Photography legislation

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Photography legislation may affect OpenStreetMap contributors who do Photo Mapping (using a camera to speed up the surveying part of the mapping process). One should be aware of the laws relevant to such activity.

Legislation varies from country to country, but can be divided into four areas:

  1. Taking photos: mostly legal in public spaces
  2. Publishing photos: some restrictions concerning privacy
  3. Handling a camera when driving
  4. Banishment from private property:

Taking photos is not only a legal matter but a matter of manners and public image so boasting "I have a right" is less likely to yield the best outcome.

You can help by adding the guidelines for your country, possibly referencing countries with equal legislation. If the practices are unclear, one good source are national reporters associations: they take photographs, too, for living.

National differences


One has to be aware that spaces can be

  • public (parks, state/community hospitals, public libraries, schools etc.) or
  • privately owned (shopping centers, restaurants, offices, homes)

and mostly unrelated to that spaces are

  • open to public (roads, parks, shopping centers, hospital waiting rooms, most of the school grounds) or
  • closed to public (nonpublic rooms in shops, examination and operation rooms in hospitals, office spaces other than those open to customers).
  1. Taking photos is forbidden only in four cases:
    1. of people staying in spaces protected by "home privacy" (kotirauha) or in toilets or dressing rooms, unless consented to by the people being photographed.
    2. in spaces closed to public or fenced yards in a manner violating privacy
    3. copying of copyrighted works, unless it is a published work not in computer readable format and copying is only for personal use.
    4. military areas, harbours and airports might have specific restrictions
  2. Publishing photos of situations above can be punishable. Photos depicting anything libelous of the persons in the picture can be punishable even if taking the pictures has been legal (e.g. in public spaces). For uses for commercial benefit (e.g. advertising) permission is required from the people in the photos at least if they are clearly identifiable.
  3. "Using a mobile phone when driving" can result in a fine if it "is held in the drivers hand". Use of any other voice or picture "reception or playback device" or "other communications device" is also forbidden "if it can distract the driver or impair handling of the vehicle". How this wording could be stretched to digital cameras is unclear.
  4. Owners or their representatives can ask anyone to leave from privately owned but even open to public spaces. If such a request is not complied upon, they can call a police to remove the person and he or she can be fined for "disturbing public peace". From public spaces removal by police requires disturbing other person's peace or behaviour otherwise disturbing. If the grounds for removal were discriminatory, the person requesting removal can be fined for discrimination but it will not affect the removal nor will it necessitate the destruction of the photos.



  • Taking photos of unmoveable obstacles (like houses, rails, streets, etc...) is legal
    • Note: there have been some arguments that if a photo of a house can or could be linked to the person living there, the information on the appearance of the house would be protected by privacy laws, making the distribution and publication of such pictures illegal; or possibly already taking pictures for publishing later. More info is available in the decision of the German data protection official banning Google Streetview cars: in german language.
  • Taking photos containing persons is illegal unless:
    • The persons agreed
    • The photos are taken on a public event
    • There are six or more persons visible
  • Photos taken of private streets can be legal, depending on decission the owner of the particular street
  • There might be special restrictions on military ground or in security related environment


  • Taking photos of unmoveable obstacles (like houses, rails, streets, etc...) is legal
  • Taking photos containing persons is illegal unless:
    • The persons agreed
    • The photo is taken in a rellevance show or event (concert, manifestation, etc.)


  1. All foreigners (I am not sure about sudanese nationals) need a photography permit from the ministry of tourism.
  2. Even with this permit one is not allowed to photograph:
    1. Military Areas
    2. Bridges
    3. Train Stations
    4. Broadcasting Infrastructure
    5. Water, gas, petrol and electricity works and similar installations
    6. Slum areas
    7. Beggars
    8. Other "defaming objects" (whatever they may be)

United Kingdom

  1. In government-owned spaces open to the public, photography is legal
    1. Local authority/city council owned public spaces?
    2. Open to public privately owned spaces?

A useful summary, written by a lecturer in law:



General note

Personal experience shows, that if the wrong person sees you doing it, virtually every photograph can lead to a long discussion with over-zealous security personel. Sometimes (depending on your negotiating skills) this can lead to the forced erasure of the photos or even the confiscation of the camera! So take care who is watching!