Is it Illegal to Take Pictures of People Without Their Permission?

By Beverly Bird ; Updated June 05, 2017
Man with camera taking a photograph

The age of smartphones has taken the ability to photograph others to a new level. If something interesting is going on, you might want to whip out your camera phone and begin clicking away, or maybe you’re out and about with a traditional camera, recording events for personal or professional use. Whether it’s legal is usually a two-pronged test that depends on where you’re shooting and what you do with the images.

Invasion of Privacy Issues

When the subject of a photo is someone in a public location, shutterbugs can snap away. This is particularly true when the individual being photographed is someone who has elected to live a life in the spotlight. The basic rule of thumb is whether the person being photographed has an expectation of privacy in that particular location. If he’s sitting in his own living room, he does; if he’s seated at a restaurant, he doesn’t.

What You Do With the Images

It’s against the law in many states to use a photograph of someone for your commercial gain, at least without consent. The image could be perfectly legal because you clicked while the individual was walking his dog in a public park. But if you then use the picture to advertise the new leash you’ve just invented, you’ve crossed a legal line.

Required Consent

Consent from someone who’s incapable of giving it is the same as no consent at all. If you want to use a photo of a minor, you need her parent’s OK. Additionally, an individual who is mentally incapacitated can’t give consent because he may not fully understand what you’re asking of him.

About the Author

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.