Good Question: Where Can And Can’t We Take Photos?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Playboy playmate could face jail time for taking a photo of another woman naked in a gym locker room. In July, Dani Mathers posted the picture Snapchat with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”

That body shaming left some wondering: Where can and can’t we take photos?

“It varies from state to state, but it’s any place where you’d have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” says Jane Kirtley, a professor of media law at the University of Minnesota.

It’s an objective standard of privacy – one that would be considered reasonable to most people. Courts have ruled that locker rooms, dressing rooms, restrooms, hospital rooms and homes would apply.

In the U.S., people should expect no privacy if the photographer is in a public place. Legally, people can take photos of anything they can see from a public space. People are often surprised that includes interaction with police officers, airports, public utilities and nuclear facilities.

“Standing outside of a nuclear facility, you’re standing outside on a sidewalk, you can take a photograph of that,” says Kirtley. “We really are unique in world in terms of the fact that we honor the notion of freedom of expression and freedom of the press more than personal privacy.”

Children are sometimes given special protection under the law, especially in public school settings. But if the photos of the children are taken at a public place, like a park, Kirtley says that would likely be protected under the First Amendment.

A photographer’s intentions can come into play when taking photographs in public places. For example, Kirtley says photographing someone punching in their passcode and withdrawing money from an ATM would be allowed.

“But that gets into the second issue of why they’re taking your photo,” says Kirtley. “That’s why the issue of intent becomes important in these statutes.”

There’s also a big legal distinction between illegally taking a photo and illegally taking a photo and then publishing it online. Those crimes would be considered two separate offenses.

Private places, like restaurants or stores, have different rules than public ones. In most cases, people can assume pictures are allowed – unless they’re specifically not.

“Unless they’ve got big signs up that says photography is prohibited, I think it would be reasonable to argue you had no idea they’d have a problem with it,” Kirtley said.

If someone at a private location asks a photographer to stop taking photos, he or she is legally obligated to do so.

More from Heather Brown
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