Ask SPLC: Can we publish a photo of school employees smoking outside the lunchroom?

Q: One of my photographers took a photo of some school employees smoking outside the school lunchroom. Can we publish the photo or would that be invading their privacy?

A: School employees have much the same privacy rights as anyone else. There are certain places (bathrooms, private office, other private spaces not generally accessible to the public, etc.) where they will have a reasonable expectation of privacy that must be respected. On the other hand, if the smoking area is in a place that is generally visible to the public with the naked eye, there would be no legal expectations of privacy when it comes to snapping photos. Also, if they were violating the school’s smoking policy or local law, the story starts to become more newsworthy — which is the big defense to invasion of privacy claims — and privacy concerns diminish.

Here’s a good guide for photographers on the topic.

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