Blogs » Politcs Plus » Why can't I take a picture?


I used to take a lot of pictures but since 9/11 I have backed off because subconsciously I thought that someone would think I was a terrorist. I thought that I was the only one but my old coworkers felt the same way. I was reminded of this today, as I was reading an article in Popular Mechanics titled" Photo Phobia" by Glenn Harlan Reynolds.

The author wrote of an Amtrak representative doing an interview with a local TV station and, telling them that they did not need a permit to take pictures there-only to be approached by a security guard who stopped them because they did not have a permit. He gave another example of a Seattle photographer being arrested for taking pictures of the police arresting a man and having his camera confiscated. Just recently British Petroleum turned back a CBS film crew and several photographers who were trying to film the oil infested waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline.

The Patriot Act does not restrict photographers; neither does the Homeland Security Act but that does not deter an overzealous security guard or police officer. The article stated that police officers are very sensitive, when it comes being photographed, while they're doing their duty. The author said, he could understand their reasoning but documenting public officials is an important freedom, they can serve as a check against abuses. Mr. Reynolds said that the state of Maryland takes a really hard stance when it comes to photographing public officials. A grand jury indicted a motorcycle rider because the left his helmet cam on during an arrest. They said the helmet cam constituted a “surreptitious wiretapping device," and violated the police officers right to privacy. That particular case seems like a test case for the 14th amendment (under the civil rights law) that Congress is empowered to pass laws protecting civil rights against infringement by state and local officials.

According to security expert Bruce Schneier, head of Security Technology for British Telecom,said terrorist typically don't photograph their targets in advance. I've could've sworn I read about authorities confiscating pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge, Sears Tower and other landmarks from would be terrorist but that might have been the exception rather than the rule.

The author ends by saying that it's OK to take pictures if you're in a public place like a street, park, etc where you have the legal authority but not so much in a private place like a Las Vegas casino or a shopping mall. If you are stopped, the author advises you to be polite. If it is a security guard is telling you to stop photographing, ask for his legal authority. If you are hassled, then call law enforcement. If it's an actual police officer asking you to stop photographing, be polite and ask to speak to his supervisor but the author said, you'd never have a legal duty to delete pictures you've taken. That's a legal position that I don't have the authority or expertise to agree with, or condone.

With all the cell phones, tiny video cameras, and point-and-shoot cameras out and about, on any given day, it seems like we would have a clear law, so we wouldn't have to worry about infringing on some property or personal rights or getting on the wrong side of public officials. I guess common sense always prevails because I believe we all know that we can't take pictures inside a bank without arousing suspicion but we should have free rein inside Riverside Park. I'm not too sure about taking pictures of the neighborhood at night but the telltale signs are usually there to guide us. If crazy Joe is setting on his front porch with a shotgun on his lap and a couple of bullet belts across his chest, it is not the time and place to test the legality of taking pictures.