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?

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Are parents THAT paranoid that they think a peadophile will get their rocks off to a simple, everyday photo of a kid?

      Welcome to the 21st century. Anyone that looks at your kids are peadophiles or kidnappers. Anyone that looks at YOU is a pervert, thief or robber. Anyone that lives near you is a potential drug trafficker...And the water is poisoned, the food is genetically modified to give you cancer and the air is toxic...


        Also, we have a 1000% increase in cancer diagnoses compared to olden times, where we had less cancer, but also only lived to age 40.

        Fewer demonic possessions, ill humours, and witch curses, though.

    I honestly thought it was different with kids, I knew I could take a pic of someone in a public place, but I always thought kids were off limits. Not that I have any need to take pics of them lol but is still interesting to know

      The media can't broadcast images of kids without the parent's consent. That's probably where you got it from.

    I experienced a somewhat opposite situation in Korea when my girlfriend and I spotted a baby in an open pram completely zonked out in the most adorable way. I insisted we ask permission from the parents first despite being warned I'd come off as weird... which it turns out I did to them because it's perfectly natural there to photograph a cute baby whether it's yours or a stranger's, as it once was here. After an explanation of hypersensitive parents they understood but remained bemused it would be like that elsewhere.

    Let's be clear here. The parent may be within their rights to ask but the photographer is within their rights to tell you to go jump, or just completely ignore you and continue taking photos. The photographer is doing nothing wrong unless they are using the photos for nefarious purposes which is impossible to establish and totally unlikely in the situation given.

    The world has gone a bit mad I think and unless the advice above is phrased carefully then it just leads to more lunatics thinking that they have some right of "privacy" where no such right exists.

    Candid street photography is a long-standing and wonderfully evocative art form and it's under threat from all sorts of busybodies who do not understand the law and are quite unreasonably paranoid.

    Again being clear, you can't "make someone stop" in this situation. You have no business thinking you can do this.

      Which the article pretty clearly states.
      But telling someone they have no business to think that they can ask someone to stop is a bit off.
      Anyone has a right to ask anyone else to stop doing something they don't like, there are tons of things that are not against the law that however might be spoiling someone's day, and asking politely if they could stop should be in the realms of social interaction and basic decency. The person can also politely state that they wish to continue doing whatever it is that they are doing, or they may decide to stop, or stop for a moment out of respect for the other's wishes.
      We never know the situation of either the photographer, or the people being photographed, it may be genuinely distressing to the person being photographed.
      I have been producing paid work as a candid photographer for over 20 years now, and if anyone asks me to stop, I'd say in over 90% of situations I just move on to other subjects briefly, and in the others I hand them a card, politely explain that this is how I make my living, and that if they would like a copy of any of the photos they can contact me via the details on my card. If they are clearly distressed, or still request that I don't photograph them or their child, then I can't think of a time I have needed to continue having them as subjects.

      You might be in your rights to tell someone to 'go jump', but as an artist or a professional, why would you when you can have a polite, professional discourse?

        I understand what you are saying and you make good arguments, you're right. Do please note that my line about them having no business was about "making them stop" not about asking.

        I didn't intend to be quite so strong, it's just that I have seen people who are going about their business/art/hobby, quite appropriately taking photographs while on public land being abused or heavy-handed by either crazy parents or security rent-a-thugs. My strength of feeling is based on that. Some people have ideas that are just quite wrong and unfounded about photography, privacy and the law.

    Note that the park ranger has no authority to stop anyone taking photos.

      I cant find any supporting evidence but i would expect they would have authority to tell someone to vacate the area and failure to obey may result in a higher authority being involved.

        Well, "supporting evidence" is kinda important if people are going to tell people to do things. It's exactly this attitude that gets cops in trouble for (illegally) directing people to stop taking photos.

        And the point is that LH should NOT be giving out information such as the above when it's clearly incorrect.

        Last edited 17/02/16 4:46 am

    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..

    Questionable advice LH.

    If no laws are being broken on public land, then what right do the Police or any other authority have to direct someone from taking photographs?

    Public pools and beaches are not the same. I don't understand why you would even publish these false claims.

      Doesn't necessarily mean that authorities won't tend to do it.

      The interesting thing about our legal system is that police actually have all kinds of ways to punish you or move you along if you piss them off enough. Things which they are technically within their rights to do, even if it's an abuse of the system.

    Where they actively taking photos of the kids, or did the kids just happen to be in the area they wanted to take a photo of?

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