Update: Apparently this isn’t something ordinary photographers need to worry about. See below.
The Washington Post has published a list of 160 misdemeanor offenses that can land you in jail in Washington D.C. While most are quite reasonable (e.g. “Sale of Cigarettes to a Minor” or “Unlicensed Driving Instructor”), there is one that is troubling. Under the category “Photographer Violations” is the entry:
Photographer – More than 5 minutes at location
The entry is quite vague and, as Carlos Miller points out, leaves a lot of room for police officer interpretation.
Update: The Washington Post has written a followup article addressing this issue (thx Darrow). Apparently the law is directed at full-time photographers who photograph passersby on the streets:
”Our policy has been that the street photographer license would apply to persons who are stationed on public space to take photos of passersby,” said agency spokesman Helder Gil in an e-mail. Amateurs aren’t covered, he said, nor are “journalists, professional photographers who take pictures of buildings/scenery, or wedding photographers taking pics of happy couples on D.C. streets and sidewalks.”
So as long as you don’t make a living hustling tourists for snapshots, you can snap away without keeping an eye on your watch.
Freelance news photographer Phil Datz was recording the conclusion of a police chase from the opposite sidewalk last Friday when he was confronted by a police officer and commanded to “go away”. Though he politely obeyed and moved a block further from the scene, the officer decided to arrest him for “obstruction of governmental administration”. The latest news is that the department is planning to drop the charges and put its officers through “media relations training”.
Update: We hear that all charges against Rhonda Hollander have been dropped after a judge found the testimony “not credible.”
In the United States, anyone can be photographed in most public places without their consent… as long as they don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy. A female traffic magistrate named Rhonda Hollander was arrested last week after following a man into a courthouse bathroom and photographing him as he used the urinal.
When Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Darlene Harden confronted Hollander a short time later, the magistrate admitted taking a picture but refused to turn over her phone, arguing that it was a public restroom and she was not violating any laws, according to the report. [#]
Other places where people have an expectation of privacy include homes, dressing rooms, medical facilities, and phone booths. Basically, it helps to have some common sense.
Being stopped by police for being suspicious — and having cameras — isn’t an issue unique to our time. In 1955, photographer Robert Frank was driving through Arkansas when he was stopped by a police officer who looked into his car and noticed, among other things, “a number of cameras”. The officer had something to take care of in a nearby city, so he conveniently had Frank held in a city jail until he could return and question him. Read more…
On November 9th, 2009, Software programmer Antonio Musumeci was filming the arrest of a protestor outside a federal courthouse in NYC when he himself was arrested. His main camera was confiscated, but he recorded the entire encounter on a second camera (the resulting video is above). In April 2010, the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the government on Musumeci’s behalf, and yesterday it was was announced that a settlement had been reached, with the government recognizing the public’s right to photograph and film in public spaces outside federal buildings. Read more…
Charges have been dropped against Anthony Graber, a motorcyclist who filmed a plainclothes Maryland State Trooper during a traffic stop and uploaded the video to YouTube. According to the Baltimore Sun,
Judge Emory A Pitt Jr. tossed all the charges filed against Anthony Graber, leaving only speeding and other traffic violations, and most likely sparing him a trial that had been scheduled for Oct. 12. The judge ruled that Maryland’s wire tap law allows recording of both voice and sound in areas where privacy cannot be expected. He ruled that a police officer on a traffic stop has no expectation of privacy.
“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public,” the judge wrote. “When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.”
New York City graffiti artist Poster Boy, Henry Matyjewicz, is famed for his rearrangement of subway advertisements into bizarre satirical collages. But as of late, the 28-year-old has been mired in legal troubles, ending in an 11 month sentence for missing a hearing.
Matyjewicz was arrested late last year and charged with the felony and misdemeanor counts for his graffiti. He plead guilty, managed to dodge the felony count, and instead received 210 hours of community service and three years of probation. He completed his service, but was soon rearrested for making more graffiti, as well as jumping a turnstile at a subway.
Initially, the district attorney’s office tried to overturn the original plea deal that exempted Matyjewicz from jail time for his repeat offense. However, the judge, Justice Michael Gary, eventually agreed to uphold the deal because he’d neglected to inform Matyjewicz that further offenses would not be so easily excused.
It would seem that Matyjewicz was home free, except for one mistake — he missed his hearing date. An arrest warrant was issued, and though the artist appeared a day late, saying that he’d forgotten to come in, he was taken into custody over last weekend.
On Monday, Justice Gary sentenced Matyjewicz to 11 months for what Gary says was a violation of the plea deal. The New York Post suggests that Gary’s judgment might be vindictive, since he couldn’t penalize Matyjewicz for his repeat offense.
Last December an amateur photographer named Bob Patefield was in Accrington town centre shooting photographs of the Christmas celebration when he and his friend were stopped by police for suspicious behavior. He and his friend refused to provide the police with personal details (since they were not obliged to), and were stopped a total of three times before Patefield was finally arrested. His friend complied, provided his personal information, and was released on the spot.
After being detained for eight hours, he was released without charges.
Patefield asked if the officer had any “reasonable, articulable suspicion” to justify him giving his details.
She replied: “I believe your behaviour was quite suspicious in the manner in which you were taking photographs in the town centre … I’m suspicious in why you were taking those pictures.
“I’m an officer of the law, and I’m requiring you, because I believe your behaviour to be of a suspicious nature, and of possibly antisocial [nature] … I can take your details just to ascertain that everything is OK.”
Patefield and his friend maintained that they did not want to disclose their details. They were stopped a third and final time when returning to their car. This time the officer was accompanied by an acting sergeant. “Under law, fine, we can ask for your details – we’ve got no powers,” he said. “However, due to the fact that we believe you were involved in antisocial behaviour, ie taking photographs … then we do have a power under [the Police Reform Act] to ask for your name and address, and for you to provide it. If you don’t, then you may be arrested.”
What would you have done in this situation? Would you simply have given your personal information and walked away, or would you have refused?