With the airlines increasingly offering wifi and most passengers carrying phones capable of taking pictures and video, the Privacy Commissioner has been asked for some guidance on when it's alright to make mid-air recordings.

The Office of the Commissioner said on its website that it had been approached by an airline seeking guidance because the increasing likelihood of passenger recordings made on board a flight had clear privacy implications for crew and passengers.

The Commissioner found that it wouldn't usually be an issue for individuals to take images in a personal capacity.

It was, however, always good practice to seek permission from the subject of the recording. Individual airlines may also prohibit the use of cameras on board - something passengers should be mindful of.


"However, the personal capacity exemption does not apply where the collection, use or disclose could be considered to be 'highly offensive'," the Commissioner said.

"This means there are circumstances where it generally isn't appropriate for individuals to take photos or make recordings, even where they are in a public space."

The Commissioner found that, just like the filming or photographing of car crashes, it was not appropriate for passengers to film and publish mid-air medical emergencies.

"A medical situation would likely involve sensitive information about an individual who is vulnerable, and so this could be considered highly offensive."

If you wouldn't want someone to do it to you, don't do it to others.

In the Commissioner's view, an incident that may be embarrassing to an airline, such as the case involving United Airlines and David Do, in which a bloodied passenger was filmed being forced off a plane sparking in international outcry against the airline, did not automatically mean it was highly offensive.

Businesses and agencies were governed by a more stringent set of standards laid out in the Privacy Act, meaning it was less likely for it to be acceptable for their representatives to take imagery on a plane.

"Ultimately, all parties should exercise restraint, consideration and common sense on a flight, as they should in other walks of life. If you wouldn't want someone to do it to you, don't do it to others," the Commissioner said.