Exploring your rights when strangers take your picture in public

WATCH: An Instagram account called @TTCWomen bills itself as a “fun” account, but some say it violates people’s privacy. Marianne Dimain reports.

TORONTO — You’re on the subway after a long day and all you want is to get home, when you notice someone snapping a picture of you. It’s an uncomfortable situation, especially as the omnipresent smartphone becomes more advanced, and apps make sharing of images and video easier than ever.

An Instragram account called @TTCWomen is raising a red flag when it comes to personal privacy and public spaces. Filled with shots of women riding Toronto’s transit system, some pictures appear posed, while others look like candid shots.

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The account bills itself as “snapping photos of the beautiful women seen on the TTC. Just for the sake of fun and beauty.” It’s not clear who is behind the account.

So what are your rights?

Legally, you’re out of luck. A stranger taking your picture in a public space doesn’t break any laws, according to the Toronto Police Service.

“You can kindly ask them to please not take the photograph and to delete it from their phone,” said Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu. “However, it’s not a criminal offence.”

The TTC told Global News passengers can report a situation to one of its special constables if there is a recurring problem which becomes harassment. But the transit commission can’t stop people from taking pictures.

So while rules aren’t technically being broken, Ann Cavoukian, executive director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute, said it ultimately comes down to respecting others. She called the activity of taking the unwelcome pictures “inappropriate.”

“Of course you’re in a public space, but that doesn’t give you permission to take pictures of everyone.”

She said while some might not have regard for other’s privacy while in a public place, consent is still important.

“If you want to take someone’s picture, you say ‘would you mind if I snapped a photo?’ It’s that simple.”

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