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.

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Comments on “Federal Officials Finally Admit That Photographing Federal Buildings Is Not A Crime”

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42 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

FarSide (profile) says:

“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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Rekrul says:

Re: 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…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

NoelArmourson says:

Re: 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.

Squidoo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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. 🙂

Eric says:

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.

Thomas (profile) says:

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.

aquamarine (profile) says:

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.

X says:

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.

urdu says:

Chilling: Border Guard points Gun at Boy Scout

Photographing federal agents is a crime. July 2014 story, where federal agents point a gun at the head of boy scout at the Alaskan border. Since we never got to see the pictures, we don’t know if it was really a federal agent or paranoid federal asshole, so we must withhold judgment. I guess it could have been a cross between the two, which hopefully means at least that it cannot breed (like a mule, for instance).
http://www.kcci.com/news/officer-points-gun-at-boy-scout-at-canadian-border/27078396#!bkye8o

urdu says:

Dear Coward

So much about terrorism. Did you know that photographing federal agents is a crime? Is that overreach? I think so. Consider this July 2014 story, where federal agents point a gun at the head of boy scout at the Alaskan border–because of a camera. Since we never got to see the picture of the agent, we don’t know if it was really a federal agent or paranoid federal asshole, so we must withhold judgment. I guess it could have been a cross between the two, which hopefully means at least that it cannot breed (like a mule, for instance).
http://www.kcci.com/news/officer-points-gun-at-boy-scout-at-canadian-border/27078396#!bkye 8o

urdu says:

won't stop the police..

Sometimes such obedience is warranted and wise. Obedience to authority is good and wise and shows respect for the governing authorities. On the other hand, when the authority seeks to intimidate beyond what (s)he has a right is then to throw out the established authority of the Constitution. When such is the case, obedience to such behavior is setting precedent to giving up on our freedom and replacing it with tyranny. Tyranny is prevalent in this age where people suckle up to comfort over truth: most people will bend over rather than be forcibly raped. And since “rape” means “snatched away” I am here to say that obedience to tyranny or tyrannical ideas is the rape of the American citizen. I appeal to you to seek to restore our 10 freedoms and push back against unConstitutional practices and laws, for these are the foundation stones of tyranny. Instead, seek truth, as established by our founders, for truth is the father of ethics and morality and freedom.

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