Is Posting Pictures of Children Without Consent Illegal? The Shocking Truth

There are many misconceptions regarding using and posting pictures online, and especially sharing pictures of children without the parent/carers permission. The question – Is it illegal to take a picture of a child in the UK? regularly comes up in parenting groups.

An experience of my own this week raised the question regarding posting pictures of children without consent and whether it is illegal. People want to understand the laws against posting pictures without consent.

I decided to investigate the legalities around posting pictures of children without permission and publishing them on social media or even in my case newspapers. The result is that there’s no simple answer! So let’s take a closer look at what the law says, before exploring some general guidelines around the laws against posting pictures without consent.

Posting Pictures of Children Without Consent Illegal
Posting Pictures of Children Without Consent Illegal

Can someone post a picture of my child without permission?

This week I have had my teenage son’s photo shared in an online newspaper and subsequently, on social media – namely Facebook and I was not happy because the photo accompanied a rather salacious headline.

As a backstory, my 15-year-old was featured in the local online newspaper without the knowledge or consent of either him or us as his parents prompting me to research the laws against posting pictures without consent. I wanted to know where we stood and if it is illegal to take a picture of a child in the UK?

I want to say that my son was not doing anything wrong and that is why I was not happy with how and why the paper was posting pictures of children without consent.

My son and his friends were featured without consent or approval and for something that was nothing to do with them! Read on to understand how a photo of my son ended up on the front page of the local newspaper when he was actually at home, still in bed when the headline story took place!

As a parent, I was concerned as the story featured violence and anti-social behaviour and it alluded or suggested that my son was involved.

picture of a row of people leaning against a wall holding mobile phones Posting pictures of children without consent
Posting pictures of children without consent

What are the laws against posting pictures without consent?

You are likely looking for answers to the important topic of sharing photos without consent. In this post, we are going to define what type of photos can’t be shared without consent and the incredibly grey area of sharing.

UK law only covers indecent images of children.

The law states that “Taking, making, sharing and possessing indecent images and pseudo-photographs of people under 18 is illegal. A pseudo-photograph is an image made by computer-graphics or otherwise which appears to be a photograph.”

Now the issue remains about the vast majority of images and photographs that would not be considered indecent. And this is where the problem lies.

Child rights pictures

Since the year 2000, there has been a rising concern about photographing children and teenagers and where these images are used.

This has risen as the usage of the internet has grown – remember the year 2000 and dial-up connection? It seems that since then awareness has grown around images and their uses.

With the growth of social media there are many parents trying to keep their children’s images and name away from the limelight and there are of course good reasons why including safeguarding and protecting their digital footprint.

Some children might be subject to child protection issues and orders and some just want to let them decide for themselves if they want to be found on social media in the future and are mindful of creating their child’s digital footprint. For example, children who have previously been in care or subjected to abuse may not be featured in images which is why many ask if posting pictures of children without consent is Illegal?

However this week we found ourselves in a position where my son was photographed without his knowledge and the photo was used in the press.

His name was not used but it was clear in the image that it was my son and he was easily recognisable if you knew him.

What About Newspapers Posting Pictures of Children Without Consent

Contrary to popular belief anyone can take a photo in a public place and publish it. That photo can be used online or even published in a newspaper as I found out.

Shocked?

Despite what many parents seem to think, there’s nothing in UK law to say that it’s illegal for strangers to take photos of children.

What happened to us was that my 15-year-old son’s photo was taken without his knowledge by a newspaper journalist.

It was then used to accompany a newspaper article about fighting during a football game and the police splitting up groups of people. My son was not involved – he was actually at home when the alleged fighting took place and I know this for a fact as I was with him!! But that didn’t matter when it came to the photo being taken and used in the online space.

The incident between two groups of football fans took place mid-morning, ahead of a local derby match. Shockingly my son was photographed on his way to the football game at about 2pm, a good 3 or 4 hours after the incident.

Laws against posting pictures without consent

The first I knew of it was when the photograph was published online which had then been shared on the newspapers official Facebook page.

Although my son’s name had not been used, and he was not approached by the photographer, I was not happy at them posting a picture of a group of three children without consent.

Posting pictures of children without consent
Girls, big smile! I’m taking photo! Posting pictures of children without consent

I immediately believed that taking and publishing a photo of my child would be breaking a law of some sort and set about researching what are the laws against posting pictures without consent.

However, I soon discovered that the law was not that straightforward. As the photo had been taken in a public place it could be used however the photographer chose.

This was not what I wanted to hear especially as the image was attached to a violent incident. The photo was obviously not indecent so it was not covered under that law. That left us questioning privacy laws instead as I tried to find out if posting pictures of children without consent was ok and even legal.

Did the subject have a reasonable expectation of privacy when the photo was taken?

Some examples of photos taken when a subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy:

  • A photo of someone standing in their bedroom in their underwear, taken from the yard outside looking through the window
  • A photo of someone in a public bathroom, taken with a hidden camera in the bathroom

Some examples of photos taken without a reasonable expectation of privacy:

  • A photo of someone standing on a public street saying “You don’t have my permission to photograph me”
  • A photo of a friend in a friend’s house, taken by another friend while at the house, assuming the photographer was not there unlawfully (i.e. was invited)
  • A photo of another student in class/on campus at school/university, taken by someone lawfully at that place.

The point is whether the person the photo was taken of could reasonably have expected privacy when the photo was taken.

In this case, then my son probably couldn’t have expected privacy walking down the high street in our local town.

 flat lay of a MacBook and squared paper with text overlay 'is posting pictures of children without consent illegal'

How I Dealt With a Newspaper Using Pictures Without Permission

As I didn’t want the publication using a photo of my son without consent I addressed the situation quickly.

Firstly I emailed the news desk pointing out that the photo bore no resemblance to the headline and implied that those in the photo were responsible for the anti-social behaviour.

Secondly, I pointed out that they have photographed minors without consent. Finally, I asked for the story to be retracted.

laws against posting pictures without consent

I very quickly got a reply saying that the story was in the public interest so it would not be pulled. However, they agreed the photo bore no relation to the story and said they would crop my son out.

I checked after a few minutes and was pleased to see the photo had been cropped. However, I quickly realised that the Facebook thread had not been updated.

After a second email, this was changed and they agreed that if there were any comments naming my son they would also be removed.

This demonstrated that being proactive in this situation is important. I gave clear instructions of what I wanted, namely the photo removed.

I wanted it taken down as I was concerned that his teachers might see the coverage and believe that my teenager had been involved in anti-social behaviour when that is so far from the truth!

I knew that the whole story would not be retracted but my expectation was for the photo to be taken down which it was.

However, the bottom line is that using pictures without permission, if they are taken in a public place is allowed.

There are many misconceptions regarding using and posting pictures online, and especi
ally sharing pictures of children without the parent/carers permission. The question - Is it illegal to take a picture of a child in the UK? regularly comes up in parenting groups.

However, asking whoever has posted the photos to remove them and explaining why is often enough to have them taken down.

If it is a minor in the photo I would point that out and hope that also impacts on a positive outcome.

I hope this article has helped address question Is it illegal to take a picture of a child in the UK? The law is ambiguous and the providing the photo is not indecent the law is shady. Privacy laws are probably the best way to approach getting a photo taken down if shared online and you are not happy with the photo being out there.

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