Does a photographer need an individual’s consent to take a photograph of the individual in public?
The general answer is that in Singapore there is no law that specifically says that consent from an individual is necessary before before capturing a photograph containing the person’s likeness in public places. If that is not the case, it will be almost impossible to take photographs in public or at public events and street photography cannot exist.
The Personal Data Protection Act
The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of Singapore may be thought to have placed restrictions on photography in public places. An image of an identifiable individual captured in a photograph or video recording is personal data about that individual for the purposes of the PDPA. However, the PDPA mainly regulates the collection of data by organisations and employees of organisations. Therefore, even when the PDPA requires consent from the individual to be obtained for the purposes of the collection, use or disclosure of the person’s personal data, the requirement is not applicable when the photographer is acting in his personal or domestic capacity.
Advisory Guidelines on the PDPA for Selected Topics
In the Advisory Guidelines on the PDPA for Selected Topics (revised 20 December 2016), the following example was given of photo-taking by an individual acting in a personal or domestic capacity:
Diana, an employee of Organisation XYZ, attends Organisation XYZ’s corporate social responsibility event. At the event, she meets her friend Dawn. During a break in the programme, they have a personal chat and catch up on each other’s personal lives. During the chat, Diana takes a photograph of the two of them to update her friends of the encounter via social media. Diana then uploads the photograph and displays it on her personal social media page.
In this instance, Diana would likely be considered to be an individual acting in a personal or domestic capacity, and would not be required to comply with the Data Protection Provisions in respect of the photo-taking and subsequent disclosure of the photograph via her social media account.
The Advisory Guidelines further explain that even an organisation or an employee of an organisation taking a photograph of an individual in a location that is open to the public will not need to obtain an individual’s consent to take the photograph. The Advisory Guidelines say a location would be considered “open to the public” if members of the public can enter or access the location with few or no restrictions.
A photographer should however be aware that there can be other legal issues relating to manner of taking photographs in public, the course of conduct and the use and publication of the photographs. The general rules still apply to conduct intended to cause “harassment, alarm or distress”, publication of photos with “threatening, abusive or insulting words” or publication of photos in a context which can amount to defamation.
Further information – The Advisory Guidelines for Selected Topics issued by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC)
This is a general overview – for more specific matters always seek the advice of a qualified lawyer.