Is it legal to take someone's photo in public?

In the taxi business in the small provincial town in which I work, more than half my time is spent waiting, rather than driving.  All of the time spent driving is spent sitting down. A sedentary lifestyle is not especially healthy, especially in the midst of middle age, so I will tend to take every opportunity I can to get out of my taxi and walk around. 

A recent job from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford came following a random call from a friend, who had been admitted for emergency treatment.  Having made contact with my passenger, I started pacing around outside my taxi, looking down from time to time at my telephone. 
Someone came over in a flustered state.  She erroneously thought I was checking her car, which was parked behind mine, for some kind of internal parking infringement. Immediately, she started making her excuses, emphasising to me that she was a member of staff, going off to get a permit from inside the building. 

"I'm a taxi driver," I said, showing her my badge, which I am required to wear at all times whilst working,"I am not checking your car."  She clearly didn't believe me, stating again that she was a member of staff.  I left the conversation at that point, as there was nothing further to be gained. 

That would not be the first occasion that someone has refused to believe that I am a taxi driver, despite being shown the officially issued evidence hanging around my neck. It is evidence which can also be verified online, for licences issued by certain Oxfordshire councils.   

On another occasion, I was taking photographs in the Market Place in Wallingford, when I was approached three times, by someone who was running a stall at a small event, which was taking place there.  

Much of my photography is panoramic, which involves a slow sweeping motion with my smartphone, the images then being stitched together inside the camera.  With this type of photography, individuals are shown quite small, often not personally identifiable at all. 

Though the person who had approached me was not actually photographed by me, she was adamant that what I was doing was illegal, that I was not allowed to take her photograph and that I should stop immediately.  She walked from one side of the square to the other to repeat her demands, three times, the last time with two colleagues, the three of whom ganged up on me and confronted me in an aggressive manner. 

Preaching the Word on Wallingford Market Place: 04 February 2017

Preaching the Word on Wallingford Market Place: 04 February 2017

The law had been carefully and politely explained to her, but the level of wilful ignorance surrounding the taking of photographs in public was extraordinary and too much to bear.  It would have been far better to approach politely, in the first instance and have a genuine conversation.   

They might have even found that they ended up with some free photography, publicity and goodwill for their good cause, or business.

As published in the Herald Series, Wednesday 17 May 2017

  1. Vale of White Horse District Council, Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Drivers Conditions and Code of Conduct. (PDF, 22.2 KB), 01 January 2013, as consulted 16 May 2017:    "11 Every driver shall at all times when in charge of a licensed vehicle wear their driver’s badge supplied by the council and the badge should be clearly visible."
  2. Police National Legal Database, Q717: I want to take some photos / video footage in public, is it now illegal?, as consulted 16 May 2017