Boston lawyer Simon Glik was arrested on October 1, 2007 when he used his cell phone to record officers making a drug arrest, and later sued the city and the officers for violating his rights. After the officers tried to having the lawsuit dismissed on the basis of qualified immunity, a Federal Appeals Court denied the motion last week and ruled that filming and photographing police is in fact protected by the First Amendment. They also note that the rights extend not just to professional news gatherers, but ordinary citizens as well:
[...] changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.
This is great news for photographers’ rights (in the United States, at least).
What do you think of this photo of a refinery by photographer Sander Roscoe Wolff? Apparently Long Beach police don’t think very highly of it. Wolff was detained after capturing it last month, and now the police chief is saying that stopping photographers for photos with “no apparent esthetic value” is part of department policy. The Long Beach Post writes,
“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says [Police Chief Jim McDonnell], “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.
McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent esthetic value,” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”
Telling police officers to be the judge in determining whether a photograph has any artistic value doesn’t seem like a very good way of catching the bad guys… What if some terrorist is an awesome photographer?
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!
On Memorial Day 2011, Narces Benoit witnessed and filmed a group of Miami police officers shooting and killing a suspect in a car chase and armed robbery. He was then confronted by officers who handcuffed him and smashed his cell phone, but Benoit was able to sneakily preserve the video with some quick thinking. The Miami Herald writes,
Benoit said the officers eventually uncuffed him after gunshots rang out elsewhere and he discreetly removed the [memory] card and placed it in his mouth.
Officers again took his phone, demanding his video. He said they took him to a nearby mobile command center, snapped a picture of him, then took him to police headquarters and conducted a recorded interview while he kept the [memory] card in his mouth. He insisted his phone was broken.
29-year-old student and avid photographer Christopher Fussell was taking photographs of trains at a Baltimore station back in March when he was confronted by Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) officers. He was able to record the conversation, which shows the officers having a complete lack of understanding of laws and photographers’ rights. Fussell writes,
I have no qualms with MTA Police inquiring what I’m doing, but the fact that they took it to the next level with so many lies, unreasonable detainment, denying my boarding of my train that caused me to be delayed and following me to delay me further; this whole episode of theirs was unprofessional and perhaps unconstitutional. I am posting this video in hopes to further strengthen photographer’s constitutional rights.
The story has since become a pretty big deal after the video went viral online, with the MTA admitting that the officer had incorrectly cited the Patriot Act and other laws. The American Civil Liberties Union has also sided with Fussell and may sue MTA over his detainment.
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.
If you’re planning to try your hand at solargraphy, it might be a good idea to label the pinhole camera before placing it out in public — when one was spotted at Central Washington University, it was reported as a bomb and caused part of the campus to be shut down for four hours!
[...] a groundskeeper found a cylinder with duct tape on it. Officers closed a street while an Army explosive ordnance disposal team from the Yakima Training Center traveled to Ellensburg to check it out the unidentified object.
The chief says it contained what appeared to be film and could have been a camera made for some project. [#]
Since solargraph cameras are sometimes exposed for up to half a year, there’s probably a solargraph photographer somewhere out there crying right now.