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?
Here’s another site you can bookmark if you’re constantly on the hunt for cheap, used camera gear to play with: PropertyRoom.com is an online auction site through which law enforcement agencies can sell goods that were stolen, seized, or found. There’s a section just for for photography that includes cameras, lenses, and accessories. Like the Goodwill auction site we featured last year, the fact that these auctions sites are lesser known means it more likely that you’ll be able to find a crazy deal.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has teamed up with amateur photographer Antonio Musumeci in a lawsuit that challenges a federal ban on photography. Musumeci, a software programmer, filmed the arrest of a protester outside of the Manhattan Federal Court last year, and then was himself arrested.
Musumeci was standing in a public plaza when he was arrested, but he says a Federal Protective Service inspector told him that it was illegal to take photos. The inspector then made Musumeci sit on a sidewalk for 20 minutes while his camera and memory card were confiscated. He was then ticketed for “violating the regulation barring photography.” Though his ticket was later dismissed in court, his memory card has not been recovered.
The man returned to take footage at another protest, during which he deliberately stood on the public sidewalk, but says he was threatened with arrest once again.
Now the NYCLU has picked up Musumeci’s case to challenge the ban on photography near federal property by suing the Federal Protective Services, FPS Inspector Clifford Barnes, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Executive director of the NYCLU wrote in a statement:
“In our society, people have a clear right to use cameras in public places without being hassled and arrested by federal agents or police… We understand the need for heightened security around federal buildings, but the government cannot arrest people for taking pictures in a public plaza.”