Ask LH: Can A Stranger Take Photos Of My Kids Without Permission?

Dear Lifehacker, I recently took my children to a nature reserve that’s popular with Asian tourists. While they were playing, a member of a tour bus started openly taking photos of them on his smartphone. I put this down to cultural differences and didn’t say anything at the time, but it made me feel uncomfortable. My question is, are there any laws that prohibit the photography of minors without a parent’s permission? And what’s the best approach to make someone stop? Thanks, Concerned Parent

Photo image from Shutterstock

Dear CP,

There are currently no laws in Australia that explicitly prohibit candid photography of strangers in public places. Provided the photographer isn’t breaking any obscenity or anti-voyeurism laws, they are free to snap away without permission. In short, an invasion of privacy usually requires the victim to be in private.

There are certain circumstances where a photographer could be committing a criminal offence despite shooting in public. This mainly concerns images that were taken for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, such as “upskirt” shots or closeups of the genital area.

As you’d expect, penalties are much harsher when the subjects are underage. However, the offending photos usually needs to contain images of the genital or anal region for charges to be laid.

With all that said, you are perfectly within your rights to request that your child not be photographed by a stranger; even if the photos are innocent. Most photographers have the decency to stop taking photos when asked — especially when children are concerned. The key is to take a polite, non-confrontational approach and not make them feel like a paedophile.

In the unlikely event that the tourist refused to stop taking photos, you would have had cause to take it up with the park ranger. Despite the fact that no laws were broken, the ranger probably would have instructed the photographer to stop. The same goes with public pools and beaches — in these situations, authorities tend to side with the “victim” even though the photographer is technically in the right.

This information sheet of photography rights from the Arts Law Centre of Australia includes a good overview of what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to public photography. While written from the perspective of photographers, the information is still relevant to unwilling subjects who want to know where they legally stand.

See also: Can Someone Take Pictures Of You In Public And Publish Them?


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