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You have no right to not be photographed in public

I was part of a debate yesterday on Facebook that began with my friend Raam Dev making an update. It was public, so I’m quoting it here:

My walk today took me through a school where I came across a bunch of little kids playing a supervised, but quite spirited game of girls vs boys tug-of-war. They were so excited, screaming and beaming smiles as they pulled. I wasn’t able to resist a huge smile and, as I often do with things that make me smile, I stopped for a moment to take a quick photo with my phone. Then, as I walked away, I was stopped and told that photos are not allowed. “Why?”, I asked. “Privacy concerns.” Sad world. That made me want to give up photography right there and stick to writing. I suddenly felt more grateful for free speech laws.

One of my other Facebook buddies posted a comment of their own as a result of me commenting on Raam’s update, sparking quite a debate. They were in support of it being a crime to take photos of people – and children – in public, but they ended up deleting the conversation after I pointed them to a bunch of information pointing out that there is one single truth in Australia that needs to be considered:

No one has the right to not be photographed in public places.

It continues to amaze me how many people think that taking photos of other people in public without their permission is a crime. It’s not, and it’s not a crime in most countries of the world. And yet there’s still people who think it is. Just because some people think it’s a crime doesn’t actually make it a crime.

It’s inspired me to write a post to try and make it very clear that photography of people in public is legal, and trying to prevent such photography through force or intimidation is actually illegal, despite what many peoople think.

It’s been clarified by law that if something can be seen with the eye from public property, then taking photos of it is perfectly legal. What’s not legal is violating ‘expectations of privacy’. You can’t stand on a ladder on public property to take photos over a fence. You can take photos of a public toilet, but you can’t take photos within a public toilet, because people have an expectation of privacy.

The only time you can’t use photos of people you take in public is if you intend using them for commercial purposes. If you want to make money from selling a photo of an individual, then you need them to sign release forms first.

What about the children?

Scenarios with children involved are probably the biggest aspect of photography that causes the most confusion.

It’s illegal to take photos of children engaged in sexual activities or sexually suggestive poses, but for anything else, I don’t need your permission to take photos of your child in public (unless I want to sell the photo). I don’t need anyone’s permission. It’s public property, and if you or your child can be seen, then you can be photographed.

And here’s the thing – if you object to it and decide to harm me or my camera simply for taking a photo that you didn’t want taken, YOU will be the one breaking the law, not me.

I can also take photos of children in schools, as long as I’m outside the school. However, anyone doing such activities would certainly be considered suspicious, although all that the police can do (if someone called them) is tell them to stop taking photos and move on.

Being a photographer myself, I’m acutely aware that in today’s hostile environment relating to people taking photos of children, it’s better to avoid taking photos of children than to deal with an enraged parent beating the crap out of you for taking photos.

But that’s the problem. Why should I have to avoid taking photos of our children enjoying themselves?

It’s all about fear, paranoia and media hype

Taking photos of children does no harm to children. It used to be that it was a joy to take photos of your children and keep them for the memories. Now it’s a crime. In many circumstances, even parents are being arrested for taking photos of their own children (although they’re usually released at the station because the arresting officer was an idiot), all because of the hype and hysteria that the only possible reason you could have for taking photos of children is because you’re a paedophile. Even if they’re your own children.

I’ve found a lot of people commenting online, and even in office conversations at various workplaces I’ve been in, that the only possible reason you could have for carrying around a camera is because you’re either a terrorist or a paedophile planning your next victim.

I usually just walk away, shaking my head in sadness at the ignorant people. But there’s so many of them!

All is not lost

The use of cameras has increased. There’s a lot of people carrying cameras around these days, ‘real’ cameras or smartphones. An incredible number of people take photos in public, so it’s not all bad.

But it’s the stupid, ignorant few who really get me angry. These people are easily manipulated by the media and their own fear to believe the hype, and they go out of their way to make life hell for anyone wanting to take photos.

I just hope that the fear and ignorance will one day dissipate, and taking photos of children will not be considered something suspicious or even illegal. Our children are our future, and they’re our legacy. Making it illegal to record their happiness as they grow up would itself be a crime, but then, there’s a lot of ‘crimes’ that occur these days in the name of ‘justice’.

What’s your opinion?

I’d like your thoughts on the matter. Do you think taking photos of people in public without their permission should be a crime? What about taking photos of children? Do you think that should be a crime too?

Thanks for reading! Please add your own thoughts below.

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