We’ve previously covered how, despite camera ubiquity, amateur and journalistic reports of police, security guards, and other authority figures of varying legitimacy intimidating harmless photographers continue to pop up. Popular Mechanics explains why this harassment isn’t just wrong, but illegal.
Instances of such intimidation—misguided at best, but often outright thuggish—occur anywhere from shopping malls to public streets, and often go down when citizens attempt to document an arrest or other police action. And while Popular Mechanics’ Glenn Harlan Reynolds notes that mall cops may have a legal basis for asking you to put your camera away, public property (such as any sidewalk, street, or municipal area) is always fair game.
Reynolds cites Bert Krages, an attorney specializing in photography law (very cool!), who explains “The general rule is that if something is in a public place, you’re entitled to photograph it.” And there’s nothing in the the Patriot or Homeland Security acts that says otherwise, contrary to what a misinformed officer might try to tell you. You snapping a pic of a police traffic stop is no more a privacy violation than a wide-eyed tourist photographing a Times Square Sbarro.
But what about terrorism? Still not an excuse. As Bruce Schneier, head of security technology for British Telecom points out, the notion that terrorist conspirators photograph their targets is an overblown one: “Look at the 9/11 attacks, the Moscow and London subway bombings, the Fort Hood shooting—no photos.” Rather, Reynolds argues, a camera in the hand of every pedestrian can only serve to foil potential plotters.
If you or someone you know is menaced by police who claim you’re breaking the law by merely hitting the shutter, Reynolds advises to—politely—ask what legal authority they have to stop you, and to speak with a supervisor. But the only permanent fix will be an emphasis on educating guards and police, or the type of legislation recently introduced by Congressman Edolphus Towns.
Taking photos through your ex-girlfriend’s window is still very, very illegal, however. [Popular Mechanics]