Ask the Rov: If I took a picture of someone walking on a public street, am I allowed to share it with others without their consent?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
In general, a person should be aware that when they walk in the street or attend public gatherings, there may be people looking at them or taking pictures. Legally, one may photograph someone on public property without their permission; if they are on private property, the law varies based on the country and how private the place is (e.g. in a house vs. on the porch).
Some poskim hold that photographing someone is comparable to drawing a picture and is considered the handiwork of the photographer. According to this, the photographer may use the picture and even do business with it without the permission of the person photographed.
Other poskim argue that it is prohibited to photograph a person without their permission due to various reasons. Some are stringent to avoid being photographed out of halachic and kabbalistic concerns and one may not inflict this spiritual damage to them against their desire. The Rogatchover argued that benefiting from another person’s appearance is a halachic “benefit” and may not be done if the person disapproves.
Sometimes there is actual monetary value and potential profit that the one photographed could have made from his portrait, and some argue that taking this from them could be a form of theft.
In any case, if the photo in question will cause someone harm or embarrassment, you may certainly not share it or show it to anyone. Sharing such a photo transgresses the mitzva of loving your fellow as yourself, and additionally, it is like relating something disparaging about someone, lashon hara. The Torah also forbids hurting someone’s feelings, ona’ah.
Even if it is a relatively benign picture, like someone on a trip, you must take into account if the one photographed would want this to be the first impression that others have of them. This is included in the words of Hillel, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.”
In practice, one is allowed to share a respectable picture of someone else, yet if it’s for a significant purpose, it’s best to obtain permission from the one photographed as they might have a better photo that will serve their interest better.
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