German satire program Extra 3 conducted a humorous — albeit disconcerting — experiment testing photographers’ (and videographers) rights in Germany. They had an actor use a camera at different “sensitive” government locations, doing the exact same things (e.g. film the locations of security cameras) but dressed in two different outfits — first as a European tourist and then as a Middle Eastern man. The result shows that how law enforcement deals with cameras is largely determined by common prejudices.
In response to the “widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places”, the American Civil Liberties Union has published a helpful article that clearly details what your rights are as a photographer in the United States. Read more…
Here’s a startling video on how 9/11 turned using a camera in public into a “suspicious activity”:
After 9/11, the government began encouraging local police, private security and everyday Americans to report so-called “suspicious activity” that may indicate a security threat. Taking photos of landmarks, walking “nervously” and writing in a notebook are all activities that have led to people being stopped and questioned.
A disconcerting fact from the video: more than 15,000 “suspicious activity” reports are currently being stored — perhaps indefinitely — in a national law enforcement database.
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).
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.
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”.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding social media sites and their scary-sounding terms of services that always sound like rights-grabs. Here’s what Photoshop guru Scott Kelby had to say after trying out Google+:
Of course, when it comes to posting photos on any social media site, the discussion always turns to copyright issues, and honestly I don’t personally have any problems with Google+’s terms. I don’t think Google is going to steal all my photos and use them for their own evil purposes (in fact, I’ve never read a single story about some big photo-sharing site misappropriating a photographer’s photos, or anything along those lines, so I just don’t sweat it. I know, I know….I’m totally naive—the big corporations are actually secretly out to get…..[wait for it...wait for it]…free photography).
Here’s what I do know: any time lawyers get involved in stuff like this, you’re going to have a lengthy legalese document that makes it sound like Google+ (or Facebook, or Twitter) is going to grab all your rights for now and eternity, when all they’re actually trying to do is keep their client (Google+ in this case) from getting sued.
Scott also writes that the magazine he publishes (Photoshop User) has similar scary-sounding terms that his lawyers tell him are needed to avoid “getting sued into oblivion”.
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.