child is identifiable.
  • It is unlikely that the generic photographic permissions form, often signed by parents when a child starts school, will be sufficient as it will not cover British Council use.
  • It is also not possible to rely on a declaration from a head teacher that they have gained consent from parents.

Photographing scenes in the street or other public place

In a public place people have a lower expectation of privacy. So, for instance if you are taking photographs to show what it is like in a city in the UK, this should not cause a problem in terms of data protection.

But the photographs must not be used out of context, and there must be no reason to believe that damage or distress could be caused to the people appearing in the pictures. Bear in mind any inferences that may be made about a person. If in doubt, do not use the photograph.

Journalists and artists can use photographs freely – why can’t we?

Activities which fall within the scope of ‘journalism, literature and the arts’ are exempt from large parts of the Data Protection Act. This is to ensure that the freedom of the press and artistic expression are not restricted.

However as an organisation wishing to use images of people for marketing and promotional purposes, we are bound to comply with the Act and gain consent where necessary.

Can people withdraw their consent?

For consent to be valid it must be freely given, which means that people have the right to change their mind.

If somebody asks you not to use their photograph, you must give consideration to all the circumstances before deciding what action is practical and reasonable.

Contact the Data Protection team for advice if necessary.

How does the UK law apply to our overseas offices?

All of our data protection policies apply globally to the British Council’s operations. However, there may be additional local laws and restrictions around photography, and you should familiarise yourself with these before commissioning.