Civil Liberties

Pre-Conventions, Photographers Know Your Rights


The conventions are coming, journalists and photographers and people with Smart Phones; so are the free speech zones and nervous riot police. It's a good time to know your rights when it comes to reporting. The New York Times' excellent photo blog has an interview with National Press Photographers Association head of general council Mickey H. Osterreicher. He gives some Reason-y tips for photographers' rights in places and situations where the police either don't know the law, or intend to ignore it in the name of fighting terrorism or easing a hot protest situation.

Q. It seems like photographing in public is becoming a crime.

A. Literally every day, someone is being arrested for doing nothing more than taking a photograph in a public place. It makes no sense to me. Photography is an expression of free speech.

Since 9/11, there's been an incredible number of incidents where photographers are being interfered with and arrested for doing nothing other than taking pictures or recording video in public places.

It's not just news photographers who should be concerned with this. I think every citizen should be concerned. Tourists taking pictures are being told by police, security guards and sometimes other citizens, "Sorry, you can't take a picture here." When asked why, they say, "Well, don't you remember 9/11?"

I remember it quite well, but what does that have do to with taking a picture in public? It seems like the war on terrorism has somehow morphed into an assault on photography.

Q. What's caused this?

A. It's been a perfect storm. There's 9/11, and now photojournalists who traditionally worked for newspapers are losing their jobs and becoming freelancers who may not have the backing of their news organizations. You have Occupy Wall Street, where police didn't want some of their actions to be photographed. And now everybody with a cellphone is capable of recording very high-quality images. And everyone has the ability to upload and share them almost instantly. There is no news cycle — it's 24/7 with unlimited bandwidth.


I believe that the problem is it's ingrained in the police culture. The idea of serve and protect has somehow changed, for some officers, to include protecting the public from being photographed.

Many times officers are pushing and shoving, and our photographers are told, "If that was your mother, would you want to see her picture in the paper?"

That's not the officer's job. The officer's job is to protect and serve, to make sure the public is safe, secure the scene, collect evidence. It's not to decide what pictures should and shouldn't be taken on the street.

There are officers who think it's their job to protect other officers from being photographed. They're absolutely wrong. That not what their function is.

Just as a news photographer's job isn't to direct traffic, or collect evidence at a scene, or do any of the things that law enforcement does.

The rest here. ReasonTV: "The Government's War on Cameras!"