Photography Is Not A Crime

Pertinacious Tom

Importunate Member
Punta Gorda FL
Came across this site today:

Photography Is Not A Crime

The usual question asked when people like me challenge our surveillance society is: what do you have to hide?

OK, what do our government officials have to hide? ;) Some of them seem to be really unhappy when a citizen points a camera at them. They're just doing their jobs, right? They should be proud of it, yet that site is full of incidents showing the exact opposite.



A cop told me why some of them hate to be photographed. It's a reminder that their law enforcement career isn't necessarily progressing as planned.

If they were where they wanted to be, they would be in an unmarked car getting mileage reimbursement making more than a beat cop with interesting assignments.

Instead they're a photographic target for a bunch of conspiracy nuts while the idiot with whom they went to high school is standing down the sidewalk from the activist photographer on a plain clothes assignment laughing at the whole thing.

In general, unless you know how to do your job like a bloody rock star, nobody likes to be observed doing their job. Imagine taking photographs of a less-than-confident surgeon, or a video of a newbie high school teacher.

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Super Anarchist
"Funny" how the cops' mantra is typically something like, "anything I can see from a place I'm allowed to stand" when it comes to photographic fair game, evidence collection, etc.

The trick would be to have two cameras rolling - the one that the fuzz insists you put down or else, and, another one hidden away to document how they act when they think they'll get away with the goose-stepping stuff. Not all cops, of course, just the rare & occasional asshole.


John Drake

My daughter got her learners permit yesterday and I am getting the run down during dinner. Some other young one in the permit test had her picture taken by her mom. Proud mother moment and all that. My daughter comments to my wife, "Hey, that lady is breaking the law." So I ask my wife why our daughter said that, apparently there are signs at DMV the prohibit anyone from taking photos there. You have to wonder what is so sensitive at DMV that you are not allowed to take pictures... aside from the employees slacking I guess.

what i'll never understand is a cop or a rentacop going apeshit over someone holding up a big fancy camera taking a picture of something relatively mundane like a metro-train, supposedly for security reasons or who the hell knows - yet there is no way to tell if the other hundreds of people are sending a text or taking pictures to figure out where to place a bomb. This scenario is relatively commonplace on photo websites for things like trains, refineries, street photography airports (both inside and outside), etc. The next phase of the story, as im sure is referenced in the OP link, is the cop or rentacop accosting the photographer to delete the pictures from the camera. Those who shoot film tend to get away with not having to destroy their film, but i believe i read one case where the cop forced the photographer to hand him the film. Cops and rentacops go after people holding up an SLR because they are an easy target, but the fact of the matter is that if someone wants a picture of something for malicious purposes all they have to do is act like they're sending a text.


Jim M

Super Anarchist
Just so you know. The rules according to the ACLU:

When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.

  • When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner's rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).
  • Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).
  • Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.
  • Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.
  • Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.
  • If you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:
  • Always remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.
  • If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, "am I free to go?" If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.
  • If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Special considerations when videotaping:

With regards to videotaping, there is an important legal distinction between a visual photographic record (fully protected) and the audio portion of a videotape, which some states have tried to regulate under state wiretapping laws.

  • Such laws are generally intended to accomplish the important privacy-protecting goal of prohibiting audio "bugging" of private conversations. However, in nearly all cases audio recording the police is legal.
  • In states that allow recording with the consent of just one party to the conversation, you can tape your own interactions with officers without violating wiretap statutes (since you are one of the parties).
  • In situations where you are an observer but not a part of the conversation, or in states where all parties to a conversation must consent to taping, the legality of taping will depend on whether the state's prohibition on taping applies only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. But that is the case in nearly all states, and no state court has held that police officers performing their job in public have a reasonable expectation. The state of Illinois makes the recording illegal regardless of whether there is an expectation of privacy, but the ACLU of Illinois is challenging that statute in court as a violation of the First Amendment.
  • The ACLU believes that laws that ban the taping of public officials' public statements without their consent violate the First Amendment. A summary of state wiretapping laws can be found here.

Photography at the airport

Photography has also served as an important check on government power in the airline security context.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acknowledges that photography is permitted in and around airline security checkpoints as long as you're not interfering with the screening process. The TSA does ask that its security monitors not be photographed, though it is not clear whether they have any legal basis for such a restriction when the monitors are plainly viewable by the traveling public.

The TSA also warns that local or airport regulations may impose restrictions that the TSA does not. It is difficult to determine if any localities or airport authorities actually have such rules. If you are told you cannot take photographs in an airport you should ask what the legal authority for that rule is.

The ACLU does not believe that restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.
sometimes they go looking for a fight, too, where it just seems to be an attempt to make noise. cant recall the recent example of that, but, something....

My brother carries a copy of the above rights in his camera bag when he goes shooting. I cant recall if he's used it or not. I used to carry it myself but have lost it - guess i might as well print them out again.



Super Anarchist
This has been a hot issue in photography circles for some time. It varies by country and in some cases it gets pretty bizarre.



Lottsa people don’t know I’m famous
Austin Texas
One thing you should always consider when dealing with police officers is the fact these are people who sought out a job where they could be the guy in charge, drive a special in charge car, and even carry a weapon.

When an individual decides to challenge that authority, that person annoys the police officer.

When you annoy a person, you know on advance the end result is not going to be wonderful.

I've you want to use a camera to make a point, you also need to set up the situation so the point can be made...

Or risk having a situation that gets messy



Super Anarchist
Sounds like a valid reason to whip out the 2A & maintain some liberty