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Is It Illegal To Take Pictures Of People?


People are carrying smartphones and cameras attached to their limbs everywhere and taking pictures in the public domain from right to left. But here’s the thing: All of these touch on some big-time legal and ethical brain teasers about who gets to say “yes” to their pic being taken and the stuff of privacy. Well, let’s take a dive through the whole photography law scene in the U.S. and clear up when it’s “okay” to take pictures of people without them giving the go-ahead and when you’re stepping into the “uh-oh” territory.

Is It Illegal To Take Pictures Of People

What’s the Word in the U.S.?

And that’s all possible because of the First Amendment, which allows freedom of speech, including the right to take photographs in public places. Generally, you are in the clear to snap away at people, buildings, whatever scenes you have from in front of you, all without being told to piss off and ask for a pass. But wait, it’s not all for free though. There are some no-go zones, especially when we’re talking about privacy.

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Privacy is a big deal, and it draws the line between chill public spaces and “hey, not cool” private spots. No one really expects a bubble to keep their private life, well, private in public. But there are those semi-private spots, like bathrooms or changing rooms. Everybody seems to agree that they deserve some privacy. And yep, the law is on their side too.

So, When’s It All Cool and Legal?

So, when you are out in the great open wilds of the U.S., with a camera in hand, guess what? It’s almost all good under the law. Here’s the thing: You can snap away at it.

  • Folks just doing their thing, walking by, or chilling in public spots.
  • Public figures or those officials in the midst of their duties, but hey, don’t get in their way, okay?
  • All those loud, in-your-face public events like parades and gigs, even those nail-biting sports events. If it’s out there in public, you are pretty much all set.

But, When Does It Cross The Line Or Illegal?

Okay, here is the slippery bit, you kinda have to pay attention, so to speak: it’s not going to be all rainbows and sunshine every time you click your camera. These are the no-no situations:

  • Imagine someone taking your photo while you’re in some, let’s say, private settings. Yep, it’s a big no. We’re talking about restrooms, changing areas, or the cozy nook of someone’s home. That’s invading privacy, folks.
  • Say No to Harassing! Think it’s cool to run after someone with a camera? Newsflash: it ain’t. That’s bordering on harassment. Or maybe even doing the stalker thing, and believe us, you don’t wanna go there.
  • Have an amazing shot and want to share/sell it online? Wait a second! You are going to need permission to get that image cleared before you can line your pockets with lots of money, particularly on the rights of publicity front.


So, on the whole, the whole business of snapping pictures of people without them giving the thumbs up first is a bit of a gray area. And by “gray,” we mean it wasn’t all black and white, and there is this huge area in between that’s super fuzzy, but let’s not get that twisted. Just because you can, that doesn’t mean you should, right?


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