Can I take photos or make recordings of people in public places?
Generally, taking photos or recordings in public places is allowed. The role of the Privacy Act will generally depend on who is taking the photo or making the recording - whether they are an agency or an individual.
Business or agency
If you are a business or agency (or if you are taking the photo or making the recording on behalf of a business or agency) then you will need to consider the general obligations around collection of personal information (see principles 1-4 of the Privacy Act (external link) ). Note that a single person can still be an agency if, for instance, they are a one-person business.
The focus of these collection principles is on purpose, not consent. So while an agency needs a lawful purpose to collect information, and can use or disclose that information for a consistent purpose, it does not need your consent in all cases. However, principle 3 does require an agency to take steps to ensure that the individual is aware information is being collected and why. This is often achieved with signage, or in the terms and conditions of entry to an event.
Once the agency has the information, it is open to an individual to ask that the agency not use or disclose that information. An individual can also ask that an agency delete information it holds about them, though there is no strong obligation in the Privacy Act requiring an agency to do this.
If you are an individual and you’re taking the photo or making the recording in a personal capacity, this generally won’t be an issue under the Privacy Act. However, you should keep in mind that:
- it is always good practice to seek permission when an individual is the subject of your photo or recording; and
- the use of some public facilities, like parks or swimming pools, will be subject to conditions that may impose limits on what you can film or record. For example, many swimming pools have clearly stated policies that photos and recordings are not permitted.
The exemption which allows individuals to collect, use and disclose personal information in a personal capacity also does not apply where the collection, use or disclose could be considered to be “highly offensive”. This means that there are some circumstances where it generally isn’t appropriate for individuals to take photos or make recordings, even where they are in a public space.
A common example of this is people filming accident scenes. The people involved in the accident are unlikely to want to be filmed at that time and it is not possible for you to ask for their consent.
Emergency workers are entitled to stop you from taking photos or recordings at an accident scene, particularly as your actions are likely to cause distress and may inhibit emergency services.
Another thing to consider is that the actions of the news media in carrying out its duties in reporting news are also exempt from the Privacy Act.