Monday, July 26, 2010

Ever get stopped by a police officer while photographing something on public streets?

Have you ever been stopped by a police officer while taking a photo in a public place? If the answer is yes, then you should read this article from the Washington Post.

"Courts have long ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to take photographs in public places. Even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies have reiterated that right in official policies.

But in practice, those rules don't always filter down to police officers and security guards who continue to restrict photographers, often citing authority they don't have. Almost nine years after the terrorist attacks, which ratcheted up security at government properties and transportation hubs, anyone photographing federal buildings, bridges, trains or airports runs the risk of being seen as a potential terrorist..."

Last year, New York City police sought to clarify the rules on photography with a directive to all officers. It said that photography is "rarely unlawful" and that officers have no right to demand to see photos or to delete them. Like Washington, New York is a potential terrorist target but also a major tourist destination, and as a result, the directive said, "practically all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct."

For more info, Carlos Miller's website, has posted commentary on the subject as well.

Personal Tip:

A few years ago, I happened to be at a cafe on Prince Street when a fire broke out across the street. I of course had my camera so I decided to take photos of the fire (keeping a safe distance, of course)... but as I was photographing everything, a police officer came by and the following transpired:

Police Officer: What are you doing?
Susan: Just taking photos.
PO: Do you work for a newspaper?
Susan: No, just taking photos for fun. Just taking it for school (um, wasn't in school)
PO: Are you going to sell these photos?
Susan: No, just doing it for myself. (silence...) Do you want to see a few?
PO: Sure...

I started talking to them in a non-threatening way ... And that was the end of that... I think the point is -- the police officer wanted to tell me I couldn't take photographs; I, however, knew that I could since it was a public place. However, some police officers just want to tell you something that you can't do (even if they are wrong) -- its a power trip, in some sense... but if you keep your cool and just show them a little something (PHOTOS) then you may be okay.

Blog posting of the fire: Fire in the City - Prince Street.
Photos of the event: Photos of Firefighters doing their job.

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