Jul 21, 2010

Photography In Public Places Is Not A Crime

As a photographer as well as an artist, one of the things that gets me riled up the most is the increasing amount of harassment photographers (and people with cameras in general) are experiencing for taking pictures in public. 

People have a right to take pictures in public, regardless of whether this makes some people uncomfortable or not. Terrorism is often cited by poorly educated security officers or police as a justification for restricting photography, even though there has never been any evidence shown that terrorists take pictures of their targets.The rise of terrorism legislation has led to an increase in attacks against photographers, even though none of this legislation restricts photography at all.

The increasing amount of intimidation and harassment photographers are facing represent a real and tangible threat to American civil liberties and the freedoms we are supposed to enjoy. Popular Mechanics has an excellent article about this subject that is worth reading. The blog Photography Is Not A Crime by Carlos Miller also does an excellent job documenting the increase in confrontations.

Photographers have rights. I carry this handy sheet with em whenever I'm out taking pictures.  It's a flyer written by a lawyer that spells out the legal rights photographers have to take pictures in public. Get it here: The Photographer's Right.

ABC News has an article about this issue HERE. Anthony Graber, a staff Sergent for the Maryland Air National Guard, is facing an incredible sixteen years in prison for recording a traffic stop. The state's charges: illegal wiretapping.  The police videotape civilians during traffic stops, but are increasingly preventing people from doing the same. Graber has set up a Facebook page which you can visit HERE.

UPDATE: On 9/27/2010, Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr dismissed all the charges against Graber, declaring flatly that "“The encounter in this case took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the Troopers has any reasonable expectation of privacy in the conversation with the Defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable.”

My favorite part of this ruling is the following: “Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation." To read the ACLU's full press release about this important decision (which will no doubt have an effect on other similar cases), click HERE.and HERE.

Predictably, the state attorney who brought the charges criticized the decision, saying it would make it harder for police to do their jobs (a dubious assertion at best). Police throughout Maryland have used this law to confiscate cameras and video cameras of people videotaping their activities, in public, and this case was being watched closely.

If you're interested, below is the 3:37 minute video shot by Graber, who was undoubtedly speeding, but still had a right to record his encounter.

The good news is that this problem is attracting greater attention; Congressman Edolphus Towns  has introduced a bill that would forbid arrests and prosecutions for photographing and videotaping police. The police may find it harder to justify their abuse of a constitutionally protected right as more people become aware of this trend. Read about the legislation HERE.

The Protecting Freedom category in the Magnum Arts blog is a newer category, to educate artists about the threats to artistic freedom. If you do not know what your rights are, someone else will dictate them.

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