Sunday, May 13, 2012

Photography is Not a Crime

I have recently become increasingly concerned over the apparent of “militarization” of the police in this country; I trace this rise back to the events of 9/11. Though the Patriot Act granted sweeping enforcement authority to our federal government, it is my understanding that there is nothing in this law which gives any additional powers to local police.

In the news this past year in particular with the Occupy Protest movement; there have been increasing incidents of police using force, coercion, arrest and confiscation of people photographing and/or recording police. In some cases even journalists have been subject to harsh treatment. As a filmmaker, I find this trend particularly disturbing.

Here is official clarification from the ACLU – It is not a crime to photograph or record police in public while in the process of carrying out their duties when it is done openly and where there is no expectation or presumption of privacy.

Yet even though police have been trained regarding this issue, incidents are still rampant of police arresting people recording them; and in confiscating phones, cameras, film and other the like.

I have seen video of police asking a videographer if their device is recording audio; taking the device from the photographer if answered in the affirmative. From the ACLU:
Another disturbing trend is police officers and prosecutors using wiretapping statutes in certain states…to arrest and prosecute those who attempt to record police activities using video cameras that include audio. (Unlike photography and silent video, there is no general right to record audio; many state wiretap laws prohibit recording conversations if the parties have a reasonable expectation of privacy — which is never true for a police officer carrying out his or her duties in public.) [1]
Some states like Illinois have passed laws making it illegal to photograph or video police; it is not likely that these laws would pass Constitutional legal challenges under the First Amendment.

With the prevalence of high quality video recording devices in simple cell phones which are carried by almost everyone today, the potential exists for more people to be subjected to the capricious actions of questionable police practices.

Know your rights and be prepared to defend them. Refer to some of the links below, or Google “Photography is not a crime” and follow the links.

1. You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop,

Photography is Not a Crime, Carlos Miller,

7 Rules for Recording Police, Steve Silverman,


DJan said...

Thanks for this information, Robert. I think many abuses have been caught on video and have made it uncomfortable for those doing it. good!

Secret Agent Woman said...

That's good to know. Maybe a couple of lawsuits would help the police re-think their behavior.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan I was going to put a YouTube video example on the post... but which one?! Sadly there are WAY TOO MANY on there already... which greatly adds to my concern.

SecretAgent There have been; appellate courts ruled in favor of the photographers and in some cases, civil penalties have been levied against municipal governments. Still, the ACLU is looking for litigants willing to take to risk to challenge some of these laws.

Beach Bum said... is not likely that these laws would pass Constitutional legal challenges under the First Amendment.

Sorry to sound like a defeatist but with the right-wing Supreme Court we have now I seriously doubt we will have a happy ending on this issue.

Antares Cryptos said...

This concerns me too. It's turning the average boring citizen into someone to be watched.

I never thought 1984 would arrive.

Youtube has been quite helpful in that regard.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Beach Bum So far the appellate courts have supported First Amendment rights. But yes, this conservative Supreme Court.. well yes, agreed... I wouldn't want to place any expensive bets.

Cryptos The time to start quaking is when YouTube is pressured to remove all those videos.,, not that they haven't felt the pressure to do so.

Anonymous said...

It is alarming how militarized the police have become in recent years. A few weeks ago I saw a couple of photos, one of a local police force 50 years ago; and another more recent.

The older photo showed a group of gentlemen wearing nice suits. The second showed a group of officers decked out in camouflage, helmets, and carrying automatic assault weapons. This, in Provo, Utah.

Somehow these new militarized officers do not make me feel safer. Not at all.

Rain Trueax said...

It's not a free country where it comes to photography for a lot of things. I wanted to take some photos in Portland of an interesting grocery store. I was told to stop. They do not permit photos at all. Maybe they were worried a competitor would steal how they set it up? I had no idea but of course, didn't take them-- or write about the store for the blog. Being a little wiser, I then asked at another store, it took some doing but got permission to photograph and write about it. I don't know if the store bit has always been that way or just since 9/11?

Kay Dennison said...

Excellent post!!!! Solutions? A few changes in the Supreme Court would be a good place to start.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dissenter I have noticed that as well, our sheriffs department uniforms are fatigues and combat boots. I don't like the look at all. It makes me wonder how the uniform drives that individual's self image when they deal with the public?

Rain Stores being private businesses can prevent you from photographing on their property, but they cannot stop you from photographing from public property. But I have heard of this, mainly they didn't want you recording their prices. But now there are actual apps on smart phones which scan bar codes and tell you where you can find lower comparative prices.

Kay What an uphill battle that is going to be... but yes, I agree.

billy pilgrim said...

the law has never stood in the way of police going about their business so i sure wouldn't argue with a cop if he told me to stop taking pictures.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy It's difficult to say what one would do when actually confronted with an authority figure in such circumstances. I would like to think that I could calmly assert my rights.

chlost said...

If the police are doing things right, there should be no reason they wouldn't want to be photographed. In fact, the now common use of in-squad video cameras I believe began after the public began to demand to have a video record of police actions. When they don't want to be filmed, it raises a big red flag. It's beginning to feel as though we are living in a police state in some areas.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cholst Well exactly! In fact, why would they event want to present the IMPRESSION of any impropriety? Though I have heard of cop's dashboard recordings accidentally disappearing when their testimony has been in question. You know, video protects them as well.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Yep...yep...all true, I remember this from my Media Law class.

My hub is a city cop. I can assure you the last thing on his mind is taking anyone's camera or videotape. I have trained him well ;) and usually he's too busy dealing with baby daddy domestic issues.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dawn Well there you go; indeed, why wouldn't officers want to have the public document the tough job they have do every day? Thank you!

Heidrun Khokhar said...

This has also happened in our country. In fact police urge private citizens to come forward with photos taken at event where some wrong has occurred and they then find ways to use those photos. The good that has come out of this is it can be used against them too. Several officers have now lost there jobs and one has been criminally charged while others are pending.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Heidrun That is generally WHY cops should be recorded while they do their job.