Navigating Mexico: Your Right to Snap a Pix

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 Most tourists and visitors to Mexico likely assume laws and customs are similar in here to their home countries. So what’s legal and what’s not when taking pictures or shooting video, especially in the context of younger generations documenting every move in life?

The rules of the game are very different in Mexico when compared, for example, to the United States.

In the United States, there is no expectation for privacy in a public place, so there is no need to have someone’s permission to photograph or film them. It is even legal to film someone who is inside their home if the photographer is standing in a public place and there is no expectation for privacy like in a bathroom or a changing room. In the United States, the old adage “there is no censorship of the eyes” is fairly well known by amateur photographers and paparazzi alike,

But Mexico is quite different.

Mexico actually has two laws regarding the subject. The first one most people know about because it involves the protection of personal data, similar to the laws that most countries have.

The second, less-known law stems from Article 5 of the Mexican Constitution. It states: “The right to a private life, one’s honor and to one’s own image will be civilly protected against any damage that may be caused to them as a result of an illegal act, in accordance with the provisions of this law.”

Make no mistake, this is not some leftover from the days of the Mexican Revolution or a romanticized notion of a gallant society. The eight pages of this law referring to these protections for Mexico City are actually from 2014.

The law goes so far as to say that individuals have a right to their personality being protected, whatever that means.

Regarding photographing individuals, the law clearly states that is illegal without express prior permission, even if in a public place. The exception applies to civil servants, such as police officers, who can always be photographed while they are carrying out their duty. The same is true for those who put themselves in the public limelight: actors, singers and the like.

Taking a “tourist” shot in which people happen to be in the shot’s background would not meet the legal standard for proving harm, but walking up to a stranger and taking a closeup — totally legal in many countries — would meet the standard of harm in Mexico.

The principle is a good one. Ordinary citizens have a right to a private life and not having that life exposed or exploited by others. Think of someone in abject poverty or forced into prostitution. Do they have to swallow their dignity because I want to capture everything I see in Mexico?

Luckily, there are no criminal penalties for violating this law, but a judge would have wide latitude in imposing civil fines.

Most Mexicans likely don’t even know the law exists, including police officers.

However, unlike other countries that operate more to favor the individual’s rights versus the group’s rights, Mexico is culturally the opposite, with high levels of distancing from strangers during interpersonal interaction.

So, bottom line, if someone says to you, “Please do not take my picture,” do not back yourself into a corner by saying it is a public place and you have the right.

You actually do not.


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