Photographers’ Rights for Citizen Journalists (Update)

The Government’s War on Cameras!

The five words above appeared as the headline of a article May 27 and might prompt some readers to scratch their heads.  Not me.

As a former Air Force public affairs officer-turned online journalist who takes investigating and reporting farther than the average new media blogger, I’m keenly aware of the battle between the public’s right to know and the government’s oft-apparent desire to suppress that right.  The battle lines are spelled out quite clearly in the video below:

For the benefit of “citizen journalists” who would like to have something spelled out for them in black and white, I offer a set of “Photography Guidelines” (below) published nine months ago at the photography blog, PetaPixel*:

1. You can make a photograph of anything and anyone on any public property (i.e., streets, sidewalks, town squares, parks, government buildings open to the public and public libraries) except where a specific law prohibits it.

2. You may shoot on private property if it is open to the public (i.e., malls, retail stores, restaurants, banks and office building lobbies), but you are obligated to stop if the owner requests it.

3. Private property owners can prevent photography ON their property, but not photography OF their property from a public location.

4. Anyone can be photographed without consent when they are in a public place unless there is a reasonable expectation of privacy such as in private homes, restrooms, dressing rooms, medical facilities and phone booths.

5. Despite misconceptions, the following subjects are almost always permissible:  accidents, fire scenes, criminal activities; children, celebrities, law enforcement officers; bridges, infrastructure, transportation facilities; and residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.

6. Security is rarely an acceptable reason for restricting photography. Photographing from a public place cannot infringe on trade secrets, nor is it terrorist activity.

7. Private parties cannot detain you against your will unless a serious crime was committed in their presence. Those that do so may be subject to criminal and civil charges.

8. It is a crime for someone to threaten injury, detention, confiscation, or arrest because you are making photographs.

9. You are not obligated to provide your identity or reason for photographing unless questioned by a law enforcement officer and state law requires it.

10. Private parties have no right to confiscate your equipment without a court order. Even law enforcement officers must obtain one unless making an arrest. No one can force you to delete photos you have made.

When confronted, threatened with detention or the confiscation of equipment, ask the following questions:

~ What is your name?
~ What is the name of your employer?
~ May I leave? If not, what is the legal basis of my detention?
~ If equipment is being demanded, what is the legal basis for the confiscation?

*Be advised that I share the guidelines above with the caveat that they should not be regarded as legal advice.

Click here to order the Photographers Rights Gray Card Set from

UPDATE 6/02/11 at 9:29 a.m. Central: Baltimore man wrongly detained by transit cops for photographing train station.  Story.

UPDATE 6/24/11 at 2 p.m. Central: Another disturbing incident took place this week as a reporter was arrested for taking photos at a public meeting in Washington, D.C.

If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Follow me on Twitter @BloggingMachine.  Thanks in advance for your support!

This entry was posted in Citizen Journalism, First Amendment and tagged , , by BobMcCarty. Bookmark the permalink.

About BobMcCarty

A native of Enid, Oklahoma, Bob McCarty graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in journalism in 1984. During the next two decades, he served stints as an Air Force public affairs officer, a political campaign manager, a technology sales consultant and a public relations professional. Today, Bob spends most of his time researching topics, writing about them and publishing those writings. When he’s not writing online, he’s working as an author. Bob’s first published book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice (October 2011), chronicles the life story and wrongful conviction of Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart, a highly-decorated Green Beret combat veteran. In his second book, THE CLAPPER MEMO (May 2013), Bob connects the dots between a memo signed by James R. Clapper Jr. — the man now serving as our nation’s top intelligence official — and the deaths of dozens of Americans in Afghanistan at the hands of our so-called Afghan “allies” wearing the uniforms of their nation’s military, police and security forces. Bob is married, has three sons and lives in the St. Louis area. Bob is available for media and blogger interviews. Simply drop a comment here, leaving your name, organization, phone number, e-mail address and area of interest. He’ll try to respond as soon as possible.

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