Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Taking photographs - the law

Reading the Independent over the holiday and they published some of the suggestions made by the public regarding the open government initiative or things the government could/should do. Although some were sound, some simply highlighted that we the public aren't fit to make such decisions as we do not have all the information available to us.

One suggestion rammed home the concept that if you repeat a lie long and often enough it will be taken as truth. The comment was that something should be done to allow people to take photographs of children particularly if you are a family member. Now I'm guessing this has to do with the spate of 'would you believe it' stories emanating from such worthies as the Daily Mail as to people being approached for taking photos of their own children or being stopped from taking photos at school plays etc. So once again in the interests of setting the record straight here is the current situation as to the taking of photographs.

There are currently three 'restrictions' on taking photographs

1) As part of the War on Terror™ you cannot take a photograph of a sensitive building. This law is a miserable failure. Firstly this means all those tourists taking snaps of the Parliament building should be arrested; as they're not the unspoken position is that this only applies if you're taking photographs in a suspicious manner. Secondly there is no requirement for any such building to advertise its nature as "sensitive" so it's up to you to determine that prior to taking a picture. Also worth pointing out that this only applies to photographs. You want to create a painting of such a building go ahead and set up your easel.

2) Again as part of the WoT you cannot take a photograph of any member of the armed forces, with the law also being extended to any member of the police force. This however has the explicit position that such suspicion has to exist that the taking of such is done with terrorist purposes in mind. Again a failure as it doesn't differentiate between members in uniform and members out of uniform; so again it's up to you to ask first

3) Invasion of privacy. If a person you're taking a photo of has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Taking a picture of a person prancing nude in their living room in front of a window from the street is fine. Using a telephoto lens to do the same through a crack in the curtains from half-a-mile away may not be. Important to note that this is not a criminal offence, but a civil one; so the police cannot arrest you for this (peeping tom being an exception)

Now that's it for taking pictures in public. On private ground all these items still apply, but can be rescinded at any time by the owner or their representatives. So if a teacher at a school asks you not to take photographs those are the terms and conditions of you being on 'their' property at that time. Again like privacy this is a civil matter and not a criminal one; you can simply ignore them. At which point they ask you to leave, and if you refuse then the police may be called. The flip side to this is that the public 'restrictions' can also be rescinded by the owner. So if they want to set up cameras in the toilets or changing rooms they can do provided the users of such are informed. Again it's the T&Cs of you using the facilities; don't like them, don't use them.

So what happens if you take some photographs and a representative then turns up to ask you not to; or if you do so knowing the restrictions? The owner or representative has no rights whatsoever to force you to delete any photographs already taken; this is also the position for the police - no rights whatsoever.

What happens if you combine the rules? So stand on private (no photos) land and take a photograph of public land and you're breaching the T&Cs. Stand on public land and take a photo of private land; no problem.

This leads me back to the original complaint. The school is private land, the teachers can ask you not to take photographs, but this is their decision to make. Any talk of requiring the permission of every parent etc. is total and utter bullshit and simply arse-covering. Stand on the pavement and take pictures of a busy playground; no problem.