It may be a popular way to take a holiday snap or recall a favourite fashion look. But Britain’s selfie-takers could be breaking the law without realising it, a top lawyer has warned.

Innocently taking self-portraits – beloved of Britain’s smartphone users – could be a criminal offence if the pictures are snapped in places where photography is illegal such as polling booths, private land or even in front of the Sistine Chapel.

Publishing pictures of friends against their wishes and even taking a snap with an endangered species could also land selfie addicts in hot water too.

In fact so great is the scope for illegal selfie-taking that lawyer, Danielle Clements, a specialist in property litigation and dispute at Gorvins Solicitors, has now been inspired to launch a list of guidelines to prevent lovers of this form of narcissistic photography from getting into trouble.

Entitled ‘How to dodge selfie self-harm’ it outlines how those who wish to chronicle their every move on camera could be breaking the law if they take selfies in certain situations.

It’s an issue which is of special concern in the run-up to the EU referendum says Danielle Clements:

“Polling Booth Selfies” are something people mustn’t do. Ballot papers contain individual markings that cannot be shared by law. Taking a selfie and publishing it this could constitute a breach of the secrecy of the ballot and if prosecuted may result in a £5,000 fine or 6 months in prison.

“In fact when I realised just how much the general public was making themselves vulnerable with selfies I felt I must draft a list of guidelines.”

Images tagged as #selfie first began appearing on the photo-sharing website Flickr as early as 2004. But it was the introduction of smartphones – most crucially the iPhone 4, which came along in 2010 with a front-facing camera – that made the selfie go viral.

Around 60% of UK mobile phone users now own a smartphone and a survey of more than 800 teenagers by the Pew Research Centre in America found that 91% posted photos of themselves online – up from 79% in 2006.

Listed among the selfie/self-harm guidelines include taking photos on private land without permission.

In the UK the general rule is if you are on a public right of way you can take photos for personal and commercial use provided you are not being an obstruction or causing harassment  – this includes taking pictures of buildings, adults and children (subject to certain rules) as there is no expectation of privacy in a public place.

“However, if you take selfies on private land without consent or where it is expressly prohibited then this is considered to be a trespass and the landowner is entitled to use reasonable force to remove you. Whilst strictly trespass is not a criminal offence it is punishable in the civil courts,” says Danielle.

Similarly, when selfies are taken and published of some of the world’s famous landmarks you may find yourself on the wrong side of the law. This includes taking a self-portrait with the Eiffel Tower at night. This is due to the fact that the lights that illuminate the attraction are night are considered to be a work of art, the copyright of which belongs to the artist. Sharing a selfie in a public forum is therefore illegal without permission.

Other issues in the selfie/self-harm guidelines include:

#1 Other People’s Children

taking selfies with other people/children in the background is ONLY permitted if in a public place if the site owner permits the use of photography or if at a party the party host is ok with it.

#2 Revenge Porn

Naughty pictures taken between consenting couples, not intended for publication and then posted as an act of revenge can lead to charges of posting sexually explicit images without consent and harassment.

#3 Driving Seat Selfies

There are thousands of #drivingselfies on Twitter and research has found this to be as dangerous as drunk driving. If caught this can lead to anything from a fixed penalty charge for use of a hand-held phone (or similar device) when driving to a charge of driving without due care or dangerous driving which can net a prison sentence.

#4 Endangered Species

Pop star Rihanna took a selfie of herself with a slow loris on the beach in Thailand. A slow loris is an endangered species so the selfie alerted the authorities to the persons concerned who were using the animal illegally and were prosecuted.

#5 Burglars

Or any criminal activity however silly or seemingly harmless can lead to prosecution i.e. pinching napkins from a restaurant. A burglar in West Yorkshire was prosecuted for taking a selfie on a phone he had stolen during a burglary which then was picked up by everyone in the address book on Whatsapp. The burglar was found by police. This is a common theme in relation to phone theft e.g. taking selfies which often end up in the victim’s iCloud on other devices.

Adds  Danielle: “With improving technology and an increase in the number of people who own mobile phones there’s no doubt the cult of the selfie will continue to expand. And there is a great deal of fun to be had. But people need to recognise that not all selfies are lawful and need to be aware when they could get into trouble.”

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