Public Space as an Ethical Dilemma

Today, anywhere we go, there will be presence of technologies in both private and public areas such as clinics, restaurants, hawker centres, hospitals, schools, workplace etc. If we think about it, these technologies as if are intrinsically involved in our daily lives. We have become so used and adapted to it.

The topic to be discussed in this blog is whether there are any ethical practices applied on the usage of personal devices (mainly taking photos) in public places. Public photography, or also known as, street photography is taking pictures or videotaping anything or anyone in public settings. According to Stanley (2011), “taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right — and that includes the outside of federal buildings, as well as transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.”


Photo: The Nature of The Cage

This matter in question becomes a debatable issue. Referring to The Arts Law Centre of Australia (2015), “there are no publicity or personality rights in Australia and there is no right to privacy that protects a person’s image”. Taking photographs in public places compromising buildings, sites or people is generally acceptable, but with constraints. (ALCA, 2015)

The concern of public space photography is also because of the rise of modern technology today. These inventions further dim the fine line between the spatial aspect of privacy and public settings. For example, there are so many social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter and Snapchat that generate a common framework which is allowing its users to share their personal stories or photos to connect to the world. Referring to Pew Research Center (2013), “teens are increasingly sharing different types of personal information about themselves on social media sites than they did in the past.” In a way, this platform is catered for us to display photos and show it off. Naturally, people feel comfortable uploading their pictures online for other people to see.

Applying a set of rules or regulations sometimes may not be necessarily effective, as it could restrict the duties of certain professions namely visual journalism or street photographers in representing the real-life subjects of a certain phenomenon. It is the duty of a visual journalist to document images in its truest form as much as possible to be shown to the public for credibility and accuracy. (NPPA, 2012) Certainly, they will “treat all subjects with respect and dignity”, in “giving special consideration and compassion to vulnerable subjects”, as abide by their code of ethics. (NPPA, 2012) Besides, street photographers can promote cultural enrichment of a society. This can evidently be seen through like how Terrence Ong, a 38-year-old photographer, portrays the uniqueness of our country Malaysia with his film camera. (TreSixty, 2013) Like the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Photo: TreSixty

Photo: TreSixty

Not just professionals, we, as normal citizens, also need to have the freedom to express our views and perspectives. Personally, I think that once you set foot in a public setting, there is no way you can feel “privacy”. The given space is open and does not belong to only one individual, but shared by everyone. Hence, as mentioned above, we need to know our stance and limitations when taking pictures. The constraints meant would be sexually explicit, scandalous or controversial contents as these simply demean or offend the person without his or her consent. (ALCA, 2015) Thus, the motive and reasoning behind the actions done (photos taken) by the person plays a huge and important factor. It is vital to gain the person’s consent when taking his or her photo or vice versa.


Photo: Thomas Hawk

Arts Law Centre of Australia 2015, Street photographer’s rights, accessed 27/10/2015,

Madden, M, Lenhart, A, Cortesi, S, Gasser, U, Duggan, M, Smith, A & Beaton, M 2013, “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy”, Pew Research Center, accessed 27/10/2015,

National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) 2012, NPPA Code of Ethics, accessed 27/10/2015,

Stanley, J 2011, “You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop”, American Civil Liberty Unions, accessed 27/10/2015,

TreSixty 2013, “A photo-man in the street who introduces Malaysia via street photography”, accessed 27/10/2015,


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