Is it Illegal to Take a Picture of Someone and Post it on the Internet in Utah?

In a world dominated by smartphones, cameras are more ubiquitous than ever before. In fact, almost every person you pass on the street has a high-quality camera right in the palm of their hand. This compact, lightweight technology makes it easy to take photos without being noticed – and to instantly upload the images to countless popular apps and websites. Some have embraced this technology, while others say it merely enables the invasion of privacy. The question is, what does the law have to say? Is it legal to take a photo of someone and post it on the internet, or is sharing somebody’s photo online a crime in Utah? Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson explains Utah’s laws on invasion of privacy, “revenge porn,” and distributing photos of minors online.

Is it Legal to Photograph Someone in Public?

Generally speaking, it is legal to photograph somebody in a public place, such as a public park or city street. In these public areas, people have relatively little “reasonable expectation of privacy” as compared to being in the home. However, many places which are commonly thought of as “public” – including theatres, amusement parks, and malls – are in fact privately owned. Many property owners limit or completely prohibit photography on the premises, varying from business to business.

Is it Illegal to Post Pictures of Someone Online without Their Consent?

In a time where most of us are addicted to photo-sharing apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, you might not think twice about uploading a photograph of a stranger online. But before you click that “share” button, consider this: posting a picture of someone online without their permission could get you into legal trouble. Depending on the nature of the image, you could even be charged with a felony.

Utah has enacted several laws that prohibit photographing others or distributing the photographs on the internet, depending on certain factors. For example, photographing another person might violate state laws against privacy violations or the distribution of intimate images. These laws are discussed in greater detail below.

What Are the Invasion of Privacy Laws in Utah?

Utah’s invasion of privacy statute is Utah Code § 76-9-402. Under Utah Code § 76-9-402(1)(b), you illegally violate another person’s privacy if you install or set up a camera (such as a wireless hidden camera) “in a private place,” such a person’s home or apartment unit, without getting permission from the homeowner or tenant. This restriction applies not only to cameras, but more broadly to “any device for observing, photographing, hearing, recording, amplifying, or broadcasting” footage.

Some exceptions apply pertaining to “unmanned aircraft,” or drones, which are increasingly commonplace in our airspace. However, the law also specifies that the drone can only be used in a way that complies with regulations. Utah’s drone laws, which are contained under Title 72, Chapter 14 of the Utah Code, currently prohibit weaponizing drones (Utah Code § 72-14-303) or operating drones near prisons (Utah Code § 72-14-304).

Violation of privacy is a Class B misdemeanor in Utah. The maximum criminal penalties for a Class B misdemeanor include up to $1,000 in fines (or equivalent service work) and a jail sentence of up to six months.

What Are “Revenge Porn” Laws (Distribution of an Intimate Image)?

So far, we have primarily discussed street photography and public photography, like candid portraits of strangers. Photographs of a sexual or intimate nature are treated differently under the law.

Under Utah Code § 76-5b-203, it is illegal to distribute erotic or pornographic images of others online without their consent, if the person who shared or uploaded the image “knows or should know that the distribution [of the image] would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress or harm.” Several other factors also arise in cases involving these types of offenses, which are sometimes referred to as “revenge porn” (though the actual term is “distribution of an intimate image”). For example, the state must prove that the photo was taken in a setting or situation where “the individual [who was photographed] has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

It is critical to note that this law applies to individuals who are legal adults, meaning 18 or older. If the subject of an intimate photograph is under the age of 18, then distributing his or her image is sexual exploitation of a minor – a more serious criminal offense. Distribution of an intimate image is a Class A misdemeanor or third degree felony, whereas distribution of child pornography is a second or first degree felony.

Salt Lake City Defense Lawyer Offering Free Legal Consultations

If you have been charged with distribution of an intimate image, sexual exploitation of a minor, or related offenses in Utah, you need aggressive legal representation from an experienced Salt Lake City criminal attorney. For a free legal consultation, contact Overson & Bugden online, or call today at (801) 758-2287.