Another look at photographer’s rights

Gizmodo recently ran a story (which in turn drew on and linked to a Popular Mechanics story) on what they termed “photography bullying” or the intimidation of photographers taking still pictures and/or video.

One of the more interesting parts of the story is a quote from Bruce Schneier, well-known security expert currently employed by British Telecom. From the Gizmodo article:

As Bruce Schneier, head of security technology for British Telecom points out, the notion that terrorist conspirators photograph their targets is an overblown one: “Look at the 9/11 attacks, the Moscow and London subway bombings, the Fort Hood shooting—no photos.” Rather, [Popular Mechanics writer Glenn Harlan] Reynolds argues, a camera in the hand of every pedestrian can only serve to foil potential plotters.

The latter story contains a chilling, yet almost comical, example of just how bad things are getting:

Not long ago, an Amtrak representative did an interview with local TV station Fox 5 in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station to explain that you don’t need a permit to take pictures there–only to be approached by a security guard who ordered them to stop filming without a permit.

The Popular Mechanics story also mentions the Anthony Graber case yet again. Anthony faces 16 years in prison for recording his own arrest under Maryland’s wiretapping laws. If upheld, this would essentially mean law enforcement has the right to privacy when arresting someone in a public place, and the right of the common citizen to document things like the Rodney King beatings no longer exists. To say the least, I find this frightening, and I believe you should too.

I find it ironic that an obvious video camera or DSLR merits harassment, yet those looking to do reconnaissance for a future crime or terrorist act would likely use an inconspicuous pocket sized point-and-shoot or even a cell phone camera. Usually, the odds are against being hassled by cops when using one of the latter two devices, as the assumption made in those cases is usually “tourist” as opposed to “terrorist.”

Anyway, I’ll close with reminders to the fellow photographers out there, paraphrased from the articles (this is primarily for the US, the rules might be different elsewhere):

  • If you’re on public property, it is the rule, not the exception, that photography is allowed.
  • If you are on (someone else’s) private property and you are hassled by security or police, politely ask on what legal basis they are ordering you to stop taking pictures, and be ready to either call a real police officer (for security) or ask to speak to a supervisor (for police).
  • You never have a legal duty to delete pictures or video already taken and should never do so on the order of security or police officers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.