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Monday, 07 June 2010


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This is a frightening and disturbing article - thanks for posting it. For a long time, in many parts of the world, the 'Press' - journalists and photojournalists - have been subjected to harassment, arrest and in some cases murder, by a variety of governments and countries who are uncomfortable with allowing their activities or practices to be publicly documented. Most of us know this. But this article reveals an even more disturbing phenomenon - that in 3 states of our United States, ordinary citizens are being prosecuted as felons for the 'crime' of having dared to photograph, record or document police activity. It's a frightening reality. Thanks for posting this!

Shame on the police. They are enabled by politicians and the public, no doubt. More and more they see themselves as entirely unaccountable and above the law. The thin blue line against the civilians. Wake up Mr and Mrs America this is coming to the front yard at your house.

Over to the electorate in the USA to lobby and get federal law passed. Over to you, Mike.

I absolutely share your outrage Mike. Though I am not so sure it is a result of "...many Americans... clamoring for a more authoritarian government..." This appears to be a case of police themselves pushing for a twisted interpretation of existing laws, originally not meant to deal with situations like these, and courts having no option (or so it seems) but to apply the law. What needs to happen now is a concerted action of legal scholars, ACLU, various associations of professional photographers, media, and, yes, public to create enough pressure to change or clarify existing laws or pass new ones.

This scares me.

Interesting -- France, England, Illinois, Massachusetts, and now Maryland. What do all these places have in common?

When I attended a Patriots Day parade in Wasilla Alaska http://www.vimeo.com/11094049 the police officer I photographed behind didn't flinch an inch -- in-fact the whole crowd where wonderful which in contrast to other events I've covered was a very pleasant surprise! See for yourself, just watch the 2 minute slide-show!

When you listen to the Police Chiefs speech (all six minutes off it) you understand why the local news-media chose to give the event a wide berth too.

I think it is fair to shoot back the standard answer I get when I complain about increasing police powers: "If you're a law abiding citizen, you should have nothing to worry about." Well, regaarding being filmed, "If you are a law abiding police officer, you should have nothing to worry about."

You want Tasers? Give us cameras.

Oh. My...
I think I'm gonna throw up.

I'm scared too. And I live in Massachusetts...

Sheesh, I thought you guys had immense 'freedom' down there in the states. Funny (I don't mean that in a funny haha way either) how it's all being taken away.

Imagine taking a photo of a police officer trying to shoo you away from taking a picture of an oil soaked beach right now.

Ack...sometimes I feel America is just downright scary. I'm gonna do something fun now or this stuff'll ruin my mood.

Yeah, when our employees watch us, it's fine. God forbid WE attempt to watch them.

Any judge who would convict someone for this should be disbarred, along with the prosecutor.

This is really ironic, in a negative kind of way. The widespread adoption of standard video recordings of traffic stops has been a boon to prosecution of all kinds of crimes, from DUI to assaults on police officers. It's been hugely beneficial to honest police work.

So if they're going about their duties honestly and diligently, what do police officers have to fear from being photographed or recorded? One can certainly argue that video recordings can be edited in a way that falsely depicts the police in an unflattering light, but that seems a mighty thin argument for the visual equivalent of a universal gag order.

Here's a relevant analogy: I deliver babies as part of my family medicine practice. Nowadays families sometimes want to record a video of their child's birth. The first time someone requested this I felt queasy—the usual doctor's fear of being sued—but reality is what it is. The care I deliver can speak for itself, and I'm okay with proud dads recording the event for posterity. (Or to horrify their child 16 years later by playing the birth video for his new date; one of our friends actually did this.) The police should feel the same way. In a free society, policing is a public and civic function that must be subject to open scrutiny. Otherwise it's a very short walk to a very dark place.

This is the situation in the UK.

Photographing in Public Places and the Preservation of Democracy


On a larger scale, things like these are going to cost the US its superpower status. No one brainy will want to emigrate to a police state.

This story: http://www.komonews.com/news/93339874.html
is yet another example of why we MUST be allowed to document the police.

So we can be filmed almost 24/7 by surveillance cameras and speeding cameras, but we can't film police for a little insurance against mistreatment? Unacceptable.

Land of the Free indeed...

Anyone remember being taught these were the kinda things that only happened in those godless, authoritarian Communist countries?

Shame left the building a long time ago- along with the likes of: Enron, Goldman-Sachs, FOX, Halliburton, Blackwater, Abu ghraib, Delay, Madoff...

Unfortunately it's this sort of thing that discourages me from ever visiting the US again. For many years I worked for a very large US multinational corporation and made many visits and many friends there.
I just don't want to go there any more. It's not safe.

First of all, I am new to this site, but I really like the articles that are posted on here. I might be a 23-year old that has never handled a proper analog camera, but I love the stories.
That being said.

I feel like it is a bit like this picture:
But in a reversed kind of way.

People are asking for more transparency on a lot of levels. This may cause more trust in the system, because it can be checked upon at any time, but it is also a lot easier to condemn you.
Recording everything makes it a lot easier for the police to make a case against a criminal, but that same medium, photography and video, can work against you too.
They (the police) are simply looking for a way to prevent the advantages of the system (easy proof) working against them. Which is pretty much impossible. The technology has been introduced and we will have to deal with it. Change our lives around it and accept new social norms concerning it.
Everything can be used for bad things, from manipulating pictures, to speech, a baseball bat and even something like drugs can be both good and bad.

Experiment, find out where the boundaries are, recognize wrong use and decide how much freedom you want and how much risk you are willing to take.
But remember, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Let's stop calling the act of recording "shooting." Right now.

Could you imagine if the cyclist in NYC could not have the video of him being tackled? Could you imagine if the rogue cop could prosecute the citizens who recorded that?

America, you got the 'law and order' you wanted. It's all part of the war on terrorism, right?

Here's another read it and weep:


I'm not the type to get spun-up easily. But this is a fist class outrage! The ability to capture (video or stills) law enforcement "doing their duty" is essential for ANY kind of quality control and accountability by the citizenry who pay their salary.


That is a disturbing tale. Check this out for a great blow for freedom rather than one more blow against freedom.


It is well worth watching to the end. In fact you have to in order to get the full message.

Hmm, sounds like it's time to organize a mass photo event in a major city in Massachusetts, or Illinois; what the heck, let's make it all major cities across the USA at the same time. Pick up your camera at 1600 EDT on 21 June (solstice is as good a time as any) and go to your major city square and start taking pictures of any and every police officer you see.

And let's hope the US police still stock rubber bullets.

Hmm, sounds like it's time to organize a mass photo event in a major city in Massachusets, or Illionois; what the heck, let's make it all major cities across the USA at the same time. Pick up your camera at 1600 EDT on 21 June (solstice is as good a time as any) and go to your major city square and start taking pictures of any and every police officer you see.

And let's hope the US police still stock rubber bullets.

I live in a state (New Mexico) that is a bit larger in land area then New Zealand, and just a hair smaller then Germany---yet there are only 2 million people living here. Of those 2 million, most live in one massive metro area---the rest is rural or very rural. There is a lot of open land and wilderness here, unique in all the world.

That said, as a fine arts photographer I am simply astonished at the acceleration of "No Trespassing" signs and defensive attitudes that go with them by their owners, even in some of the most rural areas. I bring this subject up because I do not believe it was so during Weston and Adams peak years of work, nor was it this bad when I started on my way in photography decades ago.

It is easy to blame THEM for the change in laws and attitudes---the police, the state legislatures, etc---the reality it is US that has changed. People choose to live in gated communities with difficult homeowner associations all for the sake of safety and peace of mind---not seeing the price they are paying for guaranteed safety.

It is so easy to get to blaming "the government", when it is a reflection of our society, not just a bunch of bad cops or bad legislators. If we want freedoms, we dare have to live with other people that do not believe or act the way we do and still respect them. Heck, maybe some one wants to stand in YOUR front yard and take a picture--within reason, is that OK with you? I hope so. Because that is where freedom begins---our house, not the next guys house, the next city, the next state or country.


Re: The Authoritarians. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/
Everyone should be aware of this research by Dr. Bob Altermeyer. Dr. Bob isn't the greatest, most entertaining writer, but the info is worth being aware of.

Isn't this another lesson we should have learned in the past 2390 years?

I'm just glad I don't live in the States....

I wonder where Rodney King is right now.... and that U of MD student attacked by State Troopers in College Park last Spring. Two mounted officers were charged with assault. Watch the video here:


"The incident occurred near the University’s College Park campus on March 3 after Maryland’s men’s basketball team defeated Duke. After the game, students took to the streets to celebrate. Twenty eight people were arrested or cited, sparking an intense debate between police and students over how and when it is appropriate to break up a group of revelers."

As far as I know, the student who made the video has not been charged. Yet...

Why do people think that having a more authoritarian government will somehow make them safer? When has that ever happened?


As the story says, THREE states have acted on this (out of 50) and I suspect absolutely NONE will hold up in higher courts when they go deeper into the appeals process. Nine more states have laws requiring all parties consent to videotape to protect from unlawful videotaping of all kinds of acts including ________ (you can fill in the blanks). I dare say this law is very good and probably protects innocent women from all kinds of illegal perverts out there,but it is a complete stretch to "interpret it" as the three states have done. Again, IMO no chance it will hold up in court when appealed further and higher.

I work with the local police everyday and they are videotaped every second they are on duty (if they are in their car or making a stop) and if they are in a situation where backup is required even more videocameras are rolling when help arrives. These tapes are used to protect POLICE OFFICERS from ridiculous accusations that in most cases are made by law breakers.

I can't help but find it interesting that the featured criminal in this story tried to get arrested twice previously but the police didn't take the bait. They did the third time and now this poor, unfortunate victim is now mired in the justice system - surprise, surprise - which is not perfect. Sorry but I do not feel any sympathy for this guy at all, even hoping that his case will be overturned at the next appeals court. And I find it interesting too that the reason he wanted to be arrested - to test some stupid permit ordinance - well, those charges were dropped and he gets slapped with a more serious offense.

In a way this is like the Palestinian activists who tried to run the Isreali guantlet last week. Let's see... missles, guns and other deadly weapons are being imported into Gaza and Isreal wants to inspect all shipments into the country. So you try to run the gauntlet and golly gee, some activists are killed. (Gee does the Isreali gauntlet remind anyone of the Kennedy/Khruschev showdown - we were NOT going to allow Russian nukes in Cuba - even though we had no rights in Cuba to enact an embargo? Isreal is protecting their homeland!)

It is interesting to see how most of your followers respond to these issues. I will add this to my differing views:
1. Are you are a photographer embeded with enemy forces when a US helicopter gunship hovers over? You stand a good chance of getting killed.
2. Are you are working an undercover story with drug gangs when they have a firefight with the SWAT team? You stand a good chance of getting killed.
3. You are photographing popperatzi when Sean Penn arrives? You have a good chance of getting your face re-arranged and your knees busted.
4. You want to run the Isreali gauntlet and encounter the Isreali military following orders? You have a good chance of getting killed, or at the very least arrested.
5. You want to test a permit ordinance and don't realize you are breaking another unreleated law - granted a stupid interpretation of a law? Welcome to jail.

Sorry, but you better know the risks.

Cameras...guns. I like them both. Government. Not so much. Especially the totalitarian kind--don't like it at all. And, yes, we are to blame. We elect representatives whose goal is re-election only and who are willing to appease the loudest squeaky wheel. We demand to be protected and have some omnipotent, all-powerful source keep us safe. So the government enacts laws we demand and we complain when they enforce them.

Back during the Vietnam War, there was a comic strip called Pogo--an ornery little oppossum. Pogo got political during the war. His most famous quote was, "We have met the enemy and he is us." (I probably got that wrong, but the spirit of the exact quote is there.) Pogo was right.

Pete Myers-
Quite so. The entire notion of the 'commons', of shared natural and environmental resources, has been steadily eroded to nothing over the last few decades. Now everything has a fence around it and a big "No Trespassing" sign out front. This began with a sustained assault on public lands by the corporate-sponsored "fair use" movement in the 1980s out West, but its slimy tentacles have spread everywhere. Here in rural Western NY, the State Parks are increasingly disintegrating or closed due to repetitive budget cuts, while well-known waterfalls on private lands are increasingly posted and off-limits. From a shared responsibility as stewards of the land to "screw you, I got mine". It's pretty depressing.

The problem I think in this story as well as the other two stories is something I see as a growing problem with our news media. That is, the fact that they are becoming less powerful and more controlled. News agencies have been having a tough go of it lately, forcing perhaps to go for more entertainment value in news. Every single news outlet should be standing up right now and fighting this. The only true power (apart from violent revolution) that the people have is the media. It seems that today so many media outlets are controlled to the extent that they are not covering the things we really need to know nor are they giving us the full unbiased story. BP doesn't want to look bad, well some of these companies own (I am not saying BP does) News agencies and therefore have their own vested interests into what is reported. What it boils down to is freedom of speech or in today's age freedom of video. We need to fight for this and we need the media to help us. I was completely shocked when after the outbreak of the Iraqi war the president stood up and asked (rather told) for reporters and photographers to not show images of American dead soldiers. I was even more dismayed when the media said "alright we won". Not that I want to particularly see these kinds of images, nor give any more grief to the families of the victims, but because the leader of the USA basically said I would like permission to control freedom of speech. I think this was a turning point, one in which the authorities realized they could control the media and any one who gathered it. It is getting worse and we do need to get it back, and we need a strong group like the media to help us, in my mind we need the media to start doing their jobs, whether we like the pictures or not.

Dear OC,

Knowing the risks is not the same as approving of reprehensible and homicidal actions. People doing good work that puts them in harm's way do not deserve to die. And those that kill them unjustly do deserve to be held accountable.

Also, I'm guessing from your comments about Christopher Drew that you don't live in the US; under the legal system here, you can't challenge a law unless you have what is known as 'standing.' If you want a court to hear your argument that what you perceive as an unjust law should be thrown out, you need to show that you've been affected by that law.

To put it simply, to challenge the legitimacy of a criminal statute, you need a criminal. Volunteering yourself is not a reprehensible act. To the contrary it's putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

pax / Ctein

While I agree that these laws are very bad (and I suspect they won't last long), I agree with Chris Gibbs' point: what do those states (and France and the UK) have in common? America has its flaws - but for every one thing another country does better, there's something else we do better. It's a trade-off wherever you choose to live.

It's always dismaying and, I have to admit, somewhat offensive to hear people who don't live in America, who know our country only through the accounts of others, patting themselves on the back for not living here. It's something I met with constantly when I lived abroad.

For that reason, when we Americans criticize our own country before an international audience, it doesn't hurt to be careful and mindful of what others will do with our (often legit) criticisms.

Dear Eric,

Huh? Why should I care?! Really!

If a criticism's legit, I don't care who makes it; the criticism stands on its own. If the criticism's not legit, I definitely don't care who makes it.

I don't give a damn about making America look good. Why in the world should I?

And, as the 500-lb gorilla that tries to bully the whole planet into doing what it wants, I think America deserves much closer scrutiny than your average country. When, say, Nepal screws up, it affects far fewer people.

pax / Ctein

When, say, Nepal screws up, it affects far fewer people.

Not the best choice of country, as poor Nepal gets screwed more often than it screws up, but I agree with your comment.

While travelling outside the US during the pre-election 2008 days, one thing I heard often was that if the US was going to insist on meddling in the World's affairs, then the rest of the World should be allowed to vote in the presidential race. This wasn't said in jest, but as a serious remark.

Hey... do any of you know where I can find a list of the 12 states that supposedly require "consent" of all parties for videotaping? I've searched online & don't seemm to find any such list, though there are many comments referring to there being 12 states with such laws... I would like to know... I travel somewhat and want to be aware when I am in "dangerous territory"

Walden Barney

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