Ask LH: Is It Legal To Film Someone Without Their Permission?

Ask LH: Is It Legal To Film Someone Without Their Permission?

Dear Lifehacker, I admit it, I sometimes watch those dubious “current affairs” shows, and it has me wondering: can you request a TV crew to stop filming, and are they breaking the law if they don’t stop? And what if a cop asks me to stop videoing them? Thanks, Tabloid Curiosity

Dear TC,

As usual, the caveat about receiving advice from a non-lawyer applies here – we don’t pretend to know everything about Australia’s privacy laws and aren’t qualified to offer proper legal advice. That said, here’s an overview of the basics as we understand them.

Generally speaking, a videographer does not need to seek permission to record footage of people in public places. As long as there’s no expectation of privacy at your location, you are legally entitled to keep ‘rolling’.

However, the reality is usually a bit greyer. For example, you’d almost certainly land in hot water if you got caught filming topless female bathers at the beach (which is fair enough really). Likewise, if an uncomfortable picnic-goer decided to dob you into the park ranger, you’ll usually get asked to move along; even though you haven’t technically done anything illegal.

Ask LH: Are There Any Real Photographer’s Rights In Australia?

Dear Lifehacker, Today I had my first run-in as an amateur photographer with a security guard at a local shopping centre (taking pictures of the outside). It was pretty tame but it once again got me thinking. is there such a thing as a single unified list of photographer's rights in Australia?

Read more

Some councils and businesses will also impose their own rules that prohibit videos and photography in certain places (public swimming pools and casinos commonly adopt this practice). While they can’t charge you with anything for disobeying the rules, they can eject you from the premises and in extreme circumstances, may even ban you from returning.

But from a purely legal standpoint, you don’t need permission to film in public and someone asking you to stop doesn’t mean you’re suddenly breaking a law. If that was true, the paparazzi would be out of a job and celebrities would be a lot happier.

The rules remain the same even when police are involved. However, we’d advise against being openly confrontational with cops about your videographer rights unless you feel like you’re filming something extremely important. Butting heads with the law usually isn’t worth the hassle.

On a final note, while it’s not legally necessary for a filmmaker to seek permission from a subject or heed requests to a stop filming, it’s nearly always the smart and decent thing to do.

As professional street photographer Richard I’Anson explained to us in a previous article: “Regardless of what the privacy laws in each country are, I always ask permission before I take a street photo. It’s just common courtesy.”

If any readers with better legal chops than ours wants to throw in some additional thoughts, fire away in the comments section below.

Ask LH: Is It Legal To Rig Up A Security Camera?

Dear Lifehacker, I often see home security cameras on sale -- even ALDI has them occasionally. But before I buy one, I'm wondering if it's legal to rig one up. What's the law about surveillance in and around the home, and does it vary from state to state? Thanks, Spyman

Read more

Cheers Lifehacker

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


  • Thank you for adding the ‘not a lawyer’ part. It goes to show that not all comments fall on deaf ears.

    While I see what you mean with..

    The rules remains unchanged when police are involved. However, we’d advise against being openly confrontational with cops about your videographer rights unless you feel like you’re filming something extremely important. Nine times out of ten, butting heads with the law isn’t worth the hassle.

    .. I disagree strongly. One can and should stand up for their rights, as long as they are properly aware of what they are. Even if you aren’t, the worst that can generally happen is you have to do what they asked you to anyway. Definitely at all times simply keep it about the facts and law though – not even so much as a raised voice.

    Complying simply out of authority can only lead to more of this pointless crap.

    • Standing up for your rights is different to being confrontational. If a policeman asked/told you to stop filming, the correct response is “I’m legally allowed to continue filming but will blur out your face if that’s what you’re requesting” instead of “No way, copper – you can’t take away my rights I’m allowed to film here and you can’t stop me”

    • Yeah, Michael makes an important point here.

      It’s not good advice to advise people to not do what they’re entitled to just because others might not appreciate it.

      If you want to film the police, and you’re legally allowed to film the police, film the police.

      Don’t get me wrong, this has absolutely nothing to do with filming the police. If you want to do anything and you’re allowed to do it, and if it’s not causing harm to anyone, then you’re free to do it. You don’t have to willingly give up your rights for any reason.

  • Does the fact that they’re filming for commercial gain not mean that a model release form would be needed? Perhaps not in the “current affair” type sensationalist programmes as they could claim to be for news purposes (I know, it’s pushing the bounds of credibility calling it news), but the traffic police type programme certainly isn’t news. I’ve noticed that sometimes the person filmed is blurred out, but usually not.

    • Only if you drive through the policemans bedroom wall before having the encounter. Bedrooms are not considered public.

      You can film anything you want if you (and usually) the target are in a public place. Filming police is very important as a judge will automatically give their word more weight than yours. Keep them honest.

      • There are still a few limitations on what you cannot film. You cannot for instance, film minors in a public place without the consent of their parents, but by and large, yes, if in a public place you can usually film without being interrupted. That being said, if there is monetary gain to be had from said footage, I believe usually anyone in ‘reasonable’ frame (i.e. easily identifiable) might be requested to sign release forms etc just to be sure.

          • To clarify, you can point your camera anywhere you like in public and take photos of whatever you like. However, once someone has asked you not to take photos of their children etc, you must stop immediately, otherwise this becomes an illegal act of harassment, it crosses a criminal boundary and can be seen as such (which is usually where people wind up winning in cases such as this against paparazzi etc).

            In line with ammendments made to CRIMINAL CODE – SECT 227A Observations or recordings in breach of privacy, it also depends on what sort of photographs are being taken. While you can take photographs of children in public, if you are found to be taking photographs of their anal region or genital region specifically, in circumstances where a reasonable adult would expect to be afforded privacy in relation to that region—

            (a) without the other person’s consent; and
            (b) when the observation or visual recording is made for the purpose of observing or visually recording the other person’s genital or anal region;
            commits a misdemeanour.

            This does not specifically resign itself to only changerooms. For instance, if you are at a public beach and someone is seen to be using their camera to take pictures of little children in a suspect manner, despite laws describing how you are allowed to take photos, if someone is photographing you for personal sexual gratification, the police are allowed to intervene and examine said photos to check for photographs violating any of these rules. Any violations immediately place you in breach of the law.


            There are a few more common sense exceptions in public (obviously and as said, they’re just common sense really):

            Even on public property, you can’t photograph somebody who has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Basically, that means you can’t snap shots of people in the bathroom, a dressing room, or similar places. Ask yourself: “Would the average person expect privacy?” If so, don’t take a photo.
            Along the same lines, don’t sneak photographs of people from bizarre angles. In essence, you can’t go around taking “up skirt” photographs. Even if you’re on the public sidewalk.

            99.99999% of photographers (yes a made up stat but I’m saying that nearly ALL people are decent, there’s just that one idiot who goes against the grain) will use common sense and not be invasive or rude, but it’s just there to protect people just *incase*.

          • However, once someone has asked you not to take photos of their children etc, you must stop immediately, otherwise this becomes an illegal act of harassment, it crosses a criminal boundary and can be seen as such

            Please provide a source on this.

          • This goes automatically from being about photography to being about harassment. One cannot request you to delete the photos you’ve taken up to this point, but if you do proceed to take further photos of the subjects despite their verbal requests to stop, you can be potentially seen as harassing someone despite the public nature of the photography.

            Apologies but it’s 1am (Brisbane), I’ll source that sometime this weekend. Took me ages just to write that, Goodnight.

          • If somebody asks you to stop taking photos of them or there kids do you really need a law to enforce it? Are you going to say F*** you I’ll photograph your daughter as much as I want?

            There are exceptions to this rule if for example your documenting something and intend to hand it to the police such as an assault or vandalism. But generally why would you want photo’s of somebody you don’t know or their kids?

          • Cool, thanks for the clarification. It seemed odd that you would need consent to film minors (mainly because of the issue of simply having minors as the subjects of a film; e.g. filming a kids soccer game in which your kid was playing without needing consent from all parents), but in the context of someone asking you [i]not[/i] to continue to film their child it makes complete sense. I was vaguely aware of the don’t-take-creepy-video-of-kids-sensitive-areas laws. Presumably that’s from newspapers when the laws were appearing or something.

          • Yeah, newspapers, A current Affair and shows like that completely give people the absolute wrong idea about the laws. I was at a park with my son in 2010 or so and we got photos of him with my sisters dogs standing in front of this awesome huge tree that was about to be removed, it was one I climbed on as a kid so we wanted to get some final pictures of it. Some bitchy woman ran over to us telling us we couldn’t take pictures as her kids were playing around it as well and were clearly ‘in shot’ according to her. I assured her I hadn’t captured them in frame (Im careful about that stuff when kids are around if I can avoid it), but she demanded to see my camera. She didn’t ask nicely, she literally demanded my camera to view any and all pictures on it. At this point I said no, not a chance (It’s my mums camera, it costs $2500 along with a $1500 lens, *NO* way. I was earning $36k a year at that point lol I couldn’t afford to replace that!) , she said she was going to call the police on us.

            I laughed at her and said go ahead. There was a police station near us and she took off towards it. We stayed at the park getting photos and playing. After a while a cop ended up coming over to see us. I explained what I was doing, he was a nice guy, to be honest he looked annoyed having to be there. I said I was just getting a few shots of my son with the dogs for mums scrapbooking because of the tree removal and he said ‘Can I have your permission to check the photographs you’ve taken so this doesn’t have to go any further?’ Because I’m reasonable I said sure. The woman went to try to jump in and look and I told her to back off. Even the police officer moved himself so she couldn’t see. She was being annoying and rude for literally no reason. He cycled through them, saw nothing, even remarked we got some good shots then gave it back to us.

            He went and talked to her, she walked off in a flurry and a huff and he came back to us, thanked us for our patience and left.

            So yeah, you don’t have to worry about people being in shot etc, but sometimes people can act like douchebags to you for no reason, but it also won’t benefit the photographer to be all rude and defensive either. I’m guessing had I been all defensive and shit rather than cooperative, I would’ve ended up at the station for no reason at all.

          • I totally agree with what you did, and think the officer who came and spoke to you did the right thing.

          • @dknight1000 yeah he did, he was polite and from memory a really nice guy who really did look like he didn’t want to be there, he knew I could say no and he wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it, so he approached it as a ‘this woman is annoying us both, lets both be sensible and get rid of her asap’ kind of situation lol.

  • I took a screenshot on my phone on a train once (in Adelaide) and got approached by security.

    They told me it was “illegal” to take photos on a train. The simple explanation was enough to have them walk the other way, but to this day i still wonder whether they were having me on or not. These days i almost always leave my phone in vibrate mode anyway.

    • It definitely isn’t *illegal*, but trains, train stations and train tracks are all private property and they are allowed to enforce pretty much anything they want under that the same as you can at home, or a business can at their place of operation.

        • I did see that.. But that seems impossible surely.. And his question was relating to the legality of their request pertaining to photos, not to the screenshot. Obviously there’s no law in the world that could prevent a person from taking a screenshot of their own phone…

          • perhaps you’re jumping to conclusions. it’s definitely not impossible.

            being approached by security because they thought they heard a camera shutter even if it’s just a screenshot is definitely not out of the norm. even i’d think it’s a photo if i wasn’t paying attention.

            i saw his statement as a double entendre, as a cop-out to the “illegal” part and the “photo” part.

          • it was definitely a screenshot taken on the phone, and Samsung androids make a “shutter” sound (the same one the camera makes) when you take a screenshot with your phone, unless the phone is on silent.

            (sorry it’s taken me so long to reply back to this)

      • It depends a little on where you are. In WA, the train stations are all government owned, so technically, you are still allowed to film there. Many guards dont know this though, and you can of course be asked to move on if you are creating an obstruction.

        • There’s a distinction between public ownership and public property. State-owned rail networks are publicly owned but they are not public property, rights that depend on public property don’t apply.

    • This is weird.

      I can kind of understand not being allowed to take photos on a train – it could disconcert other passengers and I suppose there’s the potential for a security risk if we’re to be hyper paranoid.

      But at the same time what was your phone pointing at when you were taking the screenshot. I can’t imagine it being pointed at anywhere that would be offensive.

      Also, couldn’t anyone easily take a video with their phone. My phone doesn’t make a sound when it records video, and there are even apps to cover the sound of the cam too.

      Seems a bit of a panicky response to me.

      • What I took from this is he left the shutter sound ON on the iphone? Seriously who does that? It’s the most annoying part of owning an android phone! I wish I could get rid of it on my sgs4!!!

        • Thats why I got an iPhone over my S3. I just flick the switch on the side to silent.
          On the Samsung, silent means nothing and there is no option to turn the shutter off 🙁

          • I’ve found some apps that allow you to use the camera silently, but said apps don’t seem to have the same clarity the normal camera app do? Plus, to actually remove the shutter sound, which even when left on is REALLY LOUD, you have to jailbreak your phone, which I don’t want to do. I love my sgs4 but it really does annoy me.

  • Think of this from the subjects point of view, as to he reasons on why someone might not wish to be photographed.
    1. They might be seeing somebody else or be there without permission and would not want to be caught out
    2. They might have legal issues and would not want their location to be public (schools also insist on this for a similar reason)
    3. Photoshop land – images are hacked and manipulated
    4. Targeting for all sorts of criminal acivities, mainly children

    So these are some valid reasons why people might not want to be filmed/pictured in a public place. Before the argument, if they are so secretive or paranoid or scared, then why be in the public places… that’s their right to be where they want, but to be dobed, that too accidentally or intentionally via a picture is not correct.

  • As I understand it, the part of about photographing topless women on a beach is wrong – it may be morally questionable, but if they are doing it in a public place, you are well within your rights to take photographs of it. Otherwise, paparazzi shots of topless celebrities would be illegal too.

    The other distinction is that you are allowed to photograph anything you can SEE from a public place – even if you are looking onto private property, provided you aren’t using equipment that changes what would normally be visible – like a telephoto lens. I think.

    • There was an incident a few years ago where a guy got dragged into the docks for precisely this reason (I think it was in Bondi). I can’t remember what the charge was — creating a public nuisance perhaps — but he definitely ended up in court for taking topless snaps on his phone without permission.

      • From the Arts Law article I linked elsewhere in this thread:

        The Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) outlines a number of circumstances where a person’s privacy must be respected. For example, it is an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment to photograph a person to provide sexual arousal or gratification if the person is undressed or engaged in a private act in circumstances where a reasonable person would reasonably expect to be afforded privacy, and he or she has not consented to being filmed. A private act includes using the toilet, bathing and engaging in sexual activities not ordinarily done in public. Similarly, the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic) and Surveillance Devices Act 1998 (WA) make it an offence to photograph a “private activity” without the consent of the subject. – See more at:

  • A big caveat applies here – if you are recording sound as well as video, everything changes. For example, in NSW, recording a video with sound that picks up someone’s conversation is highly illegal under Section 11 of the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (a cameraphone is considered an ‘optical surveillance device’ under the definitions of the Act).

    Literally, turning on a recording device and asking someone if they’re OK with you recording them could get you five years in Silverwater if the answer’s “no”. Because of that, recording police can be a very dangerous activity because they will rarely assent to you recording anything that they say.

    • IANAL, but that isn’t quite my interpretation.
      It is illegal to record a private conversation or activity, but..
      “private activity” means an activity carried on in circumstances that may reasonably be taken to indicate the parties to the activity desire it to be observed only by themselves, but does not include an activity carried on in circumstances in which the parties to the activity ought reasonably to expect the activity may be observed by someone else.
      “private conversation” means a conversation carried on in circumstances that may reasonably be taken to indicate the parties to the conversation desire it to be listened to only by themselves, but does not include a conversation carried on in circumstances in which the parties to the conversation ought reasonably to expect the conversation may be overheard by someone else.

      So from my interpretation of that, recording from a hidden location using a shotgun microphone would be very, very dubious whereas recording using your phone on your person in a public place would not be. If you’re in a position where your phone could record the conversation, and you’re holding or carrying your phone, then someone ought reasonably expect the conversation may be overheard.

      • Case law has previously established that private conversations can take place in public places. If you are not intending your conversation to be heard by a wider audience (such as when holding a rally) or intentionally speaking loudly in order to be overheard, it counts as a private conversation.

        • I’m not saying that private conversations can’t take place in public places, but that the law as written indicates that a conversation isn’t a private conversation if it is in circumstances in which the parties to the conversation ought reasonably to expect the conversation may be overheard by someone else.

          Lawstuff notes that … in some states and territories, a conversation can still be considered private when a third person overhears it, as long as those involved in the conversation know that the third person can hear it.
          That strikes me as among the more ludicrous things I’ve heard, but apparently that’s the case law.

          Do you have any case law examples for ‘not intending your conversation to be heard by a wider audience’? I’d quite like to have a look at them (because I find the issue of recording in public places fairly interesting).

          Edit: that came out sounding much more dubious than I intended. I don’t mean it as disbelief towards what you’re saying WarC, but rather as head-shaking towards some aspects of laws.

      • Not in NSW:

        “Section 7
        (1) A person must not knowingly install, use or cause to be used or maintain a listening device:
        (a) to overhear, record, monitor or listen to a private conversation to which the person is not a party, or
        (b) to record a private conversation to which the person is a party.

        Maximum penalty: 500 penalty units (in the case of a corporation) or 100 penalty units or 5 years imprisonment, or both (in any other case).”

  • Sorry – an edit to that last one – that’s the section that says you can’t play the recording for anyone. The section that stops you from making the recording is Section 7 – a cameraphone would also be considered a ‘listening device’ under the terms of the Act.

    Note that a specific exemption in this section says that you can use a listening device to record an undercover policeman, but only as long as you’re working with the policeman. If you’re on the other side you’re out of luck.

    But in short, video is fine where there’s no expectation of privacy, but audio is strictly off-limits and if your phone records both at the same time you’re in trouble.

    • You WC, are completely incorrect…. Reading that legislation, you are completely within your rights to record a conversation that you have with a police officer. This law is specifically about using a listening device to eavesdrop on PRIVATE conversations where their is a reasonable expectation to privacy. A police officer undertaking their duties as a public servant, in the course of speaking to you in their official capacity, in the line of their work which has no private conversational aspect to it, is absolutely allowed to be recorded under this legislation.

      Either you are a first year law student or you watch to much Law and Order, either way, try not to get it so wrong in the future.

      • Nothing in the Act prevents a conversation (even among multiple parties) with a police officer from being private.

        Nice try, though. Several of the words you used made sense. Not in the order that you used them, obviously, but they were actually words.

        • What about subsection (3)(b) which seems to allow recording if *a* (ie, not necessarily *all*) principal party consents and the recording is reasonably necessary to protect that person’s lawful interests?

          I thought item (ii) might present difficulties in using said recording as evidence, then noticed that item (i) ends with an “or”.

  • Lots of misinformation and half truths floating around in this thread, so how about two links from actual lawyers:

    Arts Law is a stunning resource, I’m surprised that they haven’t been mentioned in this or any of the prior articles you linked.

    Worth noting that there is no tort of privacy in Australia, many other issues can be avoided if the captured material is incidental. There may be other copyright concerns too, recording a live performance for example.

    You should also always get a model release from your subject for commercial filming, but that is another barrel of fish.

  • Does this mean that Today Tonight and A Currant Affair can’t film Somebody if they enter their property and could not get the footage from the street?

  • From a Film & Tv conference, I got legal guidelines (given to a room full of industry types) which was basically, you can be ejected from a private property because of safety, security (you jumped a clearly marked fence) or obvious things like that, but if you have the images, they can’t stop you from using it. The only other grey areas are when they are used inappropriately or defamatory (filming ‘larger’ people then using them in a story about over consumption) when people can be clearly identified.
    Security people can be quite rude and forthright in this issue, and make claims like ‘any use of the image of our building will be met with litigation” (much more eloquently put than it was actually delivered) which is complete bullsh!t.

  • hi guys, i’m a first time user of this site.

    i have two questions?
    First question is, is it illegal to film a sex act on the beach???

    and, Second question is, is it illegal to film a sex act on private property underneath an apartment complex carpark?

  • I saw this page and it look quite intriguing.

    I’m an intense advocate for taping conversations regardless of the stupidity level or the severity. I ALWAYS have a recorder on me for my own insurance. “Being inadmissible” is only an excuse because someone wants to get away with something.

    When it comes to laws, there are so many of them, it gets confusing because one law is interpreted one way while another is interpreted another because the lawyer wants to change the context of what’s being done. If society went by life’s rules, there’d be no loop holes in court. If you’re going on a nude beach, there is a certain amount of privacy there. There is something Erie about someone wanting to take a picture of someone nude. The only reason why the paparazzi get away with what they do is because they use “The first amendment” and “Press” to get away with what they’re doing, but if you shot one of their own to “Express your dissatisfaction of what they’re doing,” they’d change the context as if you’re guilty.

    If you want to have a good debate, check youtube out. There are many slanderous videos on there pertaining to indirect identity theft (Manipulation,) rape (Manipulation when the girl says no,) and sexual manipulation (Forcing someone do to something against their will by way of manipulation and distraction) where bureaucrats will argue, “They signed a disclaimer” when there’s no evidence of it when people are filmed without their permission, which shows it when the camera is evident that it’s hidden. There are many people who are filmed during slanderous moments under one context, and uploaded to be shown under another one under false intentions without their permission which could put youtube in a public ultimatum. It isn’t just filming someone without their permission, it’s also child porn and public sex while including someone innocent is forcefully part of the film without them knowing it because someone wanted attention and be put on public display for attention. There are also rapes filmed on youtube without the victim knowing it for the audience to watch. Someone here also mention the reason why someone wanted to be blurred out. It isn’t always “The victim who wants to be blurred out,” it’s also they’re blurring the victim out because they don’t want the victim knowing they’re on youtube or another site so it’s easier to blur them out so the victim can’t prove its them. For example, there are many people on youtube who will sexually assault a woman and find out they have a certain someone, and they want to blur them out because they want to file charges against them for sexual assault. You can’t possibly convince me “It’s okay to film someone without their permission in public during a slanderous moment.”

  • Go Zimmy… well done!

    To ensure I am not as polite as Zimmy and thoroughly piss off the vociferous arm chair lawyers here who are wrong in their diatribe, the best website written by a qualified solicitor “from a photographer’s perspective” in plain English is:

    Other handy references on this website include:

    And from the Arts Law website on videoing:

    TLDR: Most respondents are wrong hence I have provided some practical legal website references.

  • Today my friend and I were playing pranks on the kids in his small campground for our YouTube channel. All we did was jump the kids using fake vampire teeth. After we filmed them we asked all their permissions, and recorded the audio of them saying that we could post the film of them on YouTube. Later tonight, we asked them if they wanted to see the video, and all of a sudden the kids changed their minds and told us to delete the footage. We declined at first, telling them that we hardly showed their faces and that we already had their permission. Then one of the kids mothers, or grandmothers, told us that it was illegal to film kids without their PARENTS permission. We said we would delete it, but we are reluctant to delete a whole days worth of footage. So, we thought we could blur their faces out and it would be fine. Is this legal? If not please explain for later use. Thanks, The Gibbous Guys.

  • I was filming in a public place where privacy is not expected. I verbally told the people that I am filming for learning purposes and that I’m not making money from it. I was in fact filming for learning purposes. I was already paid to film it. The video is for a church (non profit) seeking to raise support. Do any of these details increase the risk of a lawsuit if I publish it online?

  • What types of ramifications could you face if you sold footage of an accident scene in a public place that involved minors that were receiving medical attention and later died. If no consent was given by parents of the victim and the footage was sold and aired by a network or networks does this constitute a form of commercial gain? If it is considered commercial gain is it required that consent be provided by a parent to use the image of the minor?

    • It beats me how anybody can base their future actions on advice from a forum such as this. How can you be sure of the source? I can say I’m anybody. It all seems to come down to being just hearsay my opinion unless it’s specifically quoting laws. It’s hard enough finding a professional you can trust these days. And then if they get it wrong finding a suitable authority to take them to task. Good luck with it.

  • I work in Local Government (have worked in NSW and VIC) and technically professional filming needs a permit from the Council in order to film on Council managed land (aka road side and even Crown Land). Mostly this is used for filming a Movie or TV show. In most instances filming of say a breakfast weather man at a park or beach would seek permission (this is usually granted pretty easily – at least in the cases I have been involved with good publicity). But say a current affairs programme chasing a ‘crooked builder’ or similar wouldn’t apply and in practice by the time it was reported would be done and dusted.
    So that is a factor and sure Council Rangers or Local Laws Officer could ask the film crew to move on if they don’t have a permit – in practice though…
    I’ll leave this here…

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!