Washington Post discusses the “Freedom of photography”

Yet another mainstream publication has addressed the right to photograph/film in public. Here’s an excerpt from a recent The Washington Post article:

Courts have long ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to take photographs in public places. Even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies have reiterated that right in official policies.

But in practice, those rules don’t always filter down to police officers and security guards who continue to restrict photographers, often citing authority they don’t have. Almost nine years after the terrorist attacks, which ratcheted up security at government properties and transportation hubs, anyone photographing federal buildings, bridges, trains or airports runs the risk of being seen as a potential terrorist.

Reliable statistics on detentions and arrests of photographers are hard to come by, but photographers, their advocates and even police agree that confrontations still occur frequently. Photographers had run-ins with police before the 2001 attacks, but constitutional lawyers say the combination of heightened security concerns and the spread of digital cameras has made such incidents more common.

In the article, you’ll also see this quote:

“When people see a camera, they get more into it,” said Marcello Muzzatti, president of D.C. Lodge No. 1 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 11,000 officers in more than 100 D.C. and federal agencies. “Some people will figure, ‘I have a right to take pictures,’ and we are not arguing with that. An officer also has a right to his or her safety and to control the situation.”

This, of course, is complete bullshit. Police officers certainly have a right to safety (in the sense of having the right to not be attacked by others) just like the rest of us, but the presence of a camera is never a safety concern. If anything, photographs and videos of police encounters are a boon to “officer safety” because they provide reliable information about what happened. The only reason a camera should make a cop fear for his or her safety is if that cop is trying to get away with something illegal. As many cops like to say, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide.”

Furthermore, police don’t possess a nebulous “right… to control the situation.” Police, just like the rest of us, are bound by the law. Although many cops like to believe otherwise, police don’t have the right to arbitrarily interfere with others simply to stay “in control” of a situation. Unfortunately, when cops refuse to accept this, bad things tend to happen.


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