Archive for the ‘Photography is Not a Crime’ Category

Long Beach Security Officer Says She “Doesn’t Care About the Law” and City of Snohomish Settles for $8,000 with Photographer Over Wrongful Detention

The video above is a video from a altercation with a private security guard over a photographer’s right to shoot in public. This video was taken as part of a National Photographers Rights rally in the Port of Long Beach, a place where both security guards and police frequently harass photographers shooting in public. After telling the photographers that they are not allowed to photograph the refinery, the security agent proceeds to tell them that she “doesn’t care about the law.”

Apparently after this altercation, the real cops (Long Beach Harbor Patrol) were dispatched to the scene over a “physical altercation” (with another video forthcoming soon).

This is just another example of routine security guard harassment that takes place frequently with regards to photographers.

In another somewhat related piece, I was pleased today to read that The City of Snohomish has settled for $8,000 with a photographer after their police department unlawfully detained her for taking photographs of power lines. I was especially pleased to see the ACLUs involvement in this case and think that they are becoming a more and more significant ally in the fight for photographer’s rights. It may be that only when more and more of these cities are hit where it counts, in their pocketbooks, that this sort of harassing behavior stops. Thanks, for heads up on this case Adam!

The ACLU is Our Friend in the Fight Against Photographer Harassment

DOT re photography

Thanks to Alicia Griffin for pointing me to this letter in Erin M’s photostream from the ACLU of the National Capital Area to the U.S. Department of Transportation whose security officers have allegedly been harassing photographers outside their building.

The ACLU is a great ally to have in the fight against photographer harassment.

Photography is not a crime.

Investigation of Individuals Engaged in Suspicious Photography and Video Surveillance, NYPD Operations Order

Investigation of Individuals Engaged in Suspicious Photography and Video Surveillance

Thanks to Kevin Fox, who posted an image of the Investigation of Individuals Engaged in Suspicious Photography and Video Surveillance, NYPD Operations Order on FriendFeed this weekend on FriendFeed (click through here for a full sized view).

You might remember this order from a posting here last month based on a New York Post article on the order’s issuance.

If you are photographer in New York or plan on shooting in New York, I’d highly recommend printing out a copy of this order and carrying it with you. You might find it helpful to have if you are hassled by authority figures over your photography.

This operations order is a good reminder to law enforcement everywhere that photography is in fact a normal lawful pursuit practiced by millions of ordinary non-threatening Americans every day of the year. In part, the order above reads: "Members of the Service are reminded that photography and videotaping of public places, buildings and structures are common activities within New York City. Given the City’s prominence as a tourist destination, practically all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct." The order goes on to remind officers that they may not ask people to delete there photos and that they may not look at people’s private camera photos without a warrant.

SF Muni’s Crappy Response to Photographer Harassment

"Sir, You Are Not Allowed To Take Pictures On Muni Property!!"
Sir, You Are Not Allowed to Take Pictures on Muni Property!! by What I’m

A few days ago I blogged about an incident of photographer harassment when SF Muni Fare Inspector #32 threatened my friend Plug1 that if he did not turn over his camera to him that he would be arrested. Subsequent to this incident, many other blogs and Bay Area sites reported on this issue as well including Boing Boing, CBS5’s Eye on Blogs, sfist, fecal face news,, the San Francisco Appeal, and Muni Diaries. After this incident both Plug1 and I received a response back from Judson True in the Press office of SF Muni when we requested an explanation from SF Muni.

Below is the response from Muni’s office:

“Dear Plug1—

Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to your email below.

We have had internal discussions over the past few days on this topic and we have determined that photography is permitted on the Muni system, though our Fare Inspectors were performing as they believed was required of them in order to protect the safety of our customers and employees when they intervened with you and others. They will be re-trained moving forward and I will get our policy posted on our website soon.

If there are further clarifications of our policy in the coming weeks I will let you know.

Thank you for riding Muni.


Judson forwarded this email response to me in response to my request for clarification on this issue. Judson’s response is also published over at Plug1’s blog.

Personally I think that this is a completely unsatisfactory and crappy response from SF Muni. SF Muni never apologizes to Plug1 (instead they try to cleverly apologize for the delay in responding instead in order to make it sort of sound like an apology when it isn’t one — how much do you want to bet that one of their lawyers drafted this one?).

Further, I believe that their statement that their fare inspector was performing as they believed they were required for customer and employee safety is clear and utter bull shit. There was no “safety” issue. Plug1 was no threat to anyone. If Plug1’s description of this encounter is accurate, this was simply the case of a rogue Muni Transit law enforcement agent who didn’t want his photo taken and who decided to use his position as a law enforcement agent to try and intimidate a muni customer and SF citizen. By threatening to arrest Plug1 if he did not provide his camera to the officer he abused his power entrusted to him. This is wrong and should not be tolerated.

Below is my response that I drafted a few hours ago back to Judson True. I also cc:d SF Muni’s Executive Director, Nathaniel Ford, Plug1 as well as a contact of mine at the ACLU.

“Hi Judson,

I’m still a little concerned over this incident. In your email you state: “though our Fare Inspectors were performing as they believed was required of them in order to protect the safety of our customers and employees when they intervened with you and others. ”

Why did they believe that they were required to stop this photography? How was the photographer in this case a threat to either customers or employees? Cameras don’t have bullets, nobody’s physical safety was threatened. The photographer in question was in no way impeding traffic.

Feels to me more like a photographer was bullied by a cop who made up a non-existent “safety” argument after the fact because they didn’t get away with the bullying. This sounds to me like a pretty weak excuse for a law enforcement official to demand to see a camera and a customer’s photos and to threaten arrest, pretty serious things.

While I applaud Muni’s steps for making your open photography policy clearer as well as the retraining involved, I’d still like to know more about what this officer and Muni felt the safety issue was in this case. I would also like to formally again request the identity of of Agent 32. He is a public sworn police officer, I believe that I am entitled to his name as I would be any public police officer involved in a public dispute and incident. I will likely publicize his name and other identifying information about him with regards to this incident if this issue is not resolved satisfactorily.

I think Muni should apologize to Plug1 not just for the delay in responding to the incident but for the incident itself. I think any “safety” issue needs to be clarified, and I think the officer involved ought to be disciplined for abusing his power as a law enforcement agent.

Please respond as soon as possible. I’ll be blogging more on this in the next few hours.”

Photography is not a crime and cops who treat it like it is should be disciplined.

Update: It may be that these agents are not in fact sworn law enforcement. It’s hard for me to tell but based on this Muni job description it appears that they may merely assist sworn law enforcement. I don’t think that this really changes anything in this case, but a distinction nonetheless.

Hey SF Muni Fare Inspector #32, Photography is Not a Crime

"Sir, You Are Not Allowed To Take Pictures On Muni Property!!"
Sir, You Are Not Allowed to Take Pictures on Muni Property!! by What I’m

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.

From Plug1:

“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.

Courtney B. Wilson, Your Photo Policy at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum Sucks

Sign at the B&O museum

Saw the photo to the left on Flickr today. It’s the posted photo policy of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum’s Photography Policy which reads in part: “photographs are permitted for personal use only and are not to be published anywhere (including personal web sites) without the expressed written consent of the Museum. Professional photography is strictly prohibited without the written permission of the Chief or Senior Curators.”

Which is a really stupid photo policy for plenty of reasons. First off, this policy is entirely inconsistent with the stated “mission statement” of this non-profit museum. If you look at the musuem’s mission statement it reads that their mission is, in part, to: “preserve the physical legacy and experience of American railroading, and to interpret and present its history to the widest possible audience.”

Now, if you are really trying to present the history of this museum to the widest possible audience, then why prohibit users from posting images of the museum on the internet. If by the “widest possible audience” you mean people in other countries, etc. it would seem to me that posting images from this museum on the internet would be one way of sharing this. To tell visitors that they can take photos but not share photos of the museum online in non-commercial venues like blogs and flickr is in direct conflict with the museum’s stated mission statement.

What’s more, it’s a totally *stupid* policy that is entirely unenforceable. Here for instance is one such set of images taken from the B&O Museum online on Flickr. There are tons more on Flickr as well. Now what is the B&O Railroad Museum going to do about that? Are they going to go sue some flickr user? And sue them for what? They don’t own copyright to the locomotives in their collection.

It seems to me that this musuem’s policy is simply another example of a museum who lets some power hungry curator draft some totally daft policy that is both unenforceable and in direct conflict with it’s mission statement. Rather than trying to prohibit images from their museum from daring to show their presence on the super evil internet, The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum should embrace non-commercial use of imagery from their museum and see if for what it could be, valuable PR towards encouraging people to come visit the museum. Unless their museum really does just totally suck that bad and they are afraid that if people see what it’s like online that they wouldn’t dare pay the price of admission.

Now I have no plans on going to Baltimore any time soon. But I tell you. If I tell you if/when I do ever visit Baltimore I’d either skip this museum entirely or possibly just go and then post my photos against they’re stated policy anyways.

Courtney B. Wilson is the director of this museum. If you think a museum that doesn’t allow you to post images of the museum online sucks, feel free to reach out to him. There’s a group forum thread on this topic at Flickr here.

In the meantime if you’d like to look at some photos of a train museum, check out my collection of images from the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. It’s a great museum that I’d highly recommend, with a much more sane photo policy.

Thanks, David!

NYPD Issues “Photography is Not a Crime” Reminder Order to Cops

Grand Central Station
New York’s Grand Central Terminal

The New York Post is reporting that the New York Police Department has recently issued a department operations order reminding their officers that photography is rarely unlawful.

From the Post:

“Faced with complaints from photographers and tourists alike, the NYPD has issued a department order reminding cops that the right to take pictures in the Big Apple is as American as apple pie.

“Photography and the videotaping of public places, buildings and structures are common activities within New York City . . . and is rarely unlawful,” the NYPD operations order begins.

It acknowledges that the city is a terrorist target, but since it’s a prominent “tourist destination, practically all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct.”

On my most recent visit to New York I had no problem with shooting, but on a previous visit I was asked not to use a tripod in Grand Central Terminal and also was told by a police officer that I could not photograph the trains as they were coming and going from the tunnels.

There have been other reports though of police hassling photographers in the past in NYC.

I was pleased to see in the Post’s article that the New York ACLU has twice sued the NYPD over prohibiting photography. It is nice having the ACLU as an advocate navigating the legal issues around photographer’s rights.

Thanks, Jennifer!

My Reflections on Manhattan photoset here.

Is Photography Allowed in Casinos?

Sin City

Rex Turner has an excellent article over at his blog Vegas Rex regarding photography in casinos. His post follows an article published in the Las Vegas Review Journal (where he was also quoted) about the story of Bob Woolley. Woolley recently was detained by security guards at the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas after taking photographs in their casino.

From the Las Vegas Review Journal:

“Bob Woolley ducked into the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas to grab a snapshot for the “guess the casino” feature on his poker blog.

He wound up in a back room with security guards who objected to Woolley shooting a decorative mural on the casino wall.

The experience left him shaken, wondering why something thousands of visitors and locals do every day in casinos earned him the unwanted escort by armed guards.

“I acknowledge their right as a private company to have stupid policies,” said Woolley, 47, of Las Vegas. “But that doesn’t give them the right to kidnap me.”

There’s a long history in Las Vegas of customers being detained by casinos, despite untold amounts of money casinos have spent on legal defense and settlements.

Woolley’s is an example of how running afoul of often vague or inconsistently enforced casino rules can quickly escalate from an exchange of words with security guards to an unwanted trip to a casino detention area.”

I have to say that even as I’ve taken hundreds of photographs in casinos personally I’ve always done it somewhat discretely because I’d always assumed that casinos didn’t allow photography in casinos at all. I’m not sure why I’ve assumed this other than a friend of mine was once told that he couldn’t take photographs in an Indian Reservation casino. The fact of the matter is though that I’ve never personally been asked not to take photographs in casinos in numerous trips to Vegas or on a recent trip to Reno.

One part of the Las Vegas Review article that I found especially encouraging was a comment made by Former Aladdin casino partner Bill Zender. “You think about bomb threats, robberies, an earthquake, fires. These are things you worry about,” Zender said. “I like people taking pictures of my casino so they can show their friends. It is free advertising.”

Zender’s attitude is a good one. Personally I’d be far more inclined to spend time (and my money) in a casino that had this kind of pro photography attitude. And Zender is right, photographs are free advertising for casinos.

A good article by the Las Vegas Review Journal and a good follow up blog post by Vegas Rex. It would appear that casinos are actually far more ok with photography than I personally thought. Maybe it’s time to bust out one of those new cheap $49 fares on Southwest and head out to Vegas for a little more shooting after all! I’ll just need to make sure I boycott the Cannery Casino on my next visit.

My Las Vegas set here.

My Reno Set here.

Thanks for the heads up William!

Another Photographer FBI Encounter

From a Digital Photography Review Forum:

“Well…my D300 and I were encountered by the FBI, a little earlier this morning.

I had taken my wife downtown to handle some business, and was parked on the street in wait for her. I almost always have my camera with me, and just started snapping away at a building construction going up (I was just playing around with different exposure settings). I also shot a few ‘straight ahead’ shots of the street that I was on, because there was an interesting perspective of the building lineup on the respective sides of the street. I had then put the camera away, and began perusing a magazine, when three gentlemen approached the curb side of my vehicle. One of them introduced himself, as he stuck his ID through the passenger window, and asked what my business was. He explained that I had been captured, on camera, taking pictures of their buildings. I explained that I wasn’t aware of that, and told them that I was just a serious amateur photographer who was only trying to get a better handle on exposures. They pointed out that one of the buildings I was shooting in the direction of, was their main building. It was only after he mentioned this that I was able to see – on better inspection – their FBI logo on said building. Now, this building was better than a half-block away, and their logo was almost totally obstructed by some trees….”

continue reading here.

Thanks, p0tempkin!

The War on Photography

Over the weekend I had an opportunity to participate in a broadcast on KPFK radio in Los Angeles about the war on photography. The broadcast was part of Ric Allan and Doran Barons’ weekly radio show Digital Village. Also on the program with me were Shawn Nee (aka Discarted) and Peter Bibring, staff attorney at the SoCal ACLU. The half hour show was a good conversation about what so many of us are facing each and every day out on the streets shooting. I’m particularly pleased to see the ACLU taking a larger interest in photographer’s rights and was glad that Peter was able to be on the show. I think the ACLU brings an important legal perspective to the fight for photographer’s rights. Thanks to Ric and Doran for hosting the conversation and for bringing more awareness to this important issue.

If you want to listen to an mp3 recording of this weekend’s show you can download that here.

In an unrelated piece over the weekend, Carlos Miller reports on the case of Tasha Ford, a model who was arrested in Florida this weekend and charged with a felony evesdropping charge (which was later dismissed) for videotapping the police after they had asked her to stop filming them. Unfortunately Tasha ended up spending the night in jail for her troubles. Her story is a sad but all too familiar one these days.

Photography is not a crime.