In public places where there is no right to privacy, yes you can. The same applies in private places where you have the permission of the landowner or the landowner has stated no restrictions on photography. However photographing someone without asking their permission can cause a lot of trouble if not handled sensitively. If someone does not want to be photographed it is best to respect their wishes unless there is an overriding reason not to. Most people in most circumstances respond well to friendly explanation, especially if you show them the photo. Nevertheless some will object that you have violated their rights in some interesting way, and it's best to have the explanations ready.
- 'You can't take my photo without permission'. Oh yes you can, usually. Point to the CCTV cameras and wave, they never asked either. Of course it is perfectly understandable that individuals may feel singled out and perhaps intimidated, frightened or angry not to be in control, but it's not a legal point.
- 'You have violated my copyright'. This is in no sense true. There is no copyright in the human face or form, and copying would anyway mean cloning them, not creating an image. An image of a person is copyright of the photographer.
- 'You have violated my privacy'. Legally this is unlikely to be true. There is no right to privacy in public places as a rule. There is a right to privacy in private places and in public places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy (eg public toilets), but how extensive this is depends on circumstances.
In private places that are open to the public, permission of the landowner is usually sufficient to be able to photograph visitors and staff. However a recent court case upheld a right to eat a meal in a restaurant in privacy even though the restaurant owner had consented to the photography, because in the court's view it was a customer's normal expectation not to be photographed there. If in doubt, this is probably the question to ask yourself.
- 'You have violated my human rights'. Police seem to sometimes object to being photographed on the grounds that their 'Human Rights' are being violated. This really means the same thing as 'privacy' and there is none in the street as the presence of CCTV and police photographers shows.
The Human Rights Act 1998 recognises a human right to expect privacy wherever privacy is normal, eg in the home. So photographs taken where privacy may be expected require permission of the subject. EG photographs taken from public places that depict someone within their home in a situation where they expect privacy, for instance through a window using a telephoto lens, will be actionable.
- 'You are harassing me'. Photography can indeed constitute harassment, but for an act to constitute harassment requires deliberate acts of harassment on at least 2 separate occasions. The complainant may then seek a restraining order from the court.
Harassment is potentially an issue for paparazzi in their pursuit of celebrities, but equally a restraining order has been used to suppress inconvenient photography by npower at Radley lakes.
- 'You need a model release'. Model releases are not necessary for anything except photographs to be used for commercial purposes. For editorial or artistic purposes they have no relevance unless you intend defaming the subject and need them to make a contractual agreement not to sue you for libel. If you intend selling the image for marketing or advertising use that implies endorsement by the subject, then yes, you need a model release (or rather, the advertiser does).
- 'You have violated data protection law'. Superficially this seems correct as the Data Protection Act does indeed prohibit the recording of data that identifies an individual. A photograph certainly qualifies and the DPA certainly applies to CCTV monitoring, ID photos etc. However the DPA Part 1 Section 3 specifically exempts as a 'special purpose' photographs or other data recorded for journalism, or for artistic or literary purposes.