I like to watch…with permission, of course

I have spent a life time watching people. Intrigued by their idiosyncratic movements, I have gone from being chided by my mother for staring at people, to my university lecturer giving me a pad and paper and saying go watch… then come back and write about it. Yes! I have arrived.

Diagram of indoor pool complex

My university sanctioned voyeuristic adventure

Despite the downfalls of multi-tasking, as a single mother-of-two who is half way through a double degree, the only way my research gets done IS by multi-tasking.This past week I multi-tasked my observation of people using media in public with taking my children to their swimming lesson.

Now the area in which I was conducting the observation is an indoor swimming pool. As per my diagram the building has two main areas, the 25 metre heated pool area where there was lessons and squad training and the small recreation/baby pool (as per above diagram). First I started with the 25 metre pool area.  There was about 13 parents scattered around the metal and plastic seats.  Of the 13 people seated, about 9 of them were on their smartphones.  Most of them never looked up at their children at all.  If people were sitting in pairs rather than alone they tended not to be on their phones and preferred to engage in social interaction with another person.

Interestingly when we finished the lesson and moved to the recreational pool everything changed.  As I observed the recreational area almost no parents were on their phone. Out of about 9 adults there was only 2 people who looked at their phone continuously.

 The Photo


Shown above from the stadium style cold metal seats are the subjects of my observation.  The woman closest to the camera who is on her phone did not look up at all from her device in the 30 minutes that I observed.

The above photo was taken without anyone’s permission and without their knowledge, which is totally legal.

Before I published this photo I consulted the  Arts Law Centre of Australia’s information sheet on street photographers rights  . The Arts Law Centre advises that it is completely legal to photograph people in public without their permission, “It is generally possible to take photographs in a public place without asking permission. This extends to taking photographs of buildings, sites and people.” Australian Government (2016) There are many other subtleties involved in this subject such as using images of children without their guardians permission.  The taking of photographs for commercial requires permissions of councils and individuals on a case by case basis.

The Australian Law Reform Centre of Australia pointed towards public photography or street photography possibly coming under the Privacy Act.  However Australian Privacy law is unlikely to apply,’The Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) is unlikely to apply in this circumstance [photography of individuals], as it does not cover individuals acting in a personal capacity.’Australian Government (2016)

The Australian Law Reform Commission expresses concern of privacy issues around photography of children and adolescents, there seems to be no existing law around this other than when photos can be deemed lewd and sexually inappropriate.

69.106 The taking of photographs and other images of children and young people without consent has raised significant concerns in recent times. While the issues are not limited to photographs and images of children and young people, recent controversies have included: the taking of photographs of young male rowers and footballers and posting them on a website containing links to what the media described as a ‘gay website’; discovery of a website containing hundreds of images of children taken at recreational sites in Queensland, and thought to be used for sexual gratification; and examples of ‘upskirting’—the covert taking of photographs underneath clothing—in a number of public places. Australian Government (2008)

In regards to  my photograph  – although I was in a public pool, once I entered beyond a boundary fence and inside a building the space legally becomes ‘private property’.  As instructed on the Arts Law Centre’s website I went to Campbelltown Council’s website to view their policy on photography.  There was no photography policy, however they did have an application form for commercial photography and film within the region.  I searched the grounds of the pool complex for any signage relating to photography and found only instructions not to use smartphones within the change rooms (instructions which I disobey regularly).

Although taking photographs such as the above may be completely legal, they may not be completely ethical.  But, therein lies the conundrum.  The subjects above may change their behaviour if they are aware of being recorded.  For these purposes I was consciously took a photograph of peoples backs and was confident that I could Photoshop their faces to obscurity.

So I have checked with the law and the local council and I am free and clear. But, then I have to check in with my conscience. Being a mother of two young children, no matter with what the law says, publishing pictures of my children online without my permission is an issue. The image above doesn’t show any identifying signs, the children are clothed and the adults pictured have been blurred, but the subject (which is the mobile phones) can still be seen clearly. So confident that I have been sufficiently caring with my subjects I am happy to press publish, confident that I can sit and watch my phone at my kids swimming lesson without retribution.



Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 2016, Photos of Individuals, Australian Government, view 15 September 2016 <https://www.oaic.gov.au/individuals/faqs-for-individuals/law-enforcement-surveillance-photos/someone-has-taken-photos-of-me-without-my-permission-what-can-i-do&gt;

Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) 2008, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (ALRC Report 108), Australian Government, Canberra, Viewed 15 September 2016, <http://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/report-108&gt;


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