I’m a Photographer, Not a Whatchamacallit
While I’ve never experienced anti-photography motivated interaction in Spokane, I recall the moment I stepped off a train in Washington D.C. in 2009.
I was on my way to my over-night stay with Twitter friends. I was about to enter a cross walk when across the street I spotted three men folding a flag from the flagpole outside the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives. Abbreviated as ATF, originally they didn’t handle explosives until after 9/11. I thought men folding a flag would make for a great photo. I whipped out my camera, aimed… and next thing I know those men are running at me and I’m just a 22-year-old squeaking in shock.
Apparently, I can’t take a picture of men folding a flag directly in front of the ATF building. Oh, wait. Actually I can. (Well, now I can.) Public place? Fair game. Why? If I couldn’t, it wouldn’t be constitutional.
In 2010, the United States District Court, Southern District of New York supported photographer and journalist, Antonio Musumeci in his action to photograph a federal building from a public place.
Under the settlement, announced Monday by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Federal Protective Service said that it would inform its officers and employees in writing of the “public’s general right to photograph the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces” and remind them that “there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography by individuals from publicly accessible spaces, absent a written local rule, regulation or order.” – (Read more at The New York Times)
My situation happened in 2009, but if it had happened after this court case, those three men folding a flag outside the ATF building would have had to sit tight and let me do that photography thing I do.
In London, a group called “I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist” are battling counter-terrorism measures that would allow senior police officers to authorize a time and geographically limited power for officers to stop and search individuals without suspicious that an act of terrorism will take place. A launch party for this organization resulted in this pamphlet [.PDF] that describes the history of photography rights violations and what they’re doing in future to project rights.
ACLU has provided an updated list of photographer rights that includes the 2010 change of including federal buildings.
When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society. – (Read more at the ACLU)
As for that picture I took outside the ATF building, for the life of me I have no idea where it went. [Insert government conspiracy here]