Can Security Guards Delete Your Photos?

San Diego (CA) - Pictures capture a moment, important moments like the toothless smiles of our children, the agony of a Superbowl defeat or a political protestor’s last moments of freedom. Photos can crumble governments and free the oppressed, but everyday pictures are usually fairly mundane - that is until an overzealous security guard walks up and demands that they be erase.

At last week’s Travel Goods Show in San Diego, we recroded one security guard telling an attendee to erase several pictures in her camera - oh the joys of having a camcorder with 16X zoom and a shotgun mic. The above video shows the encounter where the attendee quietly goes through each picture and deletes them. But did she have to comply with guard?

It seems most photographers are a bit confused about their rights and the powers of security guards and police. Ask five people on the street about what they would do and you’re likely to get five different answers - everything from "I’ve got a camera. I can take pictures of anything," all the way to the belief that security guards have godlike powers ad can confiscate your gear.

Back in 2005 and 2006, Andrew Kantor with the USA Today tackled those issues in two columns where he said the public is often quite confused about their rights. "What I discovered is that a lot of people have ideas - often very clear ones - of what is legal and what isn’t," said Kantor. You can read his initial column here and the follow-up column here.

To the guard’s credit, there was a large sign posted near the entrance of the event which stated, "Show management reserves the right to confiscate camera equipment, disks and film." Most people would take it for granted that such a sign gives those guards the right to perform those actions, but that simply isn’t true, according to noted photography rights attorney Bert Krages II.

Krages has published a one-page guide to photographer’s rights that can be freely downloaded on his website. In the guide, he says that private citizens and security guards often do not completely understand photographer’s rights and they cause most of the confrontations against hapless picture snappers. Furthermore, he says that guards cannot confiscate or delete your pictures.

"Absence of court order, private parties have no right to confiscate your film," Krages says.

Of course the guards can always ask that you delete the pics, but a photographer can just refuse (thereby risking being ejected) or walk away. But at the end of the day, is it worth the hassle of getting kicked out of a trade show for a few pictures? For many, like this young lady in our video, they believe the benefits of staying at the venue outweigh any confrontation with security. For others, keeping the pictures, no matter how mundane, is a matter of principle.

Oh and in case you were wondering, we did have permission to film inside the show.

Humphrey Cheung is a consulting systems engineer for Cisco Meraki who has also worked as a freelance videographer and reporter. He was previously a senior editor for Tom's Hardware and his work has also been featured on Tom's Guide, CNN, The New York Times, NBC, FOX, plus many other publications.