QuoteLawyers spend a lot of time trying to understand the ambigiously and sometimes contradictory legislation on this issue. Many of the laws are vague and, post 911, can be interpreted far stricter than in other times. Unfortunately, the courts have been inconsistant in their rulings on many cases.
I disagree with this notion as it concerns the need of model releases, defining of a public or private space, and what defines uses of images for commercial or advertising purposes. Local courts may try to interpret existing laws but the Supreme Court is pretty clear about these issues and as far as I have heard has ruled consistently. Can you state cases that show ambiguity?
In my experience it's pretty b&w as to when I need a model release and how I can use an image that I take. I've never had a problem. If you need further clarification I would recommend checking out ASMP as they will have resources that will provide the definitive answers concerning these issues.
Yes, it isn't as difficult as people make it out to be. As I explained previously, people confuse right to privacy with appropriation.
Right to privacy is almost never an issue with photographers (unless you are into taking pictures with hidden cameras in women's shower rooms – in which case you have more serious problems). Right to privacy only comes into play if a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy -- as in the shower case above.
If you are in a public place there is no assumption of privacy and therefore you can't demand privacy. Anyone can take your picture and there isn't much you can do. (It is possible that a picture could libel someone, but it is very difficult to prove and generally would involve an image that has been manipulated to defame someone. A picture that is merely unflattering is not libelous. This is for ordinary citizens. If you are a public figure, you have even fewer protections. And, public figure can be broadly interpreted. For example, if you have been accused of committing a crime, win the lottery, survive a train wreck, etc., you are likely to become a public figure, whether or not you want to be.)
Model releases aren't really of any value for privacy issues. In fact, just having a model release wouldn't necessarily make you immune to charges of libel, because libel has more to do with the use of the image, not the circumstances of how it was taken.
Model releases are transactional in nature. They are designed to assure that the person posing for the picture receives fair compensation for the use of their image, name, etc. They are not needed for editorial content or artistic works. Magazines, Newspapers, television stations, etc. do not need model releases. Artists – and that would include street photographers – do not need model releases. Publications and artists are free to profit from their works without any model release. And, remember, the Supreme Court has applied the term artist very liberally so that it even includes strippers.
Model releases only come into play when images are used for commerce. The example I used before was the case of someone at a car show waxing their car with "Brand X" wax and you selling the picture to "Brand X" for an ad campaign. That requires a model release.
Confusion does arise because people don't know what is or is not a public place. Shopping malls are private property and they have a right to restrict or forbid photography on their property. I have seen shopping mall security guards run news crews off their parking lots. Disneyland is private property so they have a right to restrict/regulate photography on their property. Obviously Disneyland takes a more liberal view, but remember you really don't have any "right" to photograph on their property. They are allowing you to do so, but if you violate their rules, they have every right to stop you or remove you from the premises.
In recent years, some entities have become more restrictive in what they allow people to photograph. Again, this comes down to what is or is not a public place and whether or not you are "appropriating" their product for private financial gain. This is the area where things can be rather nuanced, but they are also very specific situations that most of us are unlikely to encounter on any regular basis.
There are any number of quite good resources available for reading up on this topic. But, generally, people make too much of it.