It’s supposedly illegal to take photographs in public spaces

February 11, 2009 | By | 12 Replies More

I’ve previously read accounts of photographers being harassed. This smart guy turned on his camera’s video function and recorded this outrageous conversation with a security guard. She was pleasant, but instructed him about a “policy” that is utterly bizarre (because this policy, to my knowledge, doesn’t really exist in the law). Keep in mind that, according to this security guard, it’s illegal for a tourist to snap any photos of any of the historic buildings in Washington D.C. without special clearance.

I’d like to reserve this post as a place for anyone else to post comments if they or someone they know has been warned to not take photos in public spaces, prevented from taking such photos or had their camera(s) confiscated.

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Category: Censorship, Media, photography

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (12)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    The clip underlying this post indicates that a professional cameraman with obviously high-end equipment is expected to get permission, but tourists with amateur cameras are exempt, unnoticed.

    But I've been scolded for taking pictures in a subway train, in East Berlin. I was also taken to task for innocently almost taking a camera into a nuclear facility in Argentina. In this latter case, I heard on the news a few months later that the CIA has discovered that Argentina may have nuclear capability. No one told me it was a secret, and I'd been working with some of the engineers of the reactor controls back home. So I got to see the Cerenkov radiation around the core, but not to take pictures.

    I've taken thousands of pictures all over the country, including some of state and federal buildings. I never even caught the attention of a guard. But I do obey the posted "no photography" rule in secured places that I've visited.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    The guard was either ill-informed or downright lying when she said the law "has always been this way".

    Back in the 1980's I worked part time for the public relations department of a community college as a photographer. I was required to take training concerning various legal aspects of the trade. Back then, any photographer or videographer could photograph or video tape any public outdoor place that is accessible to the public. Interior flash photography was prohibited in some locations due the the light from the flash unit fading various antiques.

    However,under the very loose wording of the patriot act, taking photo or videos of public buildings is considered suspicious activity, and assumes anyone doing this is a possible terrorist.

    This is a lame excuse. Anyone with ill intent would not be so overt. It shows a real disconnect between our lawmakers and the constituency.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    I'd be tempted to tell the guard: "I OWN that building."

  4. Kenny Celican says:

    Quite some time in the past, I worked at locations that have legitimate concerns about photographs being taken. Those places are, at best, pleasantly ugly in a drastically utilitarian fashion, and provide stock photos for any news reporter who asks and wants to report. In short, they get very aggressive about cameras pointed their way, but there really isn't a good reason to point one that way.

    That said, I can't think of more than half a dozen places in the country that would fall into that category, and most people pointing cameras at those locations will know that they may not be supposed to do so. Mainly due to the concrete bunkers, armed guards, and big signs saying "For Security Reasons: No Cameras Please."

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    The more you learn about the photo Nazis (i.e., out-of-control police officers), the crazier it gets. I suppose that the police are always acting appropriately, so there's no need for anyone to make sure that the police are accountable. Consider this incredible case of a guy who was trying to win Amtrack's photography contest when he was arrested.

    There's more on it here

    Here’s a site called War on Photography.

    Consider this mistreatment of a fellow who snapped photos of a traffic cop making a traffic stop.

    Don't take photos of public scenes in New York City or Chicago.

    There's a new British Law regarding photographs of police.

    Check out this harassment of a photographer in Houston.

    Why allow photos by citizens in public places? Consider the police reaction to the Oscar Grant killing.

    Here's more problems in Great Britain. And see here.

    There's problems in Denver too.

    And don’t take photos of electric power lines, even in Seattle.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's the story of a woman arrested for videotaping the arrest of her son.

    I agree with Ed Brayton that it's time for all states to pass laws to make it perfectly legal for citizens to videotape and photograph public events, including the public actions of law enforcement officers, for any reason or even no reason. I haven't seen a model law on this point yet; maybe it's time to create one.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's an earlier post on photography censorship that I'd like to cross-reference here.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's another fellow (in England) who was harassed by the police because he was taking videos of them, this time from his own yard. The scolding he gives them for the BS they handed him is well worth watching.

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    Here are quite a few additional incidents of photographers being harassed in England.

    Misplaced fears about terror, privacy and child protection are preventing amateur photographers from enjoying their hobby, say campaigners.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a video of a local TV news crew "interfering" with a traffic accident investigation by the police.

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    Cross-reference: Another harassed photographer.

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