The Morality of Photos in Public: Irish Justice Minister Wants Ban on Pictures of On-Duty Police

The Morality of Photos in Public: Irish Justice Minister Wants Ban on Pictures of On-Duty Police

A debate has erupted in Ireland after Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan publicly supported the notion that it should be illegal to take any photos of the Gardai, Ireland’s police service, while they are on duty. It follows one police officer having his name and photo published in an angry backlash online.

Voicing his beliefs while speaking during a broadcast on RTÉ Radio One, he later took to Twitter to address the less-than-favorable response of the Irish public.

Flanagan was quick to say that press photographers were not at fault, and did not disturb the Gardai’s line of work. The public, however, were constantly found to be putting “multiple mobile phones in [the Gardai's] faces as they try to go about their policing.” He also added that the uploading of said photos to social media was creating a wave of threatening comments against the police that he deems to be “totally unacceptable.”

His comments come following an incident where an individual member of the Gardai was singled out and named on social media after attending a job involving the eviction of housing protestors. A photo accompanied his details when posted online, with threats being made against his well-being.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties expressed their dismay at Flanagan’s opinion, claiming it would “criminalize ordinary members of the public for sharing information about public events.”

Irish Prime Minister and Head of Government Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has calmed the situation by revealing there are no plans to outlaw the public taking images of the Gardai.

Lead image credit: Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash, used under Creative Commons. 

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Mark James's picture

Not sure how close "In their faces" is, but people should have to stay back and allow them to do their job. This is a slippery slope.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

Well you have to get pretty close to take a body or face picture with a ~24mm lens

Rob Davis's picture

He got pretty quickly bitch-slapped for saying that and there are no plans to actually implement his idea.

Something we are all going to have to come to terms with as a community sooner than later however is, whether we like it or not, photography is increasingly used as a weapon on everyday people. It's not just the check on power it used to be, but often to used to wield power over people. Revenge porn is a classic example, but now there's a lot of ham-fisted citizen "journalism" and "doxxing" as well.

Whether photographers should take it upon themselves to lead on this issue is debatable, but we're probably the best equipped to do so.

Robert Nurse's picture

The adage, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong...” works for the public, it should be fine for the state.

Adam Ottke's picture

Yeah. Obviously they're not planning on making that the law, I guess. In these cases, standard and often-existing laws against harassment and making threats against people should honesty suffice. They just need to prosecute the people doing it...and after a while it'll calm down.

We should be able to record anything on public grounds and post wherever we like. We need that transparency. But it's also fair to expect the general public to behave at least somewhat appropriately and to hold them accountable when they actually take things to a less decent, unlawful level.

Elan Govan's picture

There was a time when it was commonplace to hear Nick Faldo's caddy bellowing out "No cameras please". Now the silent smart mobile phone is everywhere recording anything and everything. It's our new found privilege of being even more annoying.

As a retired police officer I can say that occasionally people did get in my face, and every now and then they got right up my nose. But even in the days before smartphones it was not uncommon to be photographed or videoed, but as long as they didn't interfere with you performing your duties then it wasn't a problem, and still isn't.

Being insulted as a policeman comes with the territory, and the nature of the job means that you are going to upset some people. The only real issue here is whether and how officers and their families are being threatened. Most officers wear name badges and with social media what it is, it doesn't take a genius to find out where people live. Law enforcement officers and their families, like everyone else, should be allowed to live without the fear of becoming victims of violence. How you prevent that from happening is another matter.

I'm all in favour of people being able to photograph and film whatever they like in public places. Unfortunately, there is a small minority of people who will take things beyond the limits of what is acceptable or legal and who will ruin things for everyone else.

mobile phones and camera's are the only defense the public has in defending themselves or showing wrong doing or police brutality, e.g. Rodney king case and so many more after that. without picture proof, judge will take a police mans word above yours any time of day.

As a someone who works in ems I can't fully blame Flanagan for his comments, I can kinda see where this horribly bad idea comes from. However we do need to have the freedom to document the world around us, restrictions he talked about would not be the solution. The actual issue isn't really directly related to photography but more to crappy behavior of public. Threats and interfering with work of any emergency services is a big issue and it has been growing for long. There is usually laws to deal with threats, those just needs to be enforced properly when possible so I'm not gonna talk about that. Bigger issue is with public interfering with our work just so they can take the photo. Several times a week public causes issues just so they can snap the picture with their phone. It gets very frustrating, especially when it can even put us and others in danger, often even they might risk their own health without even realizing it.

At least where I live, there is very little which can be done to someone who interferes with our work. You have to basically ask them to step away, then police can order them to step away and eventually police can take the interfering person in to custody if they keep doing it. They get a small ticket and they are on their way and learned nothing (obviously some do learn, many don't). Issues arise when there is 20 people and they have to be told one by one to step away. You get rid of one, there is 3 more already behind your back.

Examples are endless but there is people trying to take selfies right behind our back attending a patient, taking pictures while driving by accident scene and not paying attention to the road, stopping their car on side of the road just so they can walk on the freeway to take pictures, taking selfies with injured (sometimes even dead people, yes that happens too), asking for us to take selfies with them while we are in the middle of a call and so on.

Not sure how much can be done to this with laws, except stricker rules or punishment for everyone who interferes with work of emergency personel. But that would only take you so far. I'm a photographer who loves to take photos every day, but I've had enough common sense to know when it's better to just mind my own business and keep on walking even before working in ems.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Because nothing improves performance like removing scrutiny and accountability. Brilliant.