The photo, posted on the National Police Air Service’s London twitter account (@NPASLondon), was captioned: “Whilst on tasking in central London this morning we spotted a certain energetic funny man ... Can you guess who?”
Michael McIntyre was snapped using a surveillance camera outside the Global Radio offices in Leicester Square at around 8am this morning.
The image provoked anger on social media, with some users expressing concern that the tweet was inappropriate.
Robin Wilton, using the Twitter handle @futureidentity, tweeted: “Did you seek the individual’s consent? Or is this an abuse of your considerable surveillance powers?”
Another, Edward Davie (@EdDavie), said: “You do a great job but this is dodgy. Do you have permission to post pics of these people from a spy cam on Twitter?”
Helicopter surveillance is overseen by the National Police Air Service, with regional bases across the country.
The ground operations director for the NPAS, Superintendent Richard Watson, said: “We are aware of the tweet and, as far as we are aware, it does not breach any data protection legislation. We feel however it was inappropriate and it has since been removed.
“We will be speaking to the person who posted the tweet.”
Each aircraft carries a variety of hand-held digital cameras, capable of taking high-resolution images to be used for evidential purposes or to assist officers in planning and executing operations. They are also capable of streaming live footage to command bases.
Police also regularly fly planes, fitted with surveillance equipment capable of intercepting phone calls and listening in on conversations, over London, according to reports.
Ukip MEP for London Gerard Batten condemned the branch for posting the photo, saying: “The photograph of Michael McIntyre by a police helicopter and its publishing online is a gross misuse of police power.
“It isn’t some private citizen taking a snap of a passing celebrity, this is the police, abusing their authority.
“The implications for civil liberties raised by this are appalling to consider. This isn’t Hollywood, this is real life.”
Rachel Robinson, policy officer for Liberty, added: “NPAS is getting a reputation for irresponsible tweeting and, with public concern around the misuse of state surveillance growing, this latest example suggests a blase attitude to our privacy.
“This doesn’t bode well for those of us concerned about police use of new surveillance technology such as drones. How confident can we really be that our privacy is being taken seriously?”
A spokesman for McIntyre said there would be no comment from the star.
The comedian is due to perform a gig at the Ipswich Regent tonight as a warm-up to his Happy And Glorious UK and Ireland tour.