The Long Beach Police Department’s hunt for photos with “no apparent esthetic value” quickly became national news last week. Here’s a news segment in which Alyona Minkovski of RT speaks out against the erosion of photographers’ rights in the United States:
I understand that the Department of Homeland Security has a job to do, but we can’t just automatically assume that any photographer out there is a terrorist. At this rate I’m pretty sure that all the hipsters in LA will be locked up in no time.
Hopefully the publicity that these stories receive will make it easier for photo-enthusiasts to shoot in public without being harassed.
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”.
Here’s a short clip from the talk show Stossel where American libertarian journalist Radley Balko talks about how cameras — especially mobile phone ones — are a powerful weapon against tyranny, and why laws should protect our rights to use them.
On June 21, 2011, non-profit organization Shoot Experience sent out six photographers to various parts of London to see the current state of photographers’ rights.
Some used tripods, some went hand held, one set up a 5 x 4.
All were instructed to keep to public land and photograph the area as they would on a normal day. The event aimed to test the policing of public and private space by private security firms and their reaction to photographers.
The result? Every one of the photographers was confronted at least once, and in three cases the police were called.
If ordinary citizens have the right to photograph police in public places, what about the other way around? That’s a question that’s sure to be asked often in the coming days, as 40 law enforcement agencies across the US are planning to use iPhones to photograph civilians for the purpose of identifying wanted perps. The system, called Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System (MORIS), costs $3,000 apiece and will be able to do facial recognition searches on a database of known criminals. Photographers’ rights will apply to cops too — police won’t be required to ask permission before snapping a photograph of your face!
Libertarian magazine Reason created this video about the erosion of photographers’ rights in the United States. One of the cases highlighted is the one involving Antonio Musumeci, who was arrested for filming a government building and came out victorious in a lawsuit with the help of the NYCLU.
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…
Cop Block created an interactive map showing the “War on Cameras” in which each marker shows an incident where someone was “harassed, detained, threatened, attacked, arrested, or charged with a crime” by government officials for using a camera. It only has about 60 markers on it at the moment — a more solution would be to have a crowdsourced map where anyone can contribute and add events. Still, this is pretty neat for those interested in photographers’ rights (a pretty big issue last year).
A man in Atlanta was just awarded $40,000 in damages after having his cell phone confiscated and photos deleted while filming police activity from a public location. The man was filming for Copwatch, an organization that aims to crack down on law enforcement wrongdoing by filming their activities, and was told by the police that he had no right to record them. An interesting quote from the CNN segment above is the lesson this case should send to other police departments,
The lesson is that police departments need to know that citizens can film their activity if it is taking place in a public place.
Not a bad result for having some cell phone photos deleted, huh?