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Friday, 17 August 2012


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I couldn't agree more. It seems that our society tolerates almost any misdeed when perpetrated by a law enforcement official. We must insist that law enforcement officials serve and protect and know the laws. It should not be about their prejudices and opinions. They should only enforce the law.

Photographer's rights paramount in my mind as well, but are just one of many issues.

It also seems peculiar that those in favor of small government and keeping government out of our lives are the same people who support the continual erosion of our freedoms in the name of "safety."

I agree that there need to be consequences for unprofessional or mistaken behavior. Also, let's start having award ceremonies for police who take some risks to protect us instead of shooting first to protect themselves, and also awards for restraint rather than violence.

There was a rash of this in London a few years ago but some very public complaining more or less put a stop to it. Still some private security guards who don't quite get it though.

But the situation in the US is looking serious. Lip service paid at the highest level and backup up with nothing at all. Sadly I think to some extent the public sympathy is with the police. That's what paranoia does to people.

The country that has free speech in its fine constitution needs to remember why it's necessary in the first place.

Whatever happened to the "Andy of Mayberry" style of peace keeping? It truly bothers me to see cops becoming something closer to militia than the public servants they are. Police are not our bosses.

PS my hat's off to the good cops of the world.

Freedom to photograph (and video) is an essential part of liberty because it delivers the truth to a wider audience.

A characteristic of totalitarianism is police suppression of criticism and actions that could bring accountability. E.g., after police shot in cold blood a handcuffed, passive man on the BART platform officers went around illegally confiscating phones from witnesses (http://tinyurl.com/chrj5n2). It was murder, but the officer was in prison for less than two years: another sign of totalitarianism is different standards of justice for the state's anointed ones (e.g., insider trading is legal if you're a Congress Critter).

This is how much things have changed: there was a huge stink about the Rodney King beating of 1991, but now such actions are commonplace. You'll see plenty of them on You Tube, but they are generally ignored by the mainstream media (which shows that "citizen journalism" is an essential part of liberty).

Another aspect of the persecution of photographers is the simple fact that many people love to control other people:
http://christianlibertarianism.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/what-motivates-politicians-and-bureaucrats/ (police are bureaucrats)

You might also want to read Police Sought Cellphones for Video of Times Square Shooting, also in The New York Times, on police confiscating cellphones:

One of the witnesses who said his phone was taken on Saturday, Julian Miller, was with a friend in Times Square when he noticed the early stages of the confrontation.

“My friend was like, ‘You have to record this,’ ” said Mr. Miller, 22, who was visiting from Boston.

And he did. …

Mr. Miller said he began to speak with reporters after officers set up crime-scene tape along Seventh Avenue. Shortly after, he said, he was approached by a detective who asked to see the video, which he had been showing to reporters.

“His eyes got big when he saw the video,” he said on Saturday. “He went to go show his boss, and then they took my phone away. He said, ‘You shouldn’t be showing your phone to the media.’ ”

Correction: Oscar Grant wasn't handcuffed when he was shot at the BART station. However, the video makes it clear that he was not a threat to police and essentially compliant.

"Photographers are becoming an illegally persecuted class of people, for utterly no good reason."

Yup. You have the rights that the cops say you have, just like nearly every other place in the world.

I'm generally against adding extra regulations. The video showed the officer deliberately obstructing a citizen. I'm sure in many countries there would be existing legislation that made that, if not an offence, at least behaviour which could be sanctioned in some way.

Mike, I'd like to suggest that we all write letters and emails to police and elected officials to express our dismay at what is happening. It's important that we all do this, even those of us who believe that our one little letter could not possibly make a difference. For, if we ALL did this, we truly would have power.

We can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. In general, I'm a "shades of grey" kind of person but the issue of citizens making their opinions known is one that I believe is very clear cut. We have to take action (peacefully and legally). Writing letters will not solve everything but it's a good start.

And, for people who think they have no time to do this, please think again. Your letter or email can literally be a one-liner that plainly states what it is that you think. This is infinitely better than not writing at all. And only very slightly inferior to writing a long, subtly argued message that you've researched for hours. The important thing is to take action.

It's normal for the police to break the law to further the interests of the powers that be, who, after all, are their employers. The plight of photographers is hardly the worst case on record. The police war against African-Americans comes to mind. I think that one started sometime in the 18th century and is still going on today. More recent non-photographic examples are pepper spraying of Occupy Wall Street protesters and stopping of Hispanics in Arizona.

As for your suggestion: Yeah, I'd like to see that, but why would the powerful pass a law that's against their own interests? Photographers need to toughen up. It's a war zone here. Same as Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Russia.

Very sadly and alarming is that not only the police is offending freedom expression rights but some websites are censoring people who are denouncing such violations. Please take a look: http://www.pixiq.com/article/pixiq-terminates-contract-with-pinac-time-to-move-on

I´ve reading his blog for a while and in tell you: i´m taking much care of myself when taking pictures in anywhere. Very eye opener.

Are you kidding me? Cops pretty much get away with anything - abuse, pepper-spraying, tasering, beating up people, even shooting and killing. Unfortunately, mayors are pretty much indebted to cops who carry out their orders. Consequences? Not a chance.

Mike: It IS a free country - we just need to stand up again and again to make it so. We do have the RIGHT to take photographs, to witness, what is before us. That is a RIGHT - and just as the Declaration of Independence stated, a RIGHT is inalienable, not dependent on man or his (her) laws. It is up to US to demand it, not on a government or its agencies to grant it to us. If we all stand up, and demand, in unequivocal terms, our RIGHT to take photographs and will not settle for less, we will be triumphant. It may not be easy given post-9/11 attitudes, but then many times being RIGHT has not been easy. But it is essential we do this. Maybe a National Month Go Out With Your Camera and Take Photographs is what we need... But this aggression against people doing what is their RIGHT must not stand.

are there any lobbyists or special interest groups working on this problem?

I wouldn't mind similar penalties for those doing HDR photography. nyuk nyuk.

I commented about this article on the Leica forum, and I'll repeat a bit of it here -- one of the serious problems of living a life that is both secure and free is finding the right people to police that life. I know a lot of cops, and most of them are pretty decent guys, but a good number of them, especially younger cops, are not. They tend to have a much more militant us-and-them attitude than the older guys, and are not tolerant of what they see as challenges to their authority.

Part of that problem is economic: to hire good, bright, serious people you need to pay them good, bright, serious salaries, and you need to give them constant, effective training, which is also expensive. (A police chief once told me that a cop's salary is less than half the cost of keeping him on the street.)

Generally, the cities don't have the money, so they wind up hiring people who are over their heads with the complex problems of modern life. I really don't think many people in authority want to read a Times article like this one -- they don't approve of the cops hassling photographers -- but given the personnel they have to deal with, it's damn hard to stop.

Serious, hard-nosed training would be best, but failing that, adversity conditioning, as you suggest -- personal penalties for screw-ups -- would be a step in the right direction.

It becomes scarier and scarier to try and take photos on the street. Here in my little corner of the world, Edmonton, Alberta there have been very few issues with the public shooting the police that I am aware of. However, a couple of weeks ago a regular person i.e not press, saw the police arresting a man in public view. From the sidewalk he photographed the incident with his cell phone. He was arrested, held for ten hours then released. It took another week to get his cell phone back. Sad to see the madness make it's way up here.

Sigh....even China doesnt do this....

Bravo Mike, for bringing this up, posting that link, and making the suggestions you did. While most commentary on this subject is about interaction with police on the "street", there are other forms of photography which, if curtailed, could have significant impacts on our lives. I was an environmental activist photograher for 20 years. Before the Redwood National Park was created, large timber corporations were actively impacting lands proposed for inclusion. In one instance a company told members of Congress they were NOT operating in proposed areas. I provided the evidence proving they were lying. Given this growing antagonism toward the exercise of our rights, I could imagine a day when an environmental photographer could be prohibited from taking the kind of images I took 45 years ago, which allowed the public and Congress to know the facts.

Interesting you brought this up. I was watching this a couple days ago:


The police ran into a lawyer instead of the typical cowering citizen. The police tried to violate this lawyer's rights but they were thoroughly rebutted. The violation of rights were not specifically photography related (video, specifically the audio recording), but rights are rights.

If you don't know your rights you can't trust the police to honor them.

"Photographing in public is legal in a free country"

It's a fine ambition...

Moving to a free country!


Folks, don't be naive, until some politician or would be politician will take this as an agenda nothing will change, no matter how many emails we will write. And they will not move until this will convert to votes.

Nonsence, you can't demand the right to shoot whatever you like. Society is based on a code of conduct in which we trust in a certain part of privacy even in the public sphere. In the case of an arrest that goes for the police officer making the arrest doing his or her job, but also for the arreste who has the right to remain in private until a judge or jury (in less developed societies) has found him or her guilty. The mere part of an arrest does not need to be warranted with a photo or a TV appearance, unless of course excessive force is used by either the arreste or the police, or the arrest itself is unlawfull.

Ah, even Miles was arrested on several occasions for driving a Ferrari from LA to Miami, through the bible belt, were black folks can only drive a Ferrari if it stolen or used for dope....now Miles just blew his own horn.

But back then there were no photographers present at the scene and the iPhone was not invented yet. Nor were social media, and remember social media are looked at by the police as well....so if you shoot a picture of a (unlawfull or not) arrest at a demo, the bystanders in the background can also be identified by the police (as has been done in the riots in England last year). Your freedom to shoot and publish goes both ways.

Greets, Ed

Mike, Curious that on the same N Y Times there there was an article about Kodak Coloramas. I guess some of the scenes depicted might not be seen as politically appropriate these days.



From my (so - a European, and a slightly anarchist) perspective, the whole situation Lott is describing is a nightmare, and an unbeliveble one at that. Picture painted in the comments so far is even worse.

Your response however makes me even more surprised: the reaction to law enforcement having too much power is to create new laws to punish more people...?

What does this say about the terrorists, over 10 years since 9/11 they are WINNING if we are still looking over our shoulders at every instance where they MIGHT be operating! Be vigilant, yes but let's still
preserve our freedom wherever we are in the world!

I hate to sound grandiose but I see this as a consequence of living in a society that increasingly believes it exists primarily to provide a backdrop for private interests. Significant numbers of people believe that government is bad, and for some strange reason that leads them to also believe that putting more and more power into private hands is good. It's truly bizarre. It's not like there isn't plenty of evidence that is a bad thing.

You can't take pictures on the public commons if it's privatized.

So we privatize armies, prisons, and public spaces, and we think this is good because it decreases taxes. Sure it does. Soon, the only people left who can afford freedom are the ones with enough cash to buy it. This is not why our societies were formed.

The sad thing is that the U.S. used to be a beacon (a flawed one perhaps) to the world. It provided an example. People could point to it and say, that is the benefit of freedom. You can live better. That concept of how to live doesn't survive on its own. It needs constant reinforcement by widespread public education, which people used to get in schools. But we take away money from that too now.

Somehow we confused freedom with the good life. We have grown to believe that freedom is access to a mall full of cheap crap.

Isn't it odd that everything, but everything, everywhere has to cut back? And some of the things we cut back are the very things that make our societies livable. This is not happening by accident, someone is benefiting from this trend. We fought for centuries to be rid of feudalism, now we are welcoming it back in spades. Why is that? Why are we falling for the con?

Its said a country gets the police force it deserves.

One tries to balance one's photographic RSS feeds to give a news-stream with an approximate sense of proportion.

It's not doing the US tourism industry any good.

You would think that news organizations would do more opinion pieces on this topic. It's in their interest to protect their own photographers as well as the non-professionals who more and more may be the source of news photos. And, historically at least, news organizations have been fierce defenders of the First Amendment.

Newspapers and broadcast companies have the ability to turn up the heat on this issue. Perhaps its time for photographers and photographer associations to make common cause with news organizations.

I'm from Portugal, where the laws concerning this subject are founded on the same principles as all of western Europe's law systems. Here's how it works. Photographing is constitutionally protected, either as freedom of expression or as the right to artistic creation. This is further reinforced by civil law, which consecrates a general principle: consent is unnecessary if the picture of a living person is taken in a public place as part of the framing, in particular if it is taken for artistic or informative purposes. The same applies to photographing personalities of renown and people at public events - such as a demonstration. That's the way our statutory law harmonizes two potentially conflicting rights - privacy and freedom of expression.
Under my country's laws, photographing a public demonstration can't be impeded; only the Parliament can limit constitutional rights and freedoms, and currently there are no parliamentary Acts that limit or forbid photographing in public. All legislation there is on this subject is the civil law rules I described above.
So I can state that it is legal to photograph in public in Portugal. Just like in any other civilized country, I'd say.
However, authorities are often unaware of photographers' rights. Recently I have been forbidden to photograph in a metro station, despite it being a public place. More to the point, a few months ago a photojournalist who was taking pictures of an anti-government demonstration in Lisbon, Portugal, was physically assaulted by a police officer. This is police brutality at its most disgusting, but seems to follow an universal trend to limit the right to photograph, even though it is constitutionally and legally protected. As stated in the NYT article we're discussing, it is a result of the security paranoia that is a sign of the times in our western world.
That's not to say you can photograph everywhere and everything, and under any conditions. You can't go beyond certain bounds like people's intimacy and decorum, even if you're arguably photographing in public. It's the photographer's task to know the limits of his/her activity. Photographing in public is always a balancing act.
Overall I find the authorities' behaviour, as reported by the NYT, to be completely unacceptable, abusive and illegitimate. What's more, they're a menace to our freedom - not just as photographers, but as citizens. It has an extent that goes well beyond photography, and it worries me: it prompts me to question if our western world is really free.

It's the triumph of what has been derisively termed 'security theater'- that is, ostentatious but ineffective measures providing the illusion of security. Does harassing and arresting photographers make anyone safer from terrorist attack? Of course not. Is it supported by law? Um, no. But it satisfies an absurd need to see somebody doing...something.

Americans were once known for hard-nosed pragmatism and at least a nominal respect for the rule of law. Now we're developing a reputation for terrified paranoia. This is a perfect example.

This is not just an American problem, by any means. But it is particularly poignant for Americans, given the principles the United States were founded upon.

First, two testimonials:

"I've had fifty-six hours in the felony block. Nobody pushed me around, nobody tried to prove he was tough. They didn't have to. They had it on ice for when they needed it. And why was I in there? I was booked on suspicion. What the hell kind of legal system lets a man be shoved in a felony tank because some cop didn't get an answer to some questions? What evidence did he have? A telephone number on a pad. And what was he trying to prove by locking me up? Not a damn thing except that he had the power to do it.

[D.A. speaking:] "The citizen is the law. In this country we haven't got around to understanding that. We think of the law as an enemy. We're a nation of cop-haters."
"It'll take a lot to change that," I said. "On both sides."
"Yes," he said quietly. "It will. But somebody has to make a beginning."

Both times, a man wrongly booked as a suspect by the police is talking to the D.A. Both times, fiction: Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The Little Sister, 1949; The Long Goodbye, 1953. I could have multiplied examples from films and literature going way back. The antagonism between citizens and cops is a topic of long standing.

John Camp above mentions the economic constraints against hiring qualified police personnel. Well, consider this:

"Police business is a hell of a problem. It's a good deal like politics. It asks for the highest type of men, and there's nothing in it to attract the highest type of men. So we have to work with what we get — and we get things like this."
A police captain in Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake, 1943. Again, a perennial problem.

As someone with a direct experience of life under a totalitarian dictatorship (and as such hopefully one of a minority among TOP readers), I'd like to express my outsider's view (and a European outsider's, at that).
There were many scares in the past, most of them forgotten. But the terrorist scare seems somehow to have penetrated America's nervous system. The fallacy of expediency for the sake of security is corrupting and corroding the foundations of liberty. A constitution is worth nothing unless permanently buttressed by a majority of the people, permanently willing to fight for the principles it enshrines. The daily vexations brought upon by security outreaches of the TSA, the radical curtailment of fundamental rights in legislation, e.g., the Patriot Act, even if still more theoretical than actual, mean that terrorism has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the terrorists. It has succeeded because politicians know that the public is largely irrational: another 9/11 won't be tolerated, but ten times the death toll of 9/11 every year from gunshots alone will. That's about 330 000 deaths since 9/11.
(data: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html)
This is just an example of irrational risk assessment, just an example of the power of fear over reality. Nothing subverts a democracy more easily than fear-mongering and the public willingness to sacrifice real freedom for a sham pretence of security. Roosevelt's "four freedoms" were once the beacon illuminating the promise of democracy. Now, mainstream politicians in the U.S. are twisting two of them beyond recognition, and treating two of them like dirty words; as if the keystone of the Soviet Evil Empire and the Nazi Reich had been affordable health insurance for everyone.

I spent my early years in a country where the main risk for life and limb was an arrest by the security police. Irksome as it is, arbitrary curtailment of a photographer's rights is nothing compared to the curtailment of civil liberties: the curtailment of a citizen's rights, and the curtailment of a human's rights. Let's see to the fundamentals first, here and now. All else will follow.

One thing I disagree with in the NY Times article is the statement "...it was very different 20 years ago. I think press photographers had more access, I think credentials were respected."

I last worked as a news photographer in 1991. We faced the same situations with the police and the public as photographers do today. I was threatened with arrest numerous times when taking pictures on public streets of arrests, fires, accidents and other news events. The difference today is the number of incidents due to the proliferation of cameras and the awareness of them combined with a general paranoia of everything. Police have become more sensitive to the presence of cameras because of past incidents where video or photos of them doing their jobs created an illusion of wrongdoing even when there was none. I can sympathize with them in that area since, as a photographer, I know the camera can lie as easily as present cold facts. But I agree fully with penalizing police officers who fail to respect the right of photographers to photograph.

Welcome to fascism...

Hermann Goering was right, fear is a good master:
[GG] We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.
[HG]"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."
[GG] "There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."
[HG] "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Why don't you try and get the news media on your side? This issue could soon come to bite them, and they rely on independent photographers for many of their most enduring images, as well as their own photographers.

If the news media realise the game and the stakes, including their own interests, the publicity level for examples of mistreatment will go through the roof. The madia can make an ongoing campaign of the overall issue and of each case. Humiliating the CEOs and the heads of government bodies who often engage these security teams in public places, backing a few lawsuits with their own money.... pretty soon the bad guys will decide they've had enough bad press and change their behaviours.

It seems we are seeing the conflict of policing with security.
According to The Guardian, face detection technology now permits real-time identification and monitoring of individuals in a growing number of public places:
How likely will citizens be to record authoritarian transgressions, or take part in peaceful protests, if they feel they may be immediately identified and unlawfully harassed or charged?
Police and security personnel need to realise that citizens with cameras are a valuable community resource, to keep the system honest and as a potential source of evidence against wrong-doers.
Demonising photographers only helps those who have something to hide.

@Gerry You're right. All governing begins at the local level. So instead of pounding your fists in camera forums that no mayor or city council meeting is ever likely to see or care abuout, go to a public meeting, pick up a pen.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the United States is gradually moving in the direction of fascism, by which I mean an authoritarian government that is dominated by corporate forces. For the most part, it has been a soft fascism, in which personal liberties were largely preserved. But lately, the harder side has been coming into view, as the citizenry is now under constant surveillance, habeas corpus has essentially been nullified and the police are increasingly militarized for the purpose of suppressing dissent. A perfect example of the latter was the coordinated brutal crackdown of the Occupy protesters last year. Restrictions on taking photographs are but one manifestation of the general trend. That there has been relatively scant public discussion of an emerging police state is a sure sign that it is already upon us and that the corporate press are on board.

As a photographer I bristle at any challenge to my right to photograph almost anything I see. However an understanding of the different applications of "Strategic" and "Tactical" is a guide for me. Although we have a legal (strategic) right to walk on any public street/alleyway regardless of neighborhood or time of day we might make a tactical decision to take another path, one we perceive to be less threatening. Police are called upon to provide various forms of public service, often expected to place their bodies between danger and us. If during these high stress, react quickly times (tactical) they appear to be less than fully aware that we don't pose any threat and are within our protected rights to document what we see (strategic) I believe they deserve a bit of slack. As a previous commenter mentioned...move away, try a different angle or place.

I believe it's a different story if we are challenged during non stressful times. This would be a case of training about photographer's rights and not a case of protecting the public. In either case though the solution appears to be in bringing these concerns to the various law enforcement agencies, repeatedly.

On any given day a photographer may decide to risk injury, arrest or worse for the freelance image mentioned in the article. This is not martyrdom for the greater good of photographers but a decision they alone make for their personal reasons, political or economic.

Well, to amend my earlier comment, I am inclined to cut the police some slack, particularly in the cities. They have to deal with an extraordinary range of issues, some lethal. Just last night/this morning here in Chicago, for example.

Those who decry that cops are thuggy crooks probably don't live IN cities. They live in semi-rural or suburban settings and form their opinions mainly from various forms of "news media".

Personally, I've lived in the heart of Chicago for most of my 58 years. I've seen its police force transform from what really was a rather thuggy, corrupt, and not always trustworthy organization into a pretty well-structured, much better disciplined, and much more socially sensitive force. Of course they're far from perfect and, as John Camp suggests, police forces are probably not attracting the best slice of society.

Personally, I've never been hassled by police for photography. Of course I don't entertain myself by playing Junior Weegee, either. (I am increasingly unduly hassled by private security guards but that's a different story.)

So while I certainly agree that police should be better educated on the facts of civil liberty laws, and have commanders who recognize and reprimand infractions I am very much an urban citizen inclined to give some leeway on this relatively soft matter to people who may get their asses shot off on any day. I'm not inclined to sanctimony.

Chicago Police at an anti-NATO demonstration
May, 2012

Ironic isn't it. Everywhere we go there are those little dark plastic domes on poles and buildings recording everything we do. But if a citizen records the same things it is looked on with suspicion. The city buses I ride have three cameras, the front with the driver, rear seating area and a view of the road camera.

Surprisingly the Washington State capital has few security video cams that I can see and I've never been hassled taking pictures anywhere inside or out at the capital building. Well, Washington is a fairly liberal laid back state.

"'I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh largest army in the world,' he said." - NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg*

*Who seems to think that the eighth-largest army has fewer than 35,000 soldiers — an impressively stupid thing to think.

Have you seen this?

I've been stopped by police twice for taking photos. Both times I got away without incident. One of the confrontations took place on the steps of the federal reserve building on Washington DC. The other time the cops questioned me I was taking photos of the LAX sign at LAX airport. Both times I was cooperative and the cops let me go after a few questions. My main concern was protecting the images on my CF card. Those pics ended up being worth more than $1000 in stock photo sales.

I feel like maybe I should put up more of a fight next time I'm confronted, but it's much easier to slither out of a situation like that than it is to take a stand for my rights.

"the reaction to law enforcement having too much power is to create new laws to punish more people...?"

That's an odd interpretation of what I wrote. I'm suggesting that the solution to law enforcement having too much power is to take logical steps to reduce that power.


To all of the European commenters who are so smug in their assertions that such offenses couldn't happen in *my* country...


The implications here are greater than the actual "crime." A law enforcement official overrode logic and decided that a citizen was entitled to privacy while she was in a public space - the street outside a bar. This arbitrary use (or abuse) of power is what led to the many US-based issues outlined in this post and comments.

I spent most of the 90's as a starting staff and freelance photojournalist in NYC and Boston, and I have had my film yanked out of my camera on several occasions by those wearing badges.

For all of the above comments to work people have to realize that the Bill of Rights has many parts, if we don't defend and protect all instead of just those we agree with the freedoms that the BOR represents will disappear. Divide and conquer. The freedom of the press requires accurate, free and honest reporting without prejudice and without the color of our prejudices. Anything less plays into the hands of those that would and are restricting our freedoms. How many are willing to exhibit the honesty required for freedom. I'm old enough to remember the free speech movement at Berkly in the 60's. Only if you agreed were you allowed to speak. The press has a lot to overcome to meet my ideas of free speech, it works both ways. I am a 1st. Amendment absolutist.
The Police need to be reminded that they too are Civilians and that they work for the Civilians that pay their salary not the politicians. If they want to play soldier let them join the military full time. We are not the enemy.

Not good, but at least it's better here than Russia, where you can go to prison for two years for singing a song.

Here is the story of the photographer Edmond Terakopian

Police Threaten Press Photographer

I was talking to a friend about this subject today. His response was interesting.

He said that now perhaps I know how annoying it is to be routinely stopped and searched for nothing and held on suspicion with no evidence whenever something happens nearby.

Oh, I forgot to mention the fact he's of African descent and, luckily for himself, a lawyer.

Dear Ed,

No, in the US, the right to photograph and video or audio record in a public place is pretty well absolute, legally. If the event was observable by relatively ordinary means, then it is legal to record it.

The only limits are on what you can do with those recordings and on extraordinary technologies that violate the common-sense notion of public space. But if it's happening in public space, people in the US do have an absolute right to photograph it.

pax / Ctein

I'm not concerned about the police restricting photography because with effort, that situation will right itself. The law, after all, is on our side.

Instead, the opinions of ordinary people concern me. If you point a long lens and DSLR at any piece of infrastructure, the man on the street rushes to crazy conclusions. How do we cure that suspicion in our fellow citizens?

I second Roberto's recommendation of Carlos Miller and his PINAC (Photography Is Not A Crime) posts. Its shocking and infuriating some of the stuff that's happening out there.

It's a combination of crazy security theatre, people feeling self-important, and the demonisation of the photographer.
We get it here too, tabloid newspapers depicting photographers as either terrorists or paedophiles.

It does seem to be mostly security guards here, who are often badly trained as we see from the recent Olympic debacle where the company hired to provide security screwed up big time and the army had to be called in.

Basically, give some people a little bit of authority and they'll abuse it.

There's this wonderful video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJH9F7Hcluo where in many cases security guards who think they're it and are basically making stuff up to be important call the police, and the police are OK with it (and I suspect the self-important bloke in the grey suit got a Good Talking To).

In which case, Mike, you'll have Social Workers with guns. Now there's a great combination. :D

Dave, language, like photography, is open to interpretation - if you use terms like "got away with" and "slither", people might think you were operating on the margins, or illegally. From your text, it doesn't sound like that was the case. Better to use neutral terms like "parted company" and "negotiate". If photographers use language that implies guilt, that reinforces the stereotypes that agencies wanting to restrict photography are pushing.

Did someone mention that they were interrupted by civilian when photographing in public place? I were, two times: the first was when I was trying my new camera with some plants in a wasteland, a middle-aged man stopped me and asked for my purpose and my indentification, because it was "close to the air force base" (We took hundreds of picture in the base when it had a airshow before!); the second time was because we were "taking picutres of federal buildings" and because both of us looked like Koreans (we are not).This time the guy that stopped us even pulled out his cell phone to take picutres of my friend and me, saying he "will report to FBI". In both cases, I would say that those guys did not look like very decent people, but these incidents signaled that some civilians are thinking that they have the right and responsibility to protest something from being photographed, at least, not by foreigner like me (not a turist).
Probably we are living in a society with increasing distrust, unsecurity, panic and hostility.

I was born and raised in an inner city area. I have a somewhat biased view of officers of the law and how they go about their duties. In my neighbourhood, we are far more likely to be questioned on how we came by our cameras, than about the subjects we've chosen. There's city living, then there's city living. There's the police and then there's the police force.

The latter don't tend to negotiate. At least not on my side of the city.

The natural tendency of the State and its officials is to become ever more repressive, no matter what the political system they govern under or society they govern within.

The American Founding Fathers recognized this to be a central truth, and hence created the Constitution and especially, the Bill of Rights.

We can't depend on the cops, or anyone else in authority to be benevolent, tolerant, sensible or "American". That's what the law and the Constitution is for-and if they prove inadequate over time, let's get our congressmen and congresswomen to do their darned jobs and safeguard the people's interest by strengthening the law and its protection of our natural rights.

While I understand that what cops have to do is difficult, I continue to hate the militarization of their role, and the ready use of cops as bought thugs when it comes to legitimate protest. The photography thing is irritating, but it's only a small part of the problem. I think in an ideal world, cops would be much closer to social workers with good self defense and de-escalation skills.

Re: “No, in the US, the right to photograph and video or audio record in a public place is pretty well absolute, legally.”

That's not always true; in some states, wiretapping laws make it illegal to record audio (and, therefore, videos that include audio) without the permission of all parties to a conversation.

For example, a Chicago Tribune story says:

With the constitutionality of Illinois' eavesdropping law already facing several court challenges, a Democratic state representative from Northbrook has filed a bill that would allow people to audio-record a police officer working in public without the officer's consent. …

Illinois' eavesdropping law is one of the strictest in the country and makes it illegal to audio-record police without their consent, even when they're working in public. The state is one of a handful in which it is illegal to record audio of public conversations without the permission of everyone involved.

That article was from January; I don't know the current status in Illinois, but the issue has come up in a few other states, too, with people arrested for video recordings of police, because the audio portion violated state law.

There's this wonderful video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJH9F7Hcluo where in many cases security guards who think they're it and are basically making stuff up to be important call the police, and the police are OK with it (and I suspect the self-important bloke in the grey suit got a Good Talking To).

Posted by: Antony Shepherd | Saturday, 18 August 2012 at 06:11 PM

12:40 to the end is something which american police should watch as part fo their training:
Being polite and no gung-ho-attitude is what makes a good public servant. That and a lot of common sense.
During the next days after work, I will do the same in my town. Right in the centre is court and the police headquarter, plus lots of banks and other security-sensitive enterprises. Will report about it.

The Original David L.. said this

"To all of the European commenters who are so smug in their assertions that such offenses couldn't happen in *my* country..."

Don't know where he got that notion from. Certainly in the UK it's probably even more of a problem. I posted this some time ago, and have had several disappointing confrontations since


This kind of thinking is being actively promoted by government agencies; just watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWaPp-8k2p0&feature=player_embedded

I know, this comment is late. But it is worth mentioning that, you know those things that they don't want you taking photographs of? If you want really good photographs of any of them, most likely from multiple angles, you can find them on the internet. Or you could get a nice shot from Google Earth, if you want a satellite view. Or sometimes Street View can show you what it looks like to drive (or walk, or bicycle) to there.

Just sayin'.

Funny how many commentators think one of the best the ways to resolve this problem is by getting the mainstream media on their side. In my country, the mainstream media is looked upon with derision for what it is -- a tool of the the powers that be.

After the way the media in the US has behaved through the war-monger Bush years, the curtailment of rights and the Wall Street daylight robbery in which billions of dollars vanished and nobody was ever brought to justice, it's just incredible that people still believe.

I realize I am several days late on this conversation but I would like to point something out anyway. For decades American law enforcement was taught nothing about photography in public. They were not taught that it was your right as a citizen nor were they given any reason to even think twice about the activity. Then the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded and suddenly American law enforcement was riddled with bulletins from federal agencies outlining all of the behavior that should be watched for to prevent another such attack against the United States. Photographing public buildings and other infrastructure was near the top of the list of suspicious behaviors.

Pain and death were fresh on everyone's minds and your average beat cop just did what he was told. Last week the guy with the camera in front of the court house (pick any sort of infrastructure to fit your taste) was just a friendly passerby, this week he is a potential terrorist. Very specific instructions were provided on contacting and identifying people partaking of such "suspicious" behavior. Remember, these instructions trickled down from the federal government, one not known in recent decades for respecting or protecting the rights of its citizens.

Now years of training (and fear mongering) is suddenly expected to be undone in the blink of an eye all because taking photographs in public is our right. While it certainly is our right, we, as fellow human beings, should have a little more patience and compassion towards those tasked with trying to protect us from harm.

I can't help but laugh every time I hear or read a photographer state that he is going to get in the officers face or fight back or stand his ground. I highly suggest learning all of the laws that could pertain to you in the jurisdiction where you plan this event as many have wide reaching laws that can and will be used against you in a court of law.

If you photograph in places that might lead to an encounter with law enforcement I recommend the following:
a) be polite and respectful
b) carry a copy of the Homeland Security FPS Bulletin and use it to have an intelligent conversation
c) refer to a, likely an infinite loop develops here

Keep in mind just how much information a law enforcement officer is required to know. His department hands him a three inch thick binder of policies he must abide by, the state hands him an equally sizeable book of laws he must remember, and he must at least be familiar with the US Constitution as it is the basis from which he must work. Those department policies are likely updated quarterly and we all know how much fun our state legislatures have enacting new laws each year. How many of us have managed to fill our brains with that much information about photography? And committed it to memory so we can recall it at a moments notice when encountering a person who may or may not be a threat to us. Something we as common citizens don't even remotely understand is that there is a weapon present in every encounter a law enforcement officer has and there are only two kinds of encounters, high risk and unknown risk, there is no such thing as a low risk encounter.

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