Hey So It Turns Out Photographing Federal Buildings Really Isn’t a Crime!

I was pleased this morning to see this FPS bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding photographing Federal Buildings. I’ve been stopped by Federal cops many times in the past (most recently on a trip to Boston last Fall while shooting the exterior of the Federal Reserve Bank) while trying to photograph Federal Buildings. This bulletin will be nice to keep a copy of and be able to reference and pull up the next time some Federal Cop decides to overstep his authority.

It looks like the document was originally released last August, but may have been previously “official use only.” Portions of the document stipulating that it cannot be released to the general public or news media seem to have been stricken out. This is the first time I’ve seen the document at least.

The bulletin reads in part: “For properties under the protective jurisdiction there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography of any federally owned or leased building, absent a written local rule or regulation established by a Court Security Committee or Facility Secuirty Committee. Furthermore, it is important to understand that this regulation does *not* prohibit pohotgraphy by individuals of the *exterior* of federally owned or leased facilities from publicly accessible spaces such as streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas.”

Can you imagine the look on the cop’s face when you pull this document out of your photography bag!

Check out the whole document below.

FPS Information Bulletin

Thanks, Chris!

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14 comments on “Hey So It Turns Out Photographing Federal Buildings Really Isn’t a Crime!
  1. This is a really good document to have handy, you are correct. If you don’t mind, I will play the devils advocate here for a second. How would one go about confirming that this is an official Homeland Security Document and not a self modified document to look like one and then placed on the internet?

  2. @ Houston Brown
    That was my concern, also; turns out that the New York Times has an article on one of its blogs concerning this, available at http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/see-officer-i-can-too-take-that-picture/. Within that article there’s a direct link to the PDF that’s hosted by the Times, available at http://documents.nytimes.com/photographing-federal-buildings-from-public-spaces. That pretty much took care of my concerns. :-)

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Houston, if it’s on the internet it must be true.

  4. Eric in SF says:

    Here’s what I posted on the NYTimes blog today:

    “I have to point out that while this is a wonderful development on paper, it’s still not going to keep an ill-informed LEO from arresting you for contempt of cop for standing up to your rights. For most people, simply getting arrested can end a career and send their life into a tailspin. You will have to post bail and hire legal representation and spend a lot of time to clear your name. Fail to do any of that and you might find yourself convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. And the LEO has qualified immunity so good luck getting discipline or damages against them.

    I also have to wonder if the crossed out sections won’t arouse “reasonable suspicion” if a photographer were to present this to LEO when confronted about their legal photography. To anyone not knowing the full context of this particular document the crossed-out sections absolutely look suspicious.

    Just to be clear – I am in full support of the ACLU in this case but I have to counter the enthusiasm many are showing with a real-world check on just what LEO can do when they’ve decided someone is suspicious.”

  5. Micke B says:

    The New York times has a copy of the file in PDF available that can be read and downloaded without having to register;

    http://documents.nytimes.com/photographing-federal-buildings-from-public-spaces

  6. tasty jeremy says:

    i was going to send this to you today as well

  7. JeffPHenderson says:

    About Friggn’ time.

  8. Lynn Wiles says:

    Good to know and is that a Gehry I see?

  9. Brian Peterson says:

    As a photograpaher of 46 years, I might suggest saying “OK, let’s go see your supervisor”, if somebody wants to get pushy. Then tell that guy that there is no law against photography of anything in public places – AND that you are calling your Senator, if they don’t like that. Mine is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, which helps even more. The thing you have to remember is that they REALLY do not want to look bad in front of their boss, or superiors, and that excreta drips down faster than it flies up.

  10. Ibarionex says:

    Thomas,

    You recent encounter in Downtown Los Angeles’ Pershing Square was hot on my mind when I found myself there this past weekend. I hadn’t expected to encounter any problems, because my friend who was with me is frequently there photographing. Such was not the case. Forgive me for posting this here, but I wanted to share my experience with you and don’t have an e-mail for you. I posted an entry on by blog about it at http://www.lafotoboy.blogspot.com.