Is it an offence to take photos of police on duty? (In Australia)

Started Dec 18, 2005 | Discussions thread
Nick 2004 Regular Member • Posts: 478
I am an Australian Police Officer

I work in Tasmania, so the information I provide is only from my states point of view. However I believe that legally the following applies:

It is not illegal to take a photograph of anyone in a public place. This includes police officers. There are, however, plenty of laws in place regarding public order and the like, as well as interferring with a police officers duties. I cannot be specific about this in realtion to NSW Police.

If a photographer were to interfere with the duties of a police officer they may be liable for arrest or charges that can be proceeded against via summons. Basically I would be careful in your photography in very volatile situations.

In regards to the specifics of what happened to you I would suggest that the police officer was quoting from the 'Ways and Means Act', that is, strictly speaking you were not breaking the law merely by taking his picture. He simply took offense to his picture being taken in the situation he was in and he asked you in a more forceful type of way that maybe you should consider deleting the photograph. I can understand that this would be intimidating, especicially considering that you didn't have legislation in front of you to quote.

From a personal point of view I can see why the officer would have objected to the photography. No officer would like to become the 'face of the incident' as such, and perhaps was not able to tell the difference between you and the press. Also a still photograph of a police officer's actions can often look like the officer in applying too much force or similar, without contextual facts to explain the image(s).

I would also be very mindful, as suggested by a previous poster, of taking pictures of police officers that work in duties such as special operations, plain clothes or other 'sensitive' duties. The safety of these officers is imperative, and exposing them for the world to see is often detrimental to this. In realitiy we are in a failry dangerous profession and some police like to remain as anonymous as possible because of this. There are plenty (and I really mean this) of groups of criminals and the like that document, scan and download images of police officers, matching as many details to that photograph as possible for their own purposes.

I guess that the message i'm trying to convey is that please be sensitive to these concerns if they are voiced to you, even if in a fairly abrubt manner. We have a difficult job to do and some situations don't allow for niceities.
Nick Monk

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