This page considers unauthorised photographs of military
and other government facilities, and of the activity of
It covers -
complements a broader discussion
of censorship of photography.
We are recurrently queried about -
legality of photographing government facilities in Australia,
publication of photographs of demonstrations or of action
by law enforcement agencies (for example a bystander's
snaps of police subduing someone in a public place),
the consequences of taking photographs in regimes such
as Russia where officials are above the law and a tourist
photo might be rewarded with a night in the cells and
destruction or confiscation of the camera
extent to which convicted criminals (or merely suspects)
can restrict production and dissemination of images
of their lives.
the preceding pages note, law and community expectations
about making photographs and communicating those images
In the UK, for example, there is a restriction on commercial
photography in Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square
in London (tourist photos are permitted) and in the Royal
Parks. In Australia Regulation 4(d)
under the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority Act 1998
(NSW) prohibits use in a public area of the Sydney Harbour
Foreshore of any "camera (whether photographic, cinematic
or video), for a commercial purpose" except as authorised
by the Foreshore Authority.
Prohibitions under the national Crimes Act (Cth)
and Defence Act 1903 (Cth) on trespass on Commonwealth
property (including military bases and government offices)
in Australia are reinforced by restrictions on photography
at those locations.
Restrictions in the UK centre on images taken for a purpose
"prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state"
and concerning a prohibited place under the Official
Secrets Act 1911. Such places include -
bases (aka "defence establishments")
aircraft, dockyards, factories and mines belonging to
location that has temporarily been declared to be a
prohibited place, including roads, railways and telecommunication
it is common to encounter bans on photography at (or near)
(military and civil)
restrictions typically coexist with constraints on sketching
or other creation of images. Section 82(1)
of the Defence Act 1903 (Cth) for example provides
(a) a person makes a sketch, drawing, photograph,
picture or painting of any defence installation in Australia
or of any part of one; and
(b) the person has no lawful authority to do so;
(c) the person is guilty of an offence; and
(d) all sketches, drawings, photographs, pictures,
and paintings, and all tools and all materials or apparatus
for sketching, drawing, photographing or painting found
in his or her possession are forfeited and may be destroyed,
sold, or otherwise disposed of, as the Governor-General
may take place without a warrant.
What about making and communicating photographs and video
of action by government officials?
Can a bystander legitimately capture images of a political
demonstration, of a riot, of police arresting a person
in a public place, violently subduing or even attacking
a crime suspect in a public place? Does photography cease
to be legitimate if it takes place within a police station,
prison or other government facility without the knowledge
of officials whose action is consistent with law or clearly
illegal? Can journalists and enthusiasts take and market
video and photographs of events such as the OJ Simpson
In Australia there is no automatic and comprehensive restriction
on photographing the state in operation. It is thus not
inherently illegal to make a photograph, film or video
of a demonstration (or
of an arrest) and to publish that image. It may be an
offence if in taking the photo or video the person behind
the camera is considered to be obstructing law enforcement
personnel in the conduct of their duty or otherwise behaving
in an offensive manner.
Both professional and amateur photographers have faced
charges under Australian state/territory and national
law over the past 90 years. Most prosecutions have not
got to court and during the past 40 years it has been
common for charges to be dismissed by magistrates.
Journalists and other photographers in other countries
are often less fortunate. Arrest of journalists, seizure
of film/video prior to publication and 'accidental' damage
to cameras is common. In some nations police, paramilitary
personnel or officials have inhibited photography by threatening,
beating or even killing journalists. 'Shooting the messenger'
(or potential messenger) remains a key mechanism for censorship.
In the UK, US, Australia and elsewhere some police and
military personnel have subverted legal requirements by
removing insignia, identity numbers and other indicators
that would facilitate their identification during face
to face contact and in photographs or videos.
Preceding pages have centred on questions about photography
In discussing cctv and other visual surveillance we have
noted abuses such as
installation of a webcam in the Maricopa (Arizona) jail
jail, with visitors to the jail site initially having
unrestricted views of people being booked, strip searched
or visiting the bathroom.
Works on rights of assembly are highlighted here.
There is a large but often indifferent literature about
'trial by media' and censorship of news and current affairs.
Pointers to works such as Arresting Images: Crime
and Policing in Front of the Television Camera (Toronto:
Uni of Toronto Press 2003) by Aaron Doyle are found in
the Censorship guide
and elsewhere on this site.
For Maricopa see in particular Michael Clements' 2005
paper Virtually Free from Punishment until Proven
Guilty: The Internet, Web-Cameras and the Compelling Necessity
next page (justice)