Is It Illegal to Take a Picture of a Child or Young Person Under 18? – Digital Safeguarding

Is it illegal to take a photo of a child UK

What Does the Law Say When it Comes to Taking Photos of Children or Young People?

We get asked this question quite often: Is it illegal to take a picture of a child in the UK?

There’s no simple answer to this question. So let’s take a closer look at what the law says, before exploring some general guidelines.

Photos of Children and UK Law

UK law only covers indecent images of children.

The law states that “Taking, making, sharing and possessing indecent images and pseudo-photographs of people under 18 is illegal. A pseudo-photograph is an image made by computer-graphics or otherwise which appears to be a photograph.”

What counts as “indecent” is not defined by legislation. But the law offers some guidance on what this, and other terms might mean. Read more here.

The problem is, many parents worry about photos of children that could never be termed “indecent”. They worry that perfectly innocent photos of their children could fall into the wrong hands.

Understanding the Problem

Parents worry about three things:

  • Images they themselves take of their children could put their children at risk.
  • Children could use their smartphones to share their own pictures, without their parents’ knowledge.
  • A stranger could take a picture of their child, without the child’s or the parents’ knowledge.

It’s not illegal for parents to take pictures of their children, or of other parents’ children. Nor is it illegal for children to take pictures of themselves, or their friends. And despite what many parents seem to think, there’s nothing in UK law to say that it’s illegal for strangers to take photos of children.

In every case, the law only comes into play if the photos can be classed as “indecent”. 

But there are risks associated with any image of any child appearing online. It’s important that we take the time to understand these risks.

Understanding the Risks

Any photo of a child posted online could leave children vulnerable to grooming. The risk is greater if the photo’s shared along with information that makes the child identifiable – such as a school uniform.

Images may be shared online by would-be abusers. Anyone can copy, download, screenshot or share any image. And with image-editing software, even a perfectly innocuous picture can be transformed into something totally inappropriate.

Other risks are more long-term. For example, the terms of service of certain online platforms states that any images shared on their sites become the property of the network. They could sell these photos to third parties. So the image of your child could be used for commercial purposes without you realising it.

You also need to consider your child’s public image. Any image of them posted online could haunt them for the rest of their life. Something that seems funny when they’re a child could affect their self-image in later life. Certain images could even harm their chances of getting a job.

So What Should We Do?

For organisations, the course of action is clear.

The NSPCC has some detailed guidance on photography and sharing images:

Some children, parents or carers may not be comfortable with images of themselves or their children being shared. For example, if a child and their family have experienced abuse they may worry about the perpetrator tracing them online. Or children who choose not to have contact with some members of their family may decide to minimise their online presence.

The solution is a photography policy statement. The NSPCC has a template for creating a policy for your organisation.

You can read the guide, and download the policy template, on the NPSCC website.

But What Should Parents Do?

It’s a good idea to never share any images of your children online. The risks are too great, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

But when it comes to taking and sharing pictures of your children, the main thing to consider is consent. Would your children be happy with you sharing photos of them?

Photography and Consent

Once again, the NSPCC has some great guidance on this issue:

Children should always be consulted about the use of their image and give consent to it being used. They must be aware that a photo or video is being taken and understand what the image is going to be used for. You should ask them how they feel about the image being shared online.

They have some advice on parental consent, on written consent, and on considerations for older children and young adults. Read more here.

Though this advice is written for organisations, it’s good advice for parents too. It might be a bit much to seek written consent forms from your own children. But it’s still a good idea to ask them how they feel about these things, and to ensure they understand the risks of sharing images online.

Storing Images

Even if you have no intention of sharing the photos, you must still take precautions when storing images of children.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has a detailed guide to securely storing images and other potentially sensitive files. Find it here.

Somebody Took a Picture of My Child Without My Permission

What do you do if you find a photo of your child online? Maybe it’s been shared by someone you don’t know on social media. Or maybe it’s appeared on the site of an event you attended.

In the latter case, you should contact the organisation that organised the event and request to see their photography policy statement. Even if they reserve the right to use any images taken at their event, they should still honour your request to take down any photos you ask them to.

Once more, the ICO has a few guidelines that might help here. Their guide to accessing information from a public body is an essential read. It’s also worth reading their guide to whether organisations need your consent for photos.

At the end of the NSPCC guide there’s a series of references and resources that might give you an idea of what to do when faced with this issue. Find them here.

We also have a short guide to photography. Our guide refers to adults at risk, but the principles are essentially the same. Find it here.

And if you have any other questions about safeguarding children, don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0115 951 5400.