Who will watch the watchers? In a world of ubiquitous, hand-held digital cameras, that’s not an abstract philosophical question. Police everywhere are cracking down on citizens using cameras to capture breaking news and law enforcement in action.
In 2009, police arrested blogger and freelance photographer Antonio Musumeci on the steps of a New York federal courthouse. His alleged crime? Unauthorized photography on federal property.
Police cuffed and arrested Musumeci, ultimately issuing him a citation. With the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, he forced a settlement in which the federal government agreed to issue a memo acknowledging that it is totally legal to film or photograph on federal property.
Although the legal right to film on federal property now seems to be firmly established, many other questions about public photography still remain and place journalists and citizens in harm’s way. Can you record a police encounter? Can you film on city or state property? What are a photographer’s rights in so-called public spaces?
These questions will remain unanswered until a case reaches the Supreme Court, says UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, founder of the popular law blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Until then, it’s up to people to know their rights and test the limits of free speech, even at the risk of harassment and arrest.
Who will watch the watchers? All of us, it turns out, but only if we’re willing to fight for our rights.
Produced by Hawk Jensen and Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Jim Epstein and Jensen. About 7.30 minutes.
If you lived in New York City you could carry this 2009-04-03 NYPD Operations Order around to help protect yourself from NYPD officers harassing you for filming around the city.
If you were on “Federally Owned and Leased Facilities”, specifically land used by the DOT, you could use this bulletin to try to scare off the DHS.
Now if you happen to be on federal courthouse property (and likely any property covered by CFR Title 41, Subpart C, § 102-74.420) you can carry this. My settlement with the Department of Homeland Security regarding my arrest on November 9th, 2009. Below is a summary of the settlement.
- The DHS admits that the § 102-74.420 does not “prohibit individuals from photographing (including motion photography) the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces, such as streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas; and FPS has not construed any other federal regulation or federal statute to prohibit such photography of the exterior of federal courthouses, though it makes no representation about local rules or orders.”
- “FPS will provide a written instruction to its officers and employees engaged in law enforcement, stating that for federal courthouses under the protective jurisdiction of FPS, there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography by individuals from publicly accessible spaces, absent a written local rule, regulation, or order. The instruction will also inform FPS officers and employees of the public’s general right to photograph the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces.”
- “Nothing in this agreement precludes FPS or the United States, or any department, agency, agent, officer , or employee of the United States (collectively, the “Government”) or any law-enforcement officer from taking any legally permissible law-enforcement action, including but not limited to approaching any individual taking photographs and asking for the voluntary provision of information such as the purpose of taking the photographs or the identity of the individual, or taking lawful steps to ascertain whether unlawful activity, or reconnaissance for the purpose of a terrorist or unlawful act is being undertaken.”
- FPS will pay the plaintiff $1500.
- FPS will pay $3350 in legal fees.
- I’ll get my memory card back when Julian Heicklen’s case is over.
NYCLU press release below:
In November, Antonio Musumeci, a member of the Manhattan Libertarian Party, was given a ticket while videotaping a political protest in the plaza outside the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Citing a federal regulation that dates to 1957, agents of the Federal Protective Service gave Mr. Musumeci a summons as he recorded a man who was handing pamphlets to potential jurors. The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on Mr. Musumeci’s behalf, arguing that the rules that govern photography on federal property were vague and unconstitutional. The lawsuit says people routinely take pictures on the plaza after new citizens are sworn in at the courthouse.
Good to see this and related stories continue to make the news.
As found in the August / September issue of Reason:
THE DEPARTMENT of Homeland Security seems to believe that national security requires the government to seize photographers’ memory cards on public streets.A federal lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in April may change their minds.
The plaintiff is Antonio Musumeci, a New Jersey software programmer and blogger who on November 9, 2009, filmed the arrest of an activist advocating jury nullification in a public plaza outside a federal courthouse in Manhattan. Musumeci was then arrested, detained, and ticketed, and an employee of the Federal Protective Service (a sub-agency of Homeland Security) confiscated Musumeci’s memory card.
Musumeci was arrested under a law that restricts photography on federal property. But the law explicitly allows photography in “building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors, or auditoriums for news purposes.” The statute also says public warning must be posted on federal property where photography is prohibited, which was not the case in the plaza where Musumeci was arrested. As the NYCLU notes, photography restrictions are applied inconsistently in different areas outside federal courthouses.
The charge against Musumeci was dismissed in March. Musumeci is taking the government to court to seek “declaratory and injunctive relief that will allow him to film and take photographs in public areas outside federal buildings where pedestrians have unrestricted access, as well as compensatory damages for his unlawful arrest.”
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, told the New York Daily News
she hopes the case establishes that “people have a clear right to use cameras in public places without being hassled and arrested by federal agents or police.”
- Amateur Photographer: www.amateurphotographer.co.uk
- Speech Out of Doors: speechoutofdoors.blogspot.com
- KansasCity.com: www.kansascity.com
- Irregular Times: irregulartimes.com
- The Unruly of Law: theunrulyoflaw.blogspot.com
- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: www.rcfp.org
- Debris Blog: debrisblog.wordpress.com
- CarlosMiller.com: carlosmiller.com
- gothamist: gothamist.com
- NYC Photo Rights: www.nycphotorights.com
- Animal New York: animalnewyork.com
- Fox News: www.foxnews.com
- Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection: thomashawk.com
- Independent Political Report: www.independentpoliticalreport.com
- PetaPixel: www.petapixel.com
- KSRO: www.ksro.com
- New York Times: cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com
- Forbes: www.forbes.com
- Reason: reason.com
- Huffington Post: www.huffingtonpost.com
- CBS News: www.cbsnews.com
- 1010 Wins: www.1010wins.com
- Serf City: serfcity.wordpress.com
- MSNBC: www.msnbc.msn.com
- AP: www.google.com
- AP: www.google.com
- Washington Post: www.washingtonpost.com
- Washington Examiner: www.washingtonexaminer.com
- British Journal of Photography: www.bjp-online.com
- NorthJersey.com: www.northjersey.com
- BreakTheMatrix: breakthematrix.com
- Courthouse News: www.courthousenews.com
- The Examiner: www.examiner.com
- Free Talk Live
Most are simply the AP writeup. I’ll update this post with more as they come in.