I am a freelance photojournalist and I have been sent on a number of assignments of varying complexity and directness. At each of these assignments I have taken photos of people, some with their express permission, but many times without their express permission. I’ve been told many times by some of these people “You can’t use a photo of me without my permission.” These comments inevitably come in angry, derogatory, and dismissive tones. It’s one of those things that really seems to catch me the wrong way because the plain fact of the matter is that, yes, yes indeed I can use a picture of you without your permission so long as that photo is not being used “for advertising or purposes of trade” which has, through legal decisions, been narrowed to EXclude art and any editorial usage. This extends to any public space or anywhere that the expectation of privacy (not simply from photographs) is not implied. This means that I cannot climb your fire escape, shoot you dancing in your boxers in your living room and publish those photos, but if you came downstairs and danced in your boxers in the middle of the street and I photographed you, then I CAN publish those photos without your permission.
Sometimes it becomes very contentious, such as when a police officer decides you’re not allowed to take photos in the subway (which you most certainly are allowed to since the proposed legislation to stop that was put down) or when someone gets in your face. With a complete lack of factual information, these people take it upon themselves to assert what they think without any regard for what is actually the truth. It’s annoying and pertinent to all photographers, both professional and amateur, in their everyday activities because without our rights to document and express we have nothing. So if you are doing something in public that you don’t want other people to see, don’t do it … or take it inside.
And just to show that this is a reality that is faced by all photographers, look at the lawsuit Philip-Lorca DiCorcia faced http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nussenzweig_v._DiCorcia