Understanding Cameras in Public Spaces

There is a critical piece of law every protection agent should understand. Understanding it will help keep you from being sued for rights violations, arrested for assault, or even worse…disgraced on YouTube.

It is this…

When you are performing a public duty or a private security function in any public space, you have absolutely no expectation of privacy. Specifically, anyone may photograph or videotape you or your client without any restrictions.

Although there are a few contradictory rulings and a few cases on both sides working their way through the courts, overwhelmingly, citizens and working photojournalists have a well established right to photograph and videotape in public spaces. There is no “officer safety” claim, no “privacy” claim or any other claim that will be recognized in court when it comes to images. You will lose.

In a publication on the subject, Attorney Bert Karages states,”The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs.”

Karages also advises,”Members of the public have a very limited scope of privacy rights when they are in public places. Basically, anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they have secluded themselves in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms, medical facilities, and inside their homes.”

He adds,”Sometimes agents acting for entities such as owners of industrial plants and shopping malls may ask you to hand over your film. Absent a court order, private parties have no right to confiscate your film. Taking your film directly or indirectly by threatening to use force or call a law enforcement agency can constitute criminal offenses such as theft and coercion. It can likewise constitute a civil tort such as conversion.”

You can read his full report entitled The Photographers Rights here.

Generally, the only grey area in case law surrounding this issue relates to the audio taping of third party conversations without the permission of the party. But, again, unless you are an attorney or a credentialed audio visual technologist, you are probably not qualified to determine if the taping is legal and/or if a device is actively recording sound.

The bottom line is if you are in a public space or generally “in public” the odds are about 99 to 1 that people have a right to capture images of you and your client. You should have no expectation of privacy. So, if you are someplace public and you don’t want your picture, image or voice recorded, you need to leave the public space.

Photojournalists’ cameras may easily run into the thousands of dollars. If you touch a camera, you have opened yourself up to immense liability if the photographer claims you broke their camera and violated their rights.

Generally, photographer’s cameras are located adjacent to their eyes and body. So, if you push or shove a camera and it injures the photographer or citizen, you have opened yourself up to assault charges or a physical injury claim.

Naturally the rules change the second you step onto private property. You have all the rights in the world when you or your client own the property or have leased the property for a private event.

So, be smart, remain calm, know the law and support America’s freedoms. Don’t let some Congressman, CEO or other protection client talk you into absorbing the nightmare of an assault arrest or the stress of a civil lawsuit, because, they misunderstand the law and your role as a protection agent.

As a professional, you must understand, accept and incorporate the public’s and photojournalists’ rights into your operational strategy and execute your security mission smartly, while avoiding any act that will unnecessarily land you in court, or even worse, get you posted on YouTube!