Is It Illegal To Record Someone Without Their Consent In The UK?

Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 20th December 2023

The rise of smartphones means that pretty much everyone in the UK can record others at any given time. Moreover, the rising popularity of video platforms like TikTok also means that any video has the potential to go viral, potentially being viewed millions of times all over the world. 


But what are the legal implications of recording videos and sharing them? In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about recording videos and posting them on the internet, whether you’re a budding content creator looking to carve a path as a social media influencer or someone who has unwittingly found themselves the star of a viral video without your consent. 

What is a viral video? 

Viral videos are videos that become super popular on the internet. Pretty much any video can go viral on platforms like YouTube or TikTok, from funny clips to shocking incidents. 

There are no hard and fast rules as to how many views mean a video has gone viral, but some sources suggest it’s when a video gets five million or more views in a week or less. Essentially, if a video captures the attention of lots of people in a short space of time, it could be classed as a viral video. 

Now, many content creators view it as quite the achievement when one of their videos goes viral, providing it’s for the right reasons. However, the very real downside of viral content is that it can sometimes attract unwanted attention, criticism, or even controversy. This can be particularly hard to swallow if someone finds themselves an unwilling subject of internet fame. 

So, what exactly does the law say about filming people without their consent? And what kind of action can you take if you’ve been filmed or photographed without your consent and the content has gone viral? 

It is generally not illegal to record someone in a public setting without their consent in the UK. Nor is it illegal to take photographs of someone in a public setting without their consent, even children.

However, legal issues can arise depending on how you go about recording someone in public and what you do with the videos or photographs afterward. 

Recording someone with the intent to harass, intimidate, or stalk them can be illegal. Similarly, recording someone in a private setting where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, may be considered intrusive and potentially illegal. 

Beyond legal implications, it’s essential to be respectful of other’s privacy and consider the potential impact of recording on their well-being. 

Can a video of someone be shared without their permission? 

Privacy rights in the UK are safeguarded by laws like the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 2018.

These laws aim to stop others from meddling in someone’s personal life. The long and short of these laws is that your photos and private messages shouldn’t be shared with the public without your permission. Also, details like your address and phone number get extra protection. 

Recent changes in the law have also made certain things more specific. In 2015, it became illegal to share someone's private, intimate photos or videos without their consent. Additionally, the act of taking photos under someone's clothes without their consent was criminalised in 2019. Finally, as of 2021, even threatening to share intimate photos is illegal. 

However, here’s where things get a bit sticky when considering whether a video of someone can be shared without their permission. These privacy laws apply when there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” So, if someone hacks into your phone, takes your private pictures or videos, and shares them, then they’re breaking the law. Or, if you send a person intimate photos and they share them without your consent. 

However, if someone records a video or snaps a photo of you on a bus or in a park (in other words, places where you might not expect much privacy) it’s often perfectly legal for them to do so and although you may be able to ask them to delete the videos, you can't compel them to.

What can I do if a video of me has been shared without my permission? 

If someone threatens to share explicit videos of you online or has already done so, it’s a criminal offence, and you should report it to the police. 

If someone films you in your home or another private space where you would expect privacy, it could violate your right to a private life.

If someone shares photos or videos made by you without consent, it may breach your privacy or infringe on your copyright. In these situations, taking legal action is an option. 

If someone uses your image in a false and harmful way, defamation laws may apply. However, the falsehood shared must seriously harm your reputation. This doesn’t usually apply if the video or photo is genuine, but if it is manipulated in any way to make it seem like you’re doing something you didn’t do, then you might have a case. These rights also extend to children, even if their parents are the ones posting the images.  

It’s important to note that privacy is a qualified right, meaning it can be breached under certain circumstances, like when it’s in the public interest. However, most social media platforms and sites do enable users to request videos of them be taken down if the content violates their rights or violates the platform guidelines.

Performers rights and filming in public places

In the UK, performers’ rights prevent the recording of a live performance without permission and unauthorised sharing of copies. This applies to activities like acting, singing, dancing, or performing literary, dramatic, or musical works, whether they are paid performances or not. 

If you believe your right to privacy has been violated through a video that has been filmed and or/shared without your permission, you may be able to take legal action. 

At Lawhive, our network of solicitors is on hand to advise you and help you take legal action to protect your rights. Contact us today to get a free case assessment from our legal assessment team and find out how we can help you quickly and affordably. 

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