"Topic that concerns me the most in recent years is law enforcement’s misconceptions regarding the legality of a person’s ability to photograph in a public space"
August 17, 2012 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography
Via The Baltimore Sun
Public spaces are fair game for photographers – a right protected under the First Amendment as free speech. But in recent years that right has come under attack by law enforcement and officials, who are challenging the constraints of what can and cannot be filmed in a public space. Now, more than ever, photographers would be well-advised to learn their rights.
As the director of photography at The Baltimore Sun, I deal with legal issues concerning a number of topics, from copyright to privacy to trespassing to public access. First, let me state, I am not a lawyer nor have I ever played one on television. But, I am called upon often to give my opinion, or at times, state that The Sun should consult a real lawyer.
The one topic that concerns me the most in recent years is law enforcement’s misconceptions regarding the legality of a person’s ability to photograph in a public space. Photography in a public space is free speech protected under the First Amendment.
People believe that the press is granted special privileges because they have credentials. This is not the case. The press has no greater access then the average person in a public space, and certainly no less access. So a photographer standing in a crowd at a crime scene should not be singled out to move back unless everyone else is asked to do the same.
When confronting a photographer who is taking pictures in a public area such as a train station, police and other officials will often site the Patriot Act as forbidding photography. The Patriot Act does not forbid photography.
In May 2011, Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser wrote about photographer Christopher Fussell, who was detained by three MTA police at a Baltimore City light rail stop while taking photographs.
Dresser wrote, “The right of photographers to take pictures in public places has been a point of contention virtually since the invention of the camera. But the disputes have become more frequent — and more contentious — since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which prompted police to challenge individuals who take photos or video of public infrastructure as potential security risks.”
“Civil libertarians and rights advocates say police have been given no new powers to curb photography since 9/11. In many cases, they say, police are making up laws and rules on the spot and issuing orders they have no right to give,” he added.
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Related: "Literally every day, someone is being arrested for doing nothing more than taking a photograph in a public place"