Picturing warm weather: When is a photo innocent? When is it not?

Recently, some Seattle parents expressed concern after they encountered an older man snapping multiple photos of their children as the kids played in Seattle Center’s International Fountain. The police were called and according to one parent, took the man’s camera, deleted his pictures and told him he would be arrested if he returned to the Center.

Some people might wonder why the police didn’t arrest the man.

Others would wonder if the police had any legal right to take the man’s camera and expose or destroy his snaps.

With weather finally heating up, parents, kids and so-called street photographers are likely to interact more in the coming months. What is legal in terms of strangers shooting photos of children? And is the legal thing the right thing to do?

“You can take pictures in a public place of anything or anyone who is there (unless the area is signed and prohibits photography). There are laws now in Washington [state] against “upshoot” photography (placing your camera under a woman’s clothing without her knowledge), but even that wasn’t illegal until a few years ago,” Seattle lawyer Pete Friedman explained.

“We never want to discourage anyone from calling 9-1-1,” Seattle Police spokesperson Mark Jamieson said. “You have to listen to the little voice in your head. If something seems wrong, contact security and/or contact the police.”


Parent vs. the law

Jamieson said he hadn’t seen any report of the alleged incident but could speak hypothetically about similar events.

“We have to take it on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We have to show up and see what it is. A good rule of thumb is: If something looks weird and you get a weird feeling, trust these instincts. Call us, and let us sort it out. If you are suspicious, call police, and let the officers take over.”

Friedman said he was torn. As an attorney, he decried any hint of “fascist” tactics by police. But as a parent, he said he felt quite differently.

“I think in the incident you describe the officers performed ‘rough justice.’ They were trying to do the right thing,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is. In the incident described, there was no crime committed; this does not sound like voyeurism, or photography of intimate acts (not your own with consenting adults). The officers involved made a judgment call in an attempt to resolve the situation. 

“Personally, I don’t like the idea of people taking pictures of other peoples’ children. Take pictures of birds and trees [instead],” he continued. “As a parent, I guess I’d like to shake the officer’s hands who were involved. But as an attorney, I’d say, no crime was committed.”


Expect to be photographed

As could be expected, street photographers around the world claim they are within their rights to shoot pictures of you or your children.

A local photographer who didn’t choose to give his name, mentioned Carlos Miller, an award-winning Miami, Fla., photographer who has been arrested multiple times for taking pictures of Miami police on the job.

“In a day when even most phones have cameras, folks should just assume they are always being photographed,” the fledgling artist said.

The situation is ambiguous. But as Officer Jamieson said quite clearly, if you are out with your children and feel someone taking pictures of your children is inappropriate, call the police, and they will come.

[[In-content Ad]]