Can people take photos of me in public and post them

A local Brisbane photographer takes photos of the passing city parade at one of Brisbane’s major intersections. He is following in the footsteps of famous artists like Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier Bresson by photographing people as they make their way through city streets. But according to many of the people whose photos have been taken feel that he has invaded their privacy and caused them embarrassment. has started a protest petition asking street photographers and, in particular, the Brisbane photographer who is behind to stop taking unwanted pictures in Brisbane City. The accompanying comments show that many of his subjects feel “violated and disgusted”.

In Britain, Sophie Wilkinson, a journalist, felt “hurt and embarrassed” when, last month, she found a photo of her eating lettuce, along with other photos of women eating on the London Underground, on the group Facebook page for Woman Who Eat on Tubes.

Many commentators blame new media, but these intrusions are not novel. One woman wrote this in the Ladies Home Journal more than 100 years ago:

Some people find it difficult to comprehend that some people have strong feelings against being “snapped” at through a camera. Amateur photographers believe that everyone and anything is fair game and no one should object.

Street photography has been a source of irritation for as long as cameras have existed. The question of who owns the rights to photos – the photographer or the “snappers” – is also a common one. These debates have been intensified by the development of online media. Facebook, Instagram and Flickr are awash with photos taken casually or professionally, published without the subjects’ consent.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman declared last week that Privacy is Over. But technology has always eroded privacy, and we have called for its legal enforcement.

Flickr and other photo sharing sites have redefined the definition of ‘publishing in 21st-century society’. Flickr

The transformation of the camera from an expensive and complicated product to one that was relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to operate led to the craze for street photography in America in the late 19th Century. This led to a corresponding concern about photographers publishing pictures of people, usually women, without their consent.

Copyright Laws are still in effect today. They give photographers extensive rights to their images and deny rights to the people photographed. Louis Brandeis, a Harvard Law graduate, and Samuel Warren responded in 1890 to this new development, arguing that a Right to Privacy should be recognized by law.

The writer wrote:

For years, the feeling has been that the law should provide some remedy to the unauthorized distribution of portraits of individuals… the question of whether or not our law will recognize and protect the privacy right… is soon going to be considered by our courts.

In 1900, an American teenager, whose photo was secretly taken and used in flour advertisements without her consent, took up Warren’s and Brandeis’ suggestion and filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court. This led to the first privacy laws being passed in the United States. More than a hundred years later, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have all recognized a “right of privacy.” Australia has not yet done so.

Michael Rawle

Even if Australia were to enact a law granting individuals the right to privacy, it wouldn’t necessarily give them the ability to control how their images are used. The right to privacy was always weighed against freedom of speech and only protected in specific circumstances by the courts.

In legal formulations, the right to privacy is defined as whether an individual has “reasonable expectations of privacy” under the circumstances. In the US, UK, and New Zealand, courts rarely decide that an individual on a public street, like in Brisbane or in the London Underground, has “a reasonable expectation of privacy”.

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