Oct 18, 2010

The Criminalization Of Photography

Malo Periculosam Libertatem Quam Quietum Servitium - "I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slavery"

Government Admits There Is No Law Preventing Photography In Public of Federal Buildings

October 18, 2010 
The government was forced to admit that there is no law prohibiting the taking of pictures of federal buildings such as courthouses, settling a year-long lawsuit brought by Antonio Musumeci, who was arrested on Nov. 9, 2009 after using a hand-held camera to record a protester in a public plaza outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.

During the arrest, federal officers forced Musumeci to the pavement and confiscated video from his camera. They have yet to return his memory card, although the settlement requires the DHS to hand it over.  Musumeci was detained for about 20 minutes and issued a ticket for violating a federal regulation. That charge was later dismissed. On two subsequent occasions, federal officers threatened Musumeci with arrest after trying to record protests at the courthouse. 

“The courthouse plaza is public property paid for by taxpayers, and the public should not be prohibited from using video cameras there. Now people now can freely express their First Amendment right there without being harassed and arrested by federal officers,” said Musumeci, a resident of Edgewater, N.J.

In the settlement approved today by a federal judge in Manhattan, the federal government acknowledges that there are no federal laws or regulations that prohibit photography outside federal courthouses. It agreed to provide federal officers written instructions emphasizing the public’s right to photograph and record outside federal courthouses.

Even though Musumeci's camera was confiscated, he recorded the encounter using a pinhole camera which was not confiscated. No doubt this video provided powerful evidence against the word of the DHS. 

To see what it's like to be harassed by the police for taking pictures in public, watch the clip below:


UPDATE: As part of the settlement, the Department of Homeland Security released tto the public its bulleti emphasizing "the public's right to photograph the exterior of federal facilities" from "publicly accessible spaces such as streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas." It also states that in a field interview, "officers should not seize the camera or its contents, and must be cautious not to give such 'orders' to a photographer to erase the contents of a camera."

This is a handy bulletin to carry with you, if you take pictures, available in a PDF format to print out. Get it HERE.  

Read the New York Times' recap of this case (with lots of links) HERE.  

The War On Cameras

Reason Magazine has a long but extremely well written article documenting the authorities' willful disregard of established case law to harass, imprison and obstruct the public videotaping of the police. Officials are fighting back against oversight by insisting, ludicrously, that police have a right to privacy in public, but that the public doesn't (when being recorded by dashboard cameras). Moreover, police dashboard cameras have conveniently stopped working in some cases when recording abuse of authority by police officers. The consensus of the article is that there is a lot of ambiguity about recording police officers, and this ambiguity is not good for the public, or the first amendment.

This is a good, albeit frustrating read. Check it out HERE. 

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