The Legalities of Photography in Singapore (Part 1 - Privacy)

In recent weeks, I have been struggling to deal with the legalities of privacy and intellectual property laws in Singapore. Do I need consent when I'm shooting in public? Can building security stop me? I googled around and found many articles but most are only applicable to the US. So I went to bury myself in some reading.

As always, I'm not a lawyer and neither is this considered legal advise. I may be wrong in my interpretation. Consult a lawyer if you are in doubt.

PRIVACY LAWS

In Singapore, privacy is covered under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of 2012. According to the Personal Data Protection Commission, the PDPA "establishes a data protection law that comprises various rules governing the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data". As much as the term 'personal data' seem to have no relation to photography on the streets, an advisory guideline issued by the Commission says otherwise.

Q: Do I need consent to photograph a person in public?

Most of the time, no. If the location is deemed to be open to anyone with little to no restriction, the Commission deems the personal data (i.e.. an image of the person) is publicly available, hence there is no need for consent for personal or domestic usage.  However, it is critical to remember that public space may have so-called private space (eg. toilet, ATM, nursing room) which require consent.

If you are conducting business (applies to paid and unpaid business) with a company or organisation, consent is required.

Q: How do I obtain consent?

The PDPA does not state how you should obtain consent although it is good practice to use a method that allow record keeping in case you are required to prove that consent was obtained. The most common way is a release form which is suitable for small groups of people. In case of a large event, the organiser can choose to put up a sign to inform people that upon entering the area, they are implying consent to be photographed.

Q: If I did not get consent but still took a picture of a person, will I lose the copyright to my image?

Definitely not. The image will belong to the author but if it does not comply with the PDPA, you cannot use the image.

Q: The person gave me consent but withdrew it subsequently, is that legal?

Yes. But the withdrawal will only apply to usage after the withdrawal request and does not apply to any application of the personal data (i.e.. the image of the person) before the withdrawal request was submitted.

Q: I'm capturing my image as an art.

The PDPA does not require consent for collection of personal data for "artistic" and "literacy" purposes. It is complicated to explain so I will quote the Commission's advise on this matter.

In accordance with paragraph 1(g) of the Second Schedule, an organisation is permitted to collect personal data about an individual without the individual’s consent if the personal data is collected solely for artistic or literary purposes. Such collected data may also be used or disclosed for purposes consistent with the purpose of collection.

The terms “artistic” and “literary” are not specifically defined in the PDPA. The Commission is of the view that it would likely be in line with the purpose of the PDPA for these terms to take their ordinary meanings. However, the Commission notes that the parameters as to what would constitute “artistic” purposes may be strongly subjective. Accordingly, while organisations taking photographs solely for artistic or literary purposes may rely on the exception, where it is feasible for organisations to obtain the individual’s consent before taking a photograph of the individual or where it is uncertain that an organisation’s purpose would be considered solely “artistic” or “literary”, the Commission would advise organisations to obtain the individual’s consent as a best practice. 

In short, it is best to obtain consent to cover your a**.

Conclusion

It is apparent that the privacy laws in Singapore are not very well-defined and very subjective. Hence, as photographers, it is always best to play on the safe side and not take any risk especially if your work involves commercial usage.

 

References: ADVISORY GUIDELINES ON THE PDPA FOR SELECTED TOPICS