12 July 2010

The Right to Take Pictures (5)

Photo © Jonathan Warren
"The right to take photographs in the United States is being challenged more than ever. People are being stopped, harassed, and even intimidated into handing over their personal property simply because they were taking photographs of subjects that made other people uncomfortable. Recent examples have included photographing industrial plants, bridges, buildings, trains, and bus stations. For the most part, attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the supposed dangers that unrestricted photography presents to society.

Ironically, unrestricted photography by private citizens has played an integral role in protecting the freedom, security, and well-being of all Americans. Photography in the United States has an established history of contributing to improvements in civil rights, curbing abusive child labor practices, and providing important information to crime investigators. Photography has not contributed to a decline in public safety or economic vitality in the United States. When people think back on the acts of domestic terrorism that have occurred over the last twenty years, none have depended on or even involved photography. Restrictions on photography would not have prevented any of these acts. Furthermore, the increase in people carrying small digital and cell phone cameras has resulted in the prevention of crimes and the apprehension of criminals.

As the flyer states, there are not very many legal restrictions on what can be photographed when in public view. Most attempts at restricting photography are done by lower-level security and law enforcement officials acting way beyond their authority. Note that neither the Patriot Act nor the Homeland Security Act have any provisions that restrict photography. Similarly, some businesses have a history of abusing the rights of photographers under the guise of protecting their trade secrets. These claims are almost always meritless because entities are required to keep trade secrets from public view if they want to protect them."

I lifted these paragraphs from this web page maintained by attorney Bert Krages. I have linked to his valuable page a number of times. In light of my last post, it seemed appropriate to do so yet again. Krages has a one page pdf detailing your rights when confronted by law enforcement and/or security personnel. He also has written a book entitled Legal Handbook for Photographers that covers a broader range of topics (e.g., intellectual property issues).

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Blogger Photo-losophy GlendaQuinlin-Jacobs said...

Thank you for sharing that information. I arry my cameras with me where ever I go. I know my rights and have encountered a law enforcement person trying to grab or take my camera and I caught this on the video I was making. Thanks again.

13 July, 2010 00:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently had a complaint with an employee of our railway system (I live in Australia). I asked for his name so I could report him. He refused and I asked him how he could expect me to report him. 'I don't care' was his reply. So I said 'Ok I'll take your photograph" and with that whipped out my Blackberry. As soon as my phone left my pocket he went ballistic swearing and forcefully trying to snatch it out of my hands. His excuse was that it is ILLEGAL to take photographs of railway property or staff. This law was brought into place post 911 in order to combat terrorism. This is an ever increasing ludicrous world I find myself living in. All to often government tries to control thought and expression under the all encompassing theme of terrorism. And then they go out and terrorize the third world.

13 July, 2010 03:47  
Blogger SilverTiger said...

I have a friend in the US who is a quasi-professional photographer and who some time ago told me of the problems faced by people trying to take photos in public in the US. At the time, I replied that it wasn't like that here, in the UK.

Since then, things have changed here too. Photographers, both professional and amateur, have been harassed, threatened with arrest, etc. We (I am a "serious" amateur) have learned to be discreet.

The mad thing is that you can get away with far more if you use your cellphone camera or a small compact rather than a "professional" camera. I often take photos with my cellphone for precisely this reason. I am even thinking of buying a second camera for use in "tricky situations".

One of the problems we have had in the UK is that with so many ill-understood laws coming out supposedly to combat terrorism (and often being used for entirely different purposes), even police officers are sometimes confused as to what the law allows and act over-zealously. You may get an apology later, but that doesn't help if the photos have been lost.

I have been following your blog for a while though this is my first comment.

13 July, 2010 12:53  
Blogger Public Squalor said...

Hey Jim -

Thanks for continuing to cover this important issue. I thought you might be interested in seeing this blog http://carlosmiller.com/.

Apologies if you've already plugged it.

~ peace

19 July, 2010 18:52  

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