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. 

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) ). 

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 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.