Hey SF Muni Fare Inspector #32, Photography is Not a Crime
It seems like day in and day out, increasingly, idiot cops and security guards continue to try and push photographers around. This most recent case is more personal to me because it hits close to home on the SF Muni and happened to a friend of mine Plug1.
Plug1 was doing his usual thing, which is documenting the hell out of daily SF life, when he was approached by an over-zealous muni transit fare cop, Fare Inspector #32.
“Before I could get the 1st shot off, Fare Inspector #32 started marching towards me, hands in the air, yelling at me to STOP TAKING PICTURES!! So I put down away camera, walked towards him and answered his statement with a question. I asked him if he could cite me the specific Muni code that prohibited a Translink Card carrying passenger from taking pictures of Muni Personal on Muni Property. He could not. Instead he responded that I needed his permission and demanded to see my credentials and the pictures on my camera. He added that in fact, if I was unwilling to turn over possession of my camera to him he would seize my camera and have me arrested.”
Now first off. There is no prohibition against taking personal photographs anywhere publicly accessible in the Muni system. Public photography is allowed on both Muni and BART in the SF public transportation system. Secondly, no cop can ever make you delete images or seize your camera. Photography is a First Amendment right and they have no legal right to demand or do this. If Plug1 was arrested in this case, in fact, he’d have great material for a wrongful arrest case against SF Muni.
It sounds to me like this cop simply didn’t want his photo taken and decided to try and illegally bully Plug1 to get his way. This is an abuse of power. I hope Fare Inspector #32 is disciplined for this.
Now my own policy about shooting strangers is that if they ask me politely, 99% of the time I won’t shoot them or I’ll agree not to publish their image. In fact, over the years I’ve also taken down many images from my Flickrstream, blog, etc. when people have contacted me and asked me to take them down. On the other hand, when someone decides to be a prick about it, like this cop did, I’ll almost always publish their image and bring attention to the fact that they were being a pig — like Fare Inspector #32.
Somebody at Muni needs to inform Fare Inspector #32 that photography is in fact allowed within the muni system and that it’s an abuse of power for him to threaten paying customers with arrest over the crime of photography. Photography is not a crime.