Public and Private Spaces Redefined

Mobile phones and, in particular, snapshots have redefined our perceptions of public and private spaces. As Lee states, the public and private boundaries have become blurred as users that are taking private photos in public locations are then uploading them publicly online (Lee 2009). This practice is essentially unprecedented, as the laws and ethics of public photography have become indistinct.

Contrary to what might be popularly believed, public photography (such as street photography) in New South Wales is in fact legal. As Nemeth addresses, in 2001 a high court reaffirmed that forms of what is considered ‘unauthorised’ photography are legal (2014). Furthermore, Justice Dowd in 2001 states that “A person, in our society, does not have a right not to be photographed” (Nemeth 2014).

Although the laws might say that photographing in public is legal, how ethical is this practice? This week we were tasked to take photographs of strangers in a public space. These photos, under law, are legal to be taken. However, we would have to ask permission before publishing them to the internet. In our class of about a dozen people, almost all of us found this strangely uncomfortable.

Therefore, not only have the boundaries between what is considered public and what been considered private become blurred; so have the laws and ethics regarding mobile phone photography. The ALRC has noted that there is a unprecedented level of concern regarding unauthorised photographs which has “exploded with the ease and accessibility of online publication” (2014).

But are mobile phone photography the only issue causing this blurred boundary of the public and private space? In a post 9/11 world, issues regarding public security has seen CCTV and is prominence in public spaces rise exponentially. Especially in the UK, where the average person is monitored over 300 times in a single day (Bowman 2013). Both are essentially an invasion of privacy. Considering this, the Hungry Beast a few years ago released a video regarding a new form of filmmaking known as video sniffing.


Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) 2008, Particular Privacy Issues Affecting Children and Young People, Australian Law Reform Commission.

Bowman, R 2013, ‘Top 10 Interesting Facts About CCTV Cameras’, Newhams Security, viewed 7 September, <;.

Lee, DH 2009, ‘Mobile Snapshots and Private/Public Boundaries’, Knowledge, Technology, & Policy, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 161 – 171.

Nemeth, A 2014, ‘NSW Photo Rights’, 4020, viewed 6 September 2014, <;.


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