Private eyes and photography – What does the law say?

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Can private investigators take photos in public places? What are the legal restrictions on these activities and on the use of these photos?

There are laws that regulate public photography. But those laws can be confusing, even contradictory. Different rules apply depending on the place and situation.

As a general rule, it is legal for private investigators to take pictures in public spaces without asking permission. This applies regardless of whether they are photographing people, sites or buildings. Yes, you read that correctly: you can have your picture taken if you are in a public place, and the photographer does not need to have your permission. And what’s more, you usually don’t have the right to control how your image is used.

Can private detectives take photos in a public place?

Photos may be taken on or from public places. So what is a public place? This can be tricky to figure out. It is not necessarily a place to which the public has free access. This category includes hospitals, shopping malls, educational institutions, music venues, or sports arenas. These are all considered private property, even if they are owned by a local council or other government organization.

But even defined public places such as parks may be subject to specific regulations. For instance, there is a rule which prohibits commercial photography in Sydney parks without a permit. (A widely-publicized 2015 case involving famed landscape photographer Ken Duncan illustrates this point. Duncan was shut down by park rangers while taking pictures in Bangaroo Reserve.) The same kinds of rules may apply to other public spaces under the governance of local councils.

Exceptions for photos of children

There are very limited exceptions to the above rules when children are the subject of the photograph.

The law and photography of children by private eyes
What does the law say about investigators photographing children?

The law prohibits taking of pictures that include children under certain circumstances. An example would be if there is a naked person in the photo. Pictures that are voyeuristic in nature may not be used. And it is important to note that photographers may not trespass on private property.

Can private eyes photograph you in private spaces?

What about taking pictures of a private space from a public one? Here the law is somewhat clearer. It is legal for a private investigator to photograph a private location such as a home as long as they are not trespassing on private property. There needs to be a clear line of sight between the P.I. and the subject of the photo. It is not legal to take pictures of the interior of a house from the outside, or of people engaging in private acts inside the home.

Private investigators and the Privacy Act

The use of photos is governed by the Privacy Act. Photos may be published on the internet or otherwise as long as they are not in violation. Indecent, invasive or abusive photos may not be published. The subjects of such photos have the force of the law on their side.

The above laws apply to any individual wishing to take pictures in public places. All need to know their rights and responsibilities in this arena.

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