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Private Investigations and Personal Security/Question about laws on taking pictures of people, and posting them online for Freedom of Speech purposes?


Hi Claude Ammons,

Since you deal with surveillance legal issues, hopefully I'm asking this question in the right place.

Let's say one wants to take pictures of different activities/people and post online for Freedom of Speech purposes, without getting permission from the person in the picture.  What is the legality of that?  

For example, I'm wondering if what I've heard is generally true or not? :  I heard in the United States taking photographs of people while in a public place in determining "reasonable expectation of privacy" doesn't have to do with whether the property the photographer is standing on is publicly versus privately owned, but rather whether it's open to/viewable by the general public?  For example, being inside a grocery store is privately owned property, but open to the general public.  If there are health code violations inside and you take pictures, since it's viewable by the general public, there's no reasonable expectation of privacy?  Is what I heard true?

I've also heard that unless they post a sign saying no photography, or verbally tell you, there's nothing illegal about taking pictures inside privately owned property "open to the public"?

I've also heard that publishing your pictures/posting online without the permission of the person in the picture isn't illegal if it's done for editorial/education/art purposes?  It's commercial purposes without permission which are illegal, such as advertisements?

Would you be able to tell me if what I heard is generally the truth in the United States, or is it way off?

Thank you for your time!


The best place to ask this question is with an attorney because you are dealing with legalities. I'm sure that some of these legal issues my vary from state to state. Privacy issues vary from state to state. In California, our "reasonable expectation of privacy" standard is as you identified which generally means there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place, unless their is signage indicating specific restrictions.

Nonetheless, the issue that is not really relevant to my profession is that of the legality of posting pictures of others on the internet. I would tend to agree with you that if you are using someone's image for promotional purposes without prior permission or consent that it may be illegal depending on the nature of the post (IE-Is the post demeaning to the person, slander, liable, etc.)

Lastly, I'm not an attorney therefore I cannot give legal advice. These are my experiences and limited knowledge in certain aspects. I recommend speaking with an attorney regarding state and international/national laws when it comes to internet.

Hope that helps!

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Claude D. Ammons - QM
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Claude Ammons


I enjoy answering questions relating to private & general investigations including but not limited to locates, skip tracing, surveillance, stalking, child custody, criminal defense, civil, corporate security/executive protection, workplace violence/threat assessments, personal security, security surveillance systems and GPS tracking/monitoring products & services. Specifically, I answer questions regarding state laws concerning private investigation practices, as well as the best practices & standard operating procedures used by most reputable private investigative firms. I can give you state & federal references when dealing with issues that may or may not be legal in your specific state. IE- Some states have laws which conflict with federal law such as California's "2 party law" for surreptitious audio recordings. I offer tips on how to identify the right investigative firm for your particular case and what type of questions that investigative firm should be asking you. QUICK TIP #1: NEVER hire a Private Investigative firm that is not concerned about providing you a written contract that specifically outlines the agreement and responsibilities of both parties!!! A written contract should be expected & demanded by both investigative firm and client 95% of the time. I have numerous resources and will point you in the right direction. Whether it is hiring an attorney, a specialist or offering tips on conducting LEGAL investigations & research yourself. I offer advise regarding the kind of info you can legally obtain, what's not legal for you to obtain and when you need to hire a professional to obtain the info on your behalf. Lastly, I have over 20 yrs of experience as a Security Professional/Consultant and 12+ yrs within the Investigative profession. As the 2009 President of a state Private Investigation Association, I have professional knowledge, experience & established resources that supply me with the most recent legislative issues & industry trends.


Corinthian Group experience includes but not limited to all areas of surveillance including Workers Compensation Insurance Fraud, Domestic Infidelity Cases, Computer Investigations & Forensics, Personal Injury & Automobile Liabilty, Loss Prevention, theft interviewing & interrogation techniques, Under Cover assignments, Stalking prevention & suppression, surveillance tactics & countermeasures and surveillance system & lighting consultation experience. Corinthian Group also has experience in security consultation & protective services to the corporate & private sector. These services include Bodyguard/Executive Protection, identity theft prevention, work place violence & volitale terminations, GPS tracking/monitoring services, TSCM/Debugging( Technical Surveillance Countermeasures) and security system products & diagramming experience.

2009 PICA President (Professional Investigators of California Association) NCISS (National Council of Investigations & Security Services)-Member CALI (California Association of Licensed Investigators)-Member SCFIA (Southern California Fraud Investigators Association)-Member WAD (World Association of Detectives)-Member

Publications Hellium: Blog: and my m

PSO (Security Course) Weaponless Defense Tai Karate & MMA training Wicklander & Zulawski-Interview & Interrogation Techniques Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST)-832 Level 3 CA State licensed Private Investigator-CA PI # 23070 Law Enforcement Training Center-Computer Investigations

Awards and Honors
Elected as the Association President of PICA in 2009. PICA was an Association that focused on legislative bills that would have a negative impact on our profession if passed at the state level... PICA was a member oriented association that was positioning itselt to provide its members with resources to help them successful grow and or sustain their businesses. Awarded for presentation of GPS Tracking devices. Honored for service as the 2009 PICA President and the 2008 & 2007 PICA 2nd Vice President respectively.

Past/Present Clients
SCRMA (Southern California Risk Management Associates), Markel Insurance Corporation, Imhoff & Associations (Nationwide Criminal Defense Law Firm). Private clients are Confidential!

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