Photography is Not a Crime
Know your First Amendment Rights
By Matthew Jeppsen | April 02, 2009
Bostonist is running an article about a photographer who was taking stock photos at a public park, and was harassed and questioned by local police. They informed the photographer that he had to delete the pictures he'd taken. The photographer was aware that their demands were not lawful, but he felt he had no other choice and deleted the images. It's another sad, chilling account that shows the continual erosion of our Constitutional First Amendment rights. More details below...
"The police officers ran their standard license and vehicle registration checks and then told Joe that he could not photograph in the area, take pictures of the bridge, or the LNG (liquefied natural gas) area. Joe again explained that he wasn't doing anything wrong and was just putting together images for a stock photography site. One officer asked to see the pictures, and then told Joe he had to delete them, and then show him the review to confirm deletion. They also questioned him about other photos on his camera from a previous night."
"He was also told that next time he wants to photograph there he is to call and let the office in charge know that he has been OK'd for photography. But that's absurd. Joe has absolutely no obligation to call the police for permission to photograph. He has a first amendment right to take photographs."
"It's an example of how our basic Constitutional rights are slipping away. Either by giving them away (phoning the police before taking pictures) or by having them taken from us (being intimidated by officers on threat of arrest). Although this particular story relates to photographers the fact is that this could have been anyone in the area that day or any other day. This Bostonist certainly isn't anti-police, in fact as a former EMT/Firefighter I think most of our police officers do a fantastic job under very stressful conditions. But we also need our police to understand that not everyone is a terrorist, and threatening innocent people with arrest is not the answer."
So there you have it...brush up on your knowledge, grab a free copy of The Photographer's Right and study it. Print it out and carry it in your camera bag. If and when you are detained by authorities, calmly and respectfully ask the following four questions:
1. What is the person's name?
2. Who is their employer?
3. Are you free to leave? If not, how do they intend to stop you if you decide to leave? What legal basis do they assert for the detention?
4. Likewise, if they demand your film, what legal basis do they assert for the confiscation?
Most importantly, choose not to be bullied by authorities armed with the best of intentions, but a very poor grasp of your First Amendment rights.
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