The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I just read the most outrageous blog about New York City street photographer Mason Resnick being harassed by a police officer. Here’s the link: Street Photography is Not a Crime
It’s not that Resnick was questioned by a police officer while he was in the process of photography, it was because he let the officer do something that was a total violation of his Fourth Amendment rights: He let the officer go through his images.
That in and of itself pisses me off more than the officer questioning him. In my opinion, Resnick gave the officer an authority he had no legitimate right to. He gave the officer the right to search his person with out probable or due cause.
What’s to say the officer saw one of the images and didn’t like it. Not for it’s aesthetic reasons, but for the content of the image? This would give the officer the premise to arrest the photographer although no crime as been committed.
In this case, Resnick states the officer said “I got several complaints. I was following you for several blocks. There are a lot of school groups here today, lots of children.”
Now with that in mind, let’s say the officer saw an image he didn’t like. Let’s say it is of an image of a little girl sitting on the curb eating an ice cream cone. Combine the complaints with the image and you have a tiny case for arrest. Granted, there would be no merit to the arrest, but that is an arrest I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to go through. Even though it may be an unsubstantiated arrest, the damage has been done and a reputation may have irreparably destroyed.
Many professional organizations such as the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies fight for photographer’s rights through court actions and advocating for our rights through the Legislative Branch.
Here is an interesting read on how the NPPA protested how the Transportation Security Administration used a photographer in one of their posters: TSA poster.
Recently the Department of Homeland Security released a statement saying it is O.K. to photograph Federal buildings. This action is the result of a lawsuit against the DHS initiated by photographer Antonio Musumeci, 29, of Edgewater, N.J. He was arrested and one of his cards seized while photographer the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in New York City. He, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the DHS.
In the settlement, the courts agreed it was within his rights to photograph the building. This led to a statement by the DHS to allow the photography of Federal Buildings. Here’s the link to the actual settlement: Federal Courthouse Photography Settlement
The New York Times ran a story on its photography blog: Lens: You Can Photograph That Federal Building
In the article, NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher quoted as saying “”I just find it absurd to have limits on people taking pictures. It’s a protected, free speech activity.”
In addition, many newspapers and magazines have fought for their photographer’s rights when a staff photographer has been arrested or their images/film have been seized. If the police attempt to subpoena their images, the publications fight the subpoena by having it quashed.
As a photojournalist who has worked for newspapers for the past 15 years, I have been harassed several times by police while at crime scenes and breaking news events. Even when I was only a student studying photojournalism at Western Kentucky University I was questioned by police.
During my time in college, I was a staff photographer at the Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News. During a fire at the State Street United Methodist Church, I was pushed back by a police officer and told to stand on a particular street corner and not move so I can stay out of the way. I simply stated what I was doing and reiterated my right to be there. He didn’t care and went back to controlling the growing crowd.
My photo editor Joe Imel showed up and asked what I was doing. I explained and he said for me to stay there. The fire continued to grow destroying the 1846 church. After a few minutes I left the spot and just went about shooting. I captured a poignant moment of the pastor hugging another church member as the two watched in vain.
I did learn to remain calm when having discussions with police. They respect you more. They also listen and learn about who you are and what your job is. And sometimes, ironically, become your friend and when you need particular access, can get you that access.
In another instance while covering an apartment fire, I was photographing a couple as they leaned on the back of a police cruiser watching the fire consume their apartment. As I was shooting, an officer began pushing me back saying I had no right to be there. My eye was at the viewfinder when the woman turned around. I shot two more frames and captured her anguish.
The best way to fight against the police or other federal authorities wanting to view your images or seize your film and cards is to educate yourself. Portland, Ore., attorney Bert P. Krages, II, has a great printable card for photographer’s stating their rights. It is helpful to carry this card when confronted by police. Here’s the link: The Photographer’s Rights
The key is education. And the education flows up, or what is known as “up-training.” But the first critical step is educating yourself. My suggestion is to read and study about your rights. There are plenty of online resources for you to educate yourself.
If you are not a member of a professional photography organization, join one. The cards these organizations give you will help to show the officer you are a professional that is practicing your craft. With the NPPA you can get a press credential that helps identify you as a working photographer. One of the big benefits of these organizations is that you have access to numerous educational tools to help you better understand your rights.
Some items you should carry that will let the officer know you are a professional:
1. Your Business card
2. Your professional affiliation membership card
3. Copies of the Photographer’s rights card
4. A state issued I.D. card or U.S. Passport
5. Phone numbers for attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union
1. Remain calm
2. State your purpose and hand them I.D. with your membership card, business card, and the Photographer’s Rights printout.
3. Stay calm yet press your rights. You have a right to photograph from a public place.
4. If requested, you don’t have to show images, nor hand over any film. They do not have the right.
5. If they continue, you have a right to request the Sergeant in Charge (duty sergeant) to come.
They key is not to give in. The police are only doing their jobs and you are doing yours. If they request you to leave, then leave. Now you have the time to call an attorney and file a complaint against the police department.
I was asked once by and friend who is an Aspen Police Officer if I had a choice to either hand over my camera or be arrested, what would I do. I said “get a jail cell ready.” Again, I educated myself on my rights and keep up with the current news of what’s going with our rights. We do have a First Amendment which protects our rights to photograph in public places. It falls under the “Free Press” clause. The Fourth Amendment protects us from illegal search and seizure, and the 14th Amendment extends those right under the “Due Process” clause.
We are the only ones who will fight for our rights. If we don’t, no one else will. And our rights and liberties are worth fighting for. Ask anyone who is now buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Here are a few helpful links: