Is it Illegal to Take Pictures of People Without Permission?

Written by angus koolbreeze
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Is it Illegal to Take Pictures of People Without Permission?
Photographing of two young boys on the beach is perfectly legal. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Whether or not you may legally take pictures of people without their permission is a question for which the answer is yes or no, depending on the situation. In public places, you may take pictures of people without legal ramifications. Although they may express outrage and threaten to call police, they have no legal grounds to do so. However, you can find yourself in trouble if you take a picture of the manager of a store without his consent, because the leader of an establishment can ask you to leave if he feels you are interfering with his attempts to sell.

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Private Citizens

It is legal to photograph private citizens in public areas, such as city streets, sidewalks or shopping malls without seeking their consent, according to veteran photographer Andrew Hudson. However, you may not aim a camera over a neighbour's fence without receiving his permission to do so. But you can take a picture of the same neighbour as he is strolling down the street walking his dog.

Children

The law allows you to photograph children in public places without first receiving their parents' permission. This includes public areas, such as playgrounds. You may take a picture of a group of children on swing sets while adults or older kids push them, for example. However, it is wise to ask for school officials' permission to photograph children while on school property if you wish to take pictures of them during the course of the academic day. Laws may exist in your community restricting access to children while on school grounds.

Law Enforcement Officers/First Responders

Law enforcement officials are among the types of people that attorney Bert Krages lists among people you may freely photograph. First responders, such as police and firefighters are fair game. However, take care in knowing and observing city or state laws requiring that you must remain a certain number of feet away from a police arrest or contact scene, or you could get yourself in trouble.

Forbidden Behavior

If a person expects a degree of privacy at a given time while doing a certain activity, you may not take pictures of him, according to attorney Andrew Flusche. For example, aiming your camera at someone using a bathroom is illegal, as is photographing someone while she is withdrawing money at an automatic teller machine, as the Photojojo website points out. Also, as Lawyers.com points out, you cannot take pictures on public transportation, or government-owned property, such as state capitols, military bases, jails or prisons unless you ask the heads of these institutions for permission.

Celebrities

You can legally take pictures of celebrities as long as they're in public, Hudson says. However, you may face liability if you take pictures for the purpose of selling them, placing them on a website in which you are anticipating upfront pay, or passive income from clicks on a blog, or other type of website. It is illegal to exploit a celebrity's likeness or image for money.

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