Federal Officials Finally Admit That Photographing Federal Buildings Is Not A Crime

from the took-'em-long-enough dept

There is nothing against the law about photographing federal buildings from public property. And yet, there have been plenty of stories about security guards and law enforcement trying to block photographers from taking those shots. There have been stories of seized cameras, demands to delete photos, etc., and the usual defense is that they're just "protecting against terrorism." However, after a settlement in a lawsuit concerning a guy who was arrested for videotaping outside the Federal courthouse in NY, Homeland Security has issued a notice to federal employees not to disrupt the photographing of federal buildings. An excerpt from the now released document (which is fully embedded below):
For properties under the protective jurisdiction of FPS, there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography of any federally owned or leased building, absent a written local rule or regulation established by a Court Security Committee or Facility Security Committee. Furthermore, it is important to understand that this regulation does not prohibit photography by individuals of the exterior of federally owned or leased facilities from publicly accessible spaces such as streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas.... Absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause, law enforcement and security personnel and (sic) must allow individuals to photograph the exterior of federally owned or leased facilities from publicly accessible space.
The report does say they can go speak to the photographer to determine the purpose of the photography if they believe it's warranted. However, unless they establish a higher bar of suspicion, they need to allow the photography to continue. They also are not allowed to seize cameras and cannot demand that a photographer delete the contents of the camera.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:01am

    No such thing as a deleted photo

    The demand to delete the photo was stupid. There are several programs that can recover deleted photos from memory cards. So if you are stopped, delete the photos upon request then recover them when you get home.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    justok (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:03am

    ...currently...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:14am

    As an amateur photographer who owns some rather expensive equipment that would be extremely painful to relinquish to a federal employee, I applaud this decision.

    But I still won't roll the dice taking pictures of Federal buildings (some of which are rather nice examples of architecture). The damage has been done. The chilling has already happened.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:20am

    Re:

    if you ever change your mind make sure you have a copy of the bulletin on hand.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    FarSide (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:20am

    "The report does say they can go speak to the photographer to determine the purpose of the photography if they believe it's warranted."

    So at the end of the day, they can still bully you, and they can still be the judge and jury of whether you have a valid purpose for taking pictures. Because taking pictures in itself has no valid role, evidently.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Liz, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:21am

    Re: No such thing as a deleted photo

    Some sleight of hand and an extra $20 memory card is easier.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Call me Al, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:35am

    Re: Re:

    "if you ever change your mind make sure you have a copy of the bulletin on hand."

    When I go wandering around London with my DSLR I always have a copy of a similar bulletin in the UK from the head of the Metropolitan police. It lives comfortably in my camera case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:36am

    I don't know why you guys are all celebrating this like some sort of victory. Congratulations on letting terrorists win.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    ChrisB (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:43am

    Re:

    > letting terrorists win

    The terrorists win if you live in fear.

    One good punch and then a decade of head fakes have you wimpering in the corner. I think the terrorists have pretty much kicked your ass.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    coldbrew, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:50am

    Re: Re:

    That had to be sarcasm. I refuse to believe otherwise...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 7:18am

    Re: Re: Re:

    You know, I would've said the same thing, but after reading and hearing a great deal of local and nat'l media coverage (on a wholly unrelated and far out of perspective issue), I'm beginning to wonder....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 7:30am

    Re:

    To be fair, security and law enforcement personnel do need some level of discretionary power to investigate suspicious activities. That's kind of the whole purpose of their existence.

    It's true that there's still room for abuse here - but there always will be. It's a step in the right direction.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 7:32am

    Re: Re: No such thing as a deleted photo

    But also more evasive. If you get caught doing it, it will make them suspicious.

    It is much less risky to delete the photos, then take the card off the camera (very important! if you do more photos with the card, it can overwrite the deleted photos), and later in the safety of your hotel room, use PhotoRec to recover everything.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 7:38am

    Re:

    by the nature of being a terrorist they have already lost.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 7:42am

    Re:

    Because I'm a terrorist. We're throwing a party over this one. There will be pie and punch.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Eric, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 7:43am

    Actually have been hassled

    I'm a State employee and had my state employee ID on me and was STILL hassled for taking pictures of our federal courthouse. I had to show him the pictures I'd taken and show him my ID, him being the Federal courthouse security dude. Luckily a local policeman came over and calmed the security nutter down and let me go. I'm totally going to print this and go take more pictures now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 7:47am

    So you can perhaps remember this thread when you suggest that Obama is worse than Bush on human rights, as the administration rolls back stupid rules like this and the color coded terror watch thing that had us all in fear (and laughter).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 9:47am

    Re: Re:

    To be fair, security and law enforcement personnel do need some level of discretionary power to investigate suspicious activities. That's kind of the whole purpose of their existence.

    Yeah, as long as it doesn't go too far. When it becomes obvious that's there's no more information that the subject can give you, you should stop the beating, excuse me, I mean "investigation".

    It's true that there's still room for abuse here - but there always will be. It's a step in the right direction.

    That's why they invented water-boarding. It's the kinder, gentler way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 10:14am

    Re:

    I don't know why you guys are all celebrating this like some sort of victory. Congratulations on letting terrorists win.

    Yes, because photos of the outside of a building are pivotal to a successful terrorist attack. I mean it's not like they can simply look at the building and remember what it looks like...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    Thomas (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 11:10am

    won't stop the police..

    If you are told by a police officer to stop taking pictures and hand over your camera, you better do as you or told. The street is not the place to argue civil liberties. Arguing about it is a good way to get thrown to the ground, beaten, handcuffed, and arrested for resisting arrest.

    No sane person argues with an armed police officer on the street. Arguing is a good way to get yourself in serious trouble. Just shut up and kiss his ass if he tells you to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    ChrisB (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 11:15am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'm as serious as the AC who suggests that if we're not living in constant state of paranoid fear, we've let the terrorist win.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 12:49pm

    Re: No sane person argues with an armed police officer on the street.

    Another good reason why our police officers are not armed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 3:08pm

    Re: Re:

    They can of course check out a building before hand, but by using photography they can spend hours locating CCTV, blind spots, places to plant bombs and so on.

    Loitering around an area jotting down notes and sketches is going to arouse a lot more suspicion than taking a few quick snaps on an SLR.

    Let's just hope law enforcement continue foil would be terrorists, regardless of this silly notice.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    NoelArmourson, Jan 28th, 2011 @ 4:26pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    SLR? Doesn't such a conspicuous camera just draw attention?
    If someone were doing photo reconnaisance he could unobtrusively use a camera phone or small inexpensive point-and-shoot and get perfectly usable photos.
    At this time, I've yet to see evidence of photography actually being used to plot terrorist attacks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Thomas (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 6:02pm

    Re: Re: No sane person argues with an armed police officer on the street.

    You obviously don't live in the U.S., where cops are armed to the teeth. At least a pistol, usually a taser, and often a backup pistol somewhere. In the car often a shotgun as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    Squidoo (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 8:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Noel, you make so much sense that I wish you'd been around the day someone called the cops on me for taking photos of the UN from Queens with an SLR. The local precinct sent TWO squad cars for little ol' me (short Indian woman) to find out what I was up to. To be fair, it was 2002, and we all thought another attack was imminent, but it was still a pretty nervewracking experience. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    AMusingFool (profile), Jan 28th, 2011 @ 9:02pm

    capital building

    I wonder if this means that I can now take a picture of the Capital Building using a tripod, and without having a permit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    Proffer (profile), Jan 29th, 2011 @ 5:24am

    for now.

    Notice they say, "there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting".. Yeah they're sure going to start pushing for an amendment to some law stuffed in another obscure bill, to fix that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Mohammed the terrorist, Jan 31st, 2011 @ 4:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Comedy gold.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2011 @ 4:39am

    Re: won't stop the police..

    Christ, have you guys given in already? Here, put this star on.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 4:33pm

    Re:

    > Congratulations on letting terrorists win.

    Yep. They just weakened a nation today.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    reno nevada injury attorney, Sep 12th, 2011 @ 11:33pm

    It is really a good news..Otherwise, many of the people would be arrested unnecessarily

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    reno nevada injury attorney, Sep 12th, 2011 @ 11:33pm

    It is really a good news..Otherwise, many of the people would be arrested unnecessarily

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Rich, Sep 14th, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    evidence

    There is no evidence that a photographer was used, involved in a terrorist attack.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    icon
    aquamarine (profile), Dec 9th, 2011 @ 1:16pm

    in plain view now

    I don't get it? Goggle Maps has gone up and down almost every street etc......everywhere in the world for Christ's sake! There are street views, overhead views, zooming in, zooming out, etc.........

    To think that an 'anyone' w/a camera is or may be doing something nefarious is flat out absurd. This whole issue is one to keep us diverted on the minute details of issues versus the wholesale slaughter of our privacy that is and was being done now and w/in the last decade and a half.

    This is a non-issue imho.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    jacobsmith (profile), Aug 6th, 2012 @ 9:51pm

    the content is really amazing .I am just amazed by the quality of material in the blog.
    customized playing card

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    jacobsmith (profile), Aug 6th, 2012 @ 10:05pm

    The blog is really an insight to read.
    customized playing card

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    X, Oct 15th, 2013 @ 4:52pm

    Is this true? I mean was there any new update for the regulation? I was just stopped and forced to show and delete my photos in my iphone this very afternoon,today is October 15th 2013, OMG! Am I having a time travel experience?
    OK, here comes the story. I am having a conference in Baton Rouge, LA. during this week. This afternoon my friend and I were free, so we visited Louisiana Old state Capitol (a lovely building) and I bought a postcard for my wife at gift shop where I learned that there is a post office nearby. I took a lot of photos on our way to post office which I want to show to my wife when I reach home. I can still remember the moment we reached post office building when I just pointing my iphone to the building across the street, two person shouting at me at exact same time (you can find the location on Google with 30.44941,-91.182902). One person standing in front me with no uniform on said something like it's not good or not allowed to take a picture of federal owned building to me. I thought this is so strange cause early this year and last year when I was in DC, You can hardly find a visitor not "taking a picture of federal owned building", I thought this person may just want to create disturbances, so I replied "Sorry, I don't know about that" while entering post office. After I finished my postcard, three person stopped me at the gate. One of them asked me to show my photos to them on my iphone, and forced me to delete the photos of the building across the street, "that's the law after 9-11" he said. So I replied "I am sorry I don't know that" and "if that's the law I will delete it". After the photos were deleted that person kept asking questions like why was I there, what do I do. They didn't let me go before they learned the detail of my research project. BTW, I checked Google street view and photos immediately after I returned to hotel. I feel so sorry for those three person, cause I mentioned Google street view and photos to them. They may have heart attack seeing their beloved building on line.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This