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Hello everyone,
I am writing this article because just about everyone has a camera, usually a cell phone camera. And I constantly hear people misquoting what’s legal to do with a camera and what is not legal to do with a camera. There was recently a few months ago a big deal made about someone taking photos of some houses (For a mortgage company, actually a pretty regular occurrence.) There were police out searching for some nefarious criminal, who turned out to not only be obeying the law, but he was doing his job. I also recently had an interaction with a cashier at a convenience store that was pretty much one step away from throwing a fit about a camera that wasn’t even turned on or recording a single thing. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered that before.

There is NO reasonable expectation to privacy when out in a public place. You do NOT need someones permission before taking a photo in public place. Anyone in a public place can take pictures of anything they see. Public places include parks, sidewalks, grocery stores, gas stations, malls, etc. Stores and malls? Yes. Even though they’re technically private property, being open to the public makes it a public space.

Certain designated military and energy installations have been declared off limits to photography because of national security concerns. The law governing this is 18 USC Section 795 [“Photographing and sketching defense installations”] and places that a person has a reasonable expectation to privacy. Examples being medical facilities, rest rooms, inside a home, etc.

Photographing or videotaping a tourist attraction, whether publicly or privately owned, is generally considered legal, unless explicitly prohibited by a specific law and/or statute.

Photography on private property that is generally open to the public (e.g., a shopping mall) is usually permitted unless explicitly prohibited by posted signs. No signs? No permission needed. Snap those photos.

You CAN however be asked to stop photographing or filming on private property, if you do not stop, they can ask you to leave. If you don’t leave you will probably be arrested for criminal trespass, it’s best not to push this one. If you can see what you want to take a picture of from the sidewalk, there is nothing that can be done about it. If you can see it from a public space, you can take a photograph of it. Most people or places that aren’t doing anything wrong usually won’t have an issue with a camera. Because a majority of people and businesses are honest this is almost a non issue. If you’re in a business that has cameras all over, but won’t allow yours, they are likely doing something they don’t want to be caught for and you should probably take your business elsewhere to a more honest and reputable business that doesn’t have anything to hide.

Photographing accident scenes and law enforcement activities is legal. At the same time, you must not hinder the operations of law enforcement, medical, emergency, or security personnel by filming. In other words, don’t get in the way. This includes stopping in traffic to snap that picture with your phone. Please don’t do that, that’s not going to help anyone. As long as you stay a safe distance away, and aren’t hindering anyone there shouldn’t be any problems.

On May 8, 2012 the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit granted a preliminary injunction in ACLU v. Alvarez, blocking enforcement of the Illinois eavesdropping statute as it applies to audio recording of police performing “their duties in public places and engaging in public communications audible to persons who witness the events.” What this means is that in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, permission is not required to record (video and audio) police officers or anyone else while they are in a public place

Remember if you’re in a public place just because you, or someone else personally may not like the photo someone took, aren’t taking at all. Doesn’t mean what they’re doing is illegal. Nor is your consent required to be filmed or photographed in a public space.

What To Do If You’re Confronted
Be respectful and polite. Use good judgement and don’t escalate the situation.

If the person becomes combative or difficult HIT RECORD, it may come down to “your word against theirs”, document the confrontation, but don’t be a jerk about it. You may also want to think about calling the police at that point.

Threats, detention, and taking your camera are all grounds for legal or civil actions on your part. Be sure to get the person’s name, employer, and what legal grounds they claim for their actions.

If you don’t want to involve the authorities, go above the person’s head to their supervisor and/or the media, feel free to send a message and tell us about it.

Much more detailed and in depth information can be found here at this link


Illinois General Assembly
American Civil Liberties Union
ACLU Filming And Photographing The Police
National District Attorneys Association

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