Anyone tried shooting Federal Property lately?

Discussion in 'Travel' started by ajpn, Oct 18, 2004.

  1. Did you know that because of the Patriot Act (or so I was told) that it is illegal to shoot any federal property, indefinitely? This includes monuments, sculptures, statues, etc. that are owned by the Federal Government. How does everyone feel about this?

    I was a little distraught when I was told I couldn't shoot a quote etched in concrete in front of a federal courthouse this weekend, but I was even more bothered when the officer told me that it included all federal property.

    Talk about trying to run us into the ground with paranoia. Great administration we have, huh?
  2. You were misinformed by the officer. This is simply not true.
  3. The Patriot Act does not impose any restrictions on photography. Neither does the Homeland Security Act.
  4. Maybe so, but as I was about to press the sutter he said this, "If you take that picture I will confiscate that camera." I said, "Pardon me?" and he repeated himself. I said "Why?" And he said, "It is forbidden by law to take pictures on any federal property. I tell people this numberous times everyday. I'm sorry." I asked, "Since when did that go into effect." And he said, "Since 9/11." Then he went off on some spiel about the patriot act and terrorism.

    Go figure.
  5. Because it worked on you and people before you, he will continue to use that lie.

    I would make an effort to report his behavior to his superiors.
  6. Have a lawyer send a certified letter to him and his boss explaining to them that the patriot act does not forbid photography, and that you are well within your rights to photograph Federal government property from a position on public property. Have the letter kindly inform them that if they attempt to confiscate your camera for photography from a position on public property, that they will be sued until they're homeless.
  7. I've got better things to do than messing with the Fed Gov. I've seen what they can do. You guys are welcome to come to Sacramento and have at them. It's the Federal Courthouse right across from the Amtrak station, so it won't be difficult to get to. =)
  8. "Talk about trying to run us into the ground with paranoia. Great administration we have, huh?". You come whining here about the problem and when you're advised that you were right and the officer was wrong you welcome someone else to get it straightened out, and then blame it on the administration. Go figure!!
  9. This is truly pathetic. It shows a level of ignorance, gullibility and fuzzy thinking that is truly astounding. And then topped off with a distinct dose of paranoid inertia.

    Nice typing.
  10. I am not entirely convinced that I am wrong. Just because a few people on this forum say I am right I'm not going to challenge it. It isn't worth it. This was a federal courthouse and I seriously doubt this officer was just making it up. I.E. I'd be willing to bet I would lose my ass if I tried to challenge it. You want to deal with it go ahead.

    And if you are going to lay a bunch of crap on my for my feelings right on, more power to you. Because I am paranoid of the currrent state of our country. When prisoners start disappearing I have to wonder. You guys are the idiots. And a special "*X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* you" for Mr. Cooper - I wasn't whining. Just stating a simple fact. And asking what everyone else thinks. How's that grab you?

    paranoid inertia

    So that is what it's called?
  11. Why is this B.S. posted in the "Travel Photography" section?

    PS, Anthony, there a sets of rules for two different kinds of people:

    One set of rules is quoted to people who APPEAR on the surface to be spineless follower types. (The federal security officer quoted law from this code.)

    The other set of rules is what's known as "The Law".
  12. 1. Travel photography because I travelled to where I encountered this situation.

    2. You guys are showing such depth for assuming things on such baseless reasoning. I'm hardly spineless.

    I'm actually respectful of the law, especially in things I do not know. Now I have people dogging me for not taking legal action against my government for what may (or may not have been) the actions of a single security officer.

    Can you people be serious? That is why are legal system is so screwed up right now.

    Finally, I am currently in the process of discussing this with a lawyer on a legal forum, where I am sure they have a better handle on the law than all of you know it alls on We shall see.
  13. ANY Federal property? Like in Yellowstone National Park? Like in all National Forests? Like in all National Wildlife Refuges? Like in the majority of the Western USA, where the Federal Government owns most of the property?

    I think not.
  14. How about this... any federal property that houses a field office of the FBI, the DOJ, the Secret Service, assorted other federal agencies... from the sounds of it that is indeed illegal.
  15. Did you know that because of the Patriot Act (or so I was told) that it is illegal to shoot any federal property, indefinitely?
    The oficer is wrong. Next time this happens ask for his or her supervisor.
  16. Well, at least one of the people that responded is, in fact, a well known attorney and has published a number of books on both photography and/or the law. On the other hand, the rest of us are educated, capable of critical thinking, and well grounded in the basic legal issues affecting our hobbies or our businesses.

    I usually make it a practice to not argue with the drunk or the insane. You type too well to be drunk.
  17. one reason the legal system is screwed up right now is because too many people lay down
    their rights in fear.
  18. Here's is an interesting article about the same sort of situation. Obviously, you're all right, and next time I'll lay down the law, and after I get arrested, or harassed or whatever happens, at least I'll know that I was right too. Oh, and then I'll sue. Yeah, then I would really be American, huh?

    Insanity aside, I'll let the officer know he is wrong next time, before I do the exact same thing, and walk away.
  19. Noooooooo. Not this again. @nthony, I heard John Ashcroft was in SF recently doing a Patriot Act strategysession and he TOLD that security guard to mess with you. He's EVERYWHERE. And he wants your camera.

    Moderator, please....
  20. What on earth would they do if you posted a photo of the FBI building in D.C. that was pre-nine-eleven. They would have to move the building to insure no new images were anywhere to be found....

  21. What Ellis said, plus it's imperative to start a paper trail with certified mailing to supervisor of said security guard of your account of the incident.

    Then, return there later and shoot agian. If harassment reccurs, repeat paper trail to one level higher up the chain of command, referencing the first incident and your documentation thereof.

    One thing people fear as much as the end of a gun barrel in this country is getting sued.
  22. I've developed a theory over time that everything is illegal. Whatever it is, any kind of activity or lack thereof, can be made illegal by the application of some law already in existence. How often have the RICO statutes been applied when a prosecutor couldn't come up with anything better? A favorite of mine is violating a person's civil rights when you couldn't get a conviction for something else. Photographing a federal building? Consipiracy to commit...You have to ask yourself how far you are willing to go. You may be well within your rights but if one or more cops tell you to stop, are you willing to get arrested, have your stuff confiscated and hope you'll get it back after you spend thousands to prevail in the legal system. It is completely at odds with what we are supposed to be about but it's the reality.

    Rick H.
  23. One thing people fear as much as the end of a gun barrel in this country is getting sued.
    "People" might, but the government and its employees generally do not. Government officials can rarely be sued over their official duties, and suing governments is also difficult. It's called "sovereign immunity." Threatening to sue a law enforcement officer in particular will usually result in much hilarity. They hear it every day.
  24. On the other hand, if you look through USC Title 18 you'll find several references of imprisonment up to on year, or fines up to $1,000, or both, for any agent of the U.S. government who exceeds the authority granted in a warrant, maliciously procure a warrant, or in general engages in unwarranted search and seizure.
    If they're not busting you for a felony, they have to follow certain rules or they ARE subject to suit. And they know it.

    Photography is not a felony.

    To Anthony: the words "photography" and "photo" are entirely absent from the y=text of the USA PATRIOT act. The only instances of "camera" in the act are (a) in the legal phrase "in camera" borrowed from latin, meaning essentially private court proceedings but not the things we use to take pictures, and (b) specific permission for government agencies to PURCHASE and USE cameras for surveillance.

    In other words, the next time a law enforcement officer tells you the USA PATRIOT Act restricts photography of government buildings or of ANY subject at all, you should feel free to tell that person they are ill informed. The Act simply makes NO REFERENCE to how people may pursue their interest in photography.

    Separately, we should note that photographing U.S. military installations or equipment considered "restricted," "classified," "secret" or "top secret" (without express permission in advance from the facility commander) is specifically prohibited by law inder a separate section of 18 USC. DoD commercial contractor facilities enjoy the same protection when working on restricted, classified etc. products.

    But courthouses? No prohibition in federal law. Furthermore, you see the same marble facade in news broadcasts all the time. The Governator doesn't prohibit pics of his pecs on the steps.

    I understand your statements here, and I am not telling you to "get tough" when you'd rather just be non-confrontational. But the truth is important. The truth is: the person who said you couldn't take pictures of the courthouse was either WRONG or LYING. Let's hope he or she was just wrong.

    There are a lot of good, honest, underpaid and overworked law enforcement folks in this fine country, and many of them have been given poor info about citizens' rights and supposed restrictions thereto.

    But some law enforcement types are lazy bullies who LIE because it's, well, easier. You may have met one of those.

    Take pictures of every courthouse, police station and FBI office you see in the good old USA. It's okay. It's legal.

    If you get hassled by a law enforcement officer, you could stand your ground or acquiesce... your choice.

    You won't wind up in court. You won't have to give up your camera or film unless (a) you somehow add a felony to your day's activities, or (b) the officer finds a judge ill-informed enough to issue a warrant. You may be ASKED to hand stuff over, but you need not comply.

    Above all, have FUN! Be well,
  25. Attorney Bert Krages has created a one-page document that in a
    nutshell tells you what you can and cannot do as a
    photographer, in this day of homeland security. I will try to link it
    here, but if I'm not successful, you can email me and I will gladly
    forward it to you. I have a couple of friends who have used it
    recently while shooting downtown, when confronted by security
  26. BW Combs: Thanks that was perfect.

    "Threatening to sue a law enforcement officer in particular will usually result in much hilarity. They hear it every day."

    No, with law enforcement officers you don't need to say anything other than ask them for their name, if name not visible from their badge.

    If they have violated your rights, you go to police headquaters and file a formal complaint. Everyone has a boss. (or as an old lady I know says, "There's a stick for every behind").
  27. Yesterday an uptight lady approached me quite confidently and aggressively because I happened to be photographing an interesting facade of an elementary school for a test of pyro developer (kids in class, nowhere visible) in Pacific Palisades from across the street. She asked me who I was. (I am an vacationing elementary school teacher - but never mind that) Instead of telling her that, I responded by asking her who SHE was. She wasn't even an official with the school. She said, "You're video taping a SCHOOL for heaven's sake!"(she thought my Bronica was a camcorder - despite the frequent loud 'clunks' from the shutter and the hand powered film advance action- duh!)

    Although she approached me like she was some public authority, she was actually a soccer mom. I explained that her approach was wrong, otherwise I'd have been happy to tell her all about my photography, and if she was truly concerned, she should have called the Police...

    Over time I have grown less tolerant of people like her. These people are not really concerned about security, but are simply expressing the growing police state we are slowly evolving in to. The increased harrassment is because Soft Nazi People like her realize NOW, more so than in the past, that the legal, political and social forces in this culture benefit from a paranoid police state agenda. It's open season on resticting personal freedom through intimidation and coersion in the guise of security.

    The U.S.A. is supposed to be the land of the free? Only in the "Buy One Get One Free" sense.

    I don't always win these 'confrontations', which happen almost daily. Sometimes I lose my nerve too (Because I don't want to sleep in a jail cell downtown - never had to, never want to). But I will take harrasers further than they thought they'd have to go if they choose to confront me with this, "Sorry you can't photograph that."
  28. Now we have some reasonable responses... thank you Rick Helmke. I mean, no kidding.

    I don't want to be arrested and have some conspiracy pulled that I resisted arrest etc. Whose word will they take? I already know. I've had a judge tell me I was lying while the cop sat there snickering. Straight up. I already know there is such a thing as railroading. For all you sheltered players... just, trust me, it happens. I'm not risking it. And for two, I don't sue people. I'll make my money the old fashioned way, I'll work for it. How do I know that that guard isn't following orders, even if they aren't exactly legal. You guys that are so gung ho about defeating this situation, I've already listed where it is at. Or better yet why don't you visit your own local federal courthouse and check it out. I'll bet it's not an isolated situation. I'm glad we have so many (at least vocal) revolutionaries at

    On the other hand? Thank you BW Combs. I have it and I have printed it out. I will check it out and put a copy in my bag.

    I mean, earlier on I am basically told I am whining, and that I basically am the reason our country is as pathetic as it is. Give me a break. I was asking for opinions, feelings, etc. I wasn?t asking for your judgment of me, or what I should, or should not do. Yes, I threw a barb at the current administration. So what. Does that equate an instant attack?

    What else... You don?t know me so don?t try telling me I am drunk or insane. And I can pretty much guarantee that this officer did not look at me and see spineless. Just give me a break and stop the insults. And yes, I am one hell of a hot head. I'd put money on it that I shoot in more possibly compromising situations than most any of you people do. I just don't need to risk stepping into legal limbo. That isn't me. Anyway, insteresting discussion. =)
  29. Ask the soccer mom if she had her crazy pills today!
  30. Cheers Jim Gifford.
  31. As a non-US citizen who was working in the US until a couple of years ago, I've had to deal a fair bit with government officials. It is now my understanding that one of the key questions asked of all budding INS staffers is: "Have you never left the US and do you hate foreigners and believe that they are here to mooch off the government?" If you answer "yes" then your application is fast-tracked.
    On a slightly more serious note -- the point of that comment is that I fully understand Anthony's desire to avoid direct confrontation. Knowing that the arbitrary decision of a functionary can result in your being thrown into a van, carted to the nearest border, and thrown over it without time to make a call or obtain critical travel documents is a truly frightening experience. It makes one very wary of being seen to be argumentative or otherwise 'difficult'.
    That said, I also believe that it's very important to stand up for one's rights as much as possible and to remain calm at all times. My first time entering the country on my work visa I was challenged on the ties between publishing (my position with my new company) and literature (my major in a US university). Despite repeated shouted threats from the INS agent I maintained that my paperwork was in order and that the visa had been duly authorised by his own department... oh, and here's a letter from my employer stating the exact same facts. I eventually got my way but it took three and a half hours.
    The problem is that if everyone backs down immediately ("Ok, I won't shoot this") then the guard thinks that he/she has de facto demonstrated that the law is on their side. Without urging you to get into direct confrontation, if you do put up real resistance ("I'm sorry, but your understanding of the law is not quite accurate. I do a lot of architectural photography and had run into this question before, so I researched the issue before I came here because I wanted to make sure that I was doing the right thing. It turns out that there are some things that it is illegal to take pictures of, those are nuclear and military facilities, and I don't believe that this is either. I appreciate that you are doing your job and I'm glad that you're looking out for our safety, but please understand that it is perfectly legal for me to take photographs of this building. If you'd like to check out some of my other work, you can do it online at Here's a business card if you'd like to follow up.") then even if you end up eventually backing down you have inserted doubt into the mind of the guard. They might then check with a supervisor who would (hopefully) correct them, or perhaps the next time they hear the same speech from another photographer they will be more receptive to it and realise that nothing in the Patriot Act forbids photography of public buildings.
    Another good option with a rent-a-cop might be to say "Yes, I'd be happy to speak with the police, shall we give them a ring?" It's hard to want to involve more authority in the picture when already being harassed by one, but this sort of response typically makes people think a little bit more...
    There is a whole range of options in between meekly submitting to authority (i.e. not questioning anything) and abrasively challenging it (which seems to land you in jail first before the facts have been ascertained and certainly will never get you a apololgy after the fact).
  32. Jon, I am a native California, a US citizen. So I doubt they would throw me over a border! And this was not a rent a cop. He was a federal officer. Since everyone is so adamant that this is such an injustice, etc. I plan to revisit this building this afternoon and see what happens.
  33. It’s possible to challenge a claim such as the officer made without resorting to the vice-presidential salutation. Perhaps something like, “What specific section of federal law am I violating? I’m quite conversant with the relevant laws on this subject, and I’m not aware of anything that’s even close.” Unless you happened upon a true psychopath, he’s probably not going to follow through on an arrest or even a confiscation unless he’s reasonably certain he’s on solid ground. In a dispute of facts, you can bet on the officer to win; however, an egregious mistake of law puts the officer in a very bad position with respect to a subsequent lawsuit. Most cops have better sense than to put themselves at such risk, although there have been several notable exceptions involving photographers, some discussed in this forum.
    The rub, of course, is that if you want to stand up to a cop, you need to be damn sure that you’re correct and he isn’t, and unless you’re quite well versed in the specific federal, state, and sometimes even local laws, it may be tough to be sufficiently certain. It’s nice to get the info from others after the fact, but this doesn’t help much in the heat of the situation.
  34. "Yes, I'd be happy to speak with the police, shall we give them a ring?" (The risk here is the Police might be in support of the mental cops, cite you for commercial photography without a permit, of course you'd reverse in court before judge, but it will cost you at least one day away from work. So here's what I did recently:

    Instead of agreeing to summon the police, I WALKED over to the police station in Beverly Hills after being confronted by a publics work supervisor. Got confirmation from sergeant on duty that I was in the right, started a paper trail back at the Public Works department, referencing police station visit and the B.H. minicipal code. Two weeks later I received a formal apology on Beverly Hills City letterhead for the public works supervisor interupting my street photography with his threats to summon the police.

    You don't ever just acquiesce by walking away, unless you KNOW you're wrong - and sometimes we are wrong, right?
  35. ted_marcus|1

    ted_marcus|1 Ted R. Marcus

    No law that I am aware of prohibits photography of federal buildings. But police and security guards of all stripes have long despised photographers, perhaps out of concern that a picture might document something that somehow causes them trouble. The new "security" legislation passed in the wake of 9/11 now gives them new "incontrovertable" justification for hassling and threatening photographers, even though it includes no actual prohibitions on photography.
    Some of those officers may actually believe that the Patriot Act prohibits photography of federal property. After all, it enacted the longstanding wish lists of the FBI and federal prosecutors, so why shouldn't it fulfill their longstanding dream of banning photograpers as well? Others may generally know that the Patriot Act says nothing about photography, but genuinely believe that the Patriot Act somehow gives them broad general discretion and authority to aggressively pursue anyone they deem a "threat."
    Still others may be well aware that nothing in the Patriot Act concerns photography. But they know that "Patriot Act," "homeland security," or "terrorism" are magical words that will usually intimidate any undesirable person into scurrying away in fear. These officers would probably have used some other justification for doing exactly the same thing before the Patriot Act, but now they have a more powerful tool to intimidate. It works well because the Patriot Act itself is a rather mysterious entity of which most people have only a vague understanding. The Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act each contained around 500 pages, and were passed so hastily that even the members of Congress who voted for it admitted they didn't have time to read the bills. I'd venture to say that nobody (with the possible exception of John Ashcroft and his loyal staff) knows all of what it actually contains.
    Since there is no law against photography of public federal buildings from a public street, the way to deal with the police or security officer who says it's illegal is to politely ask what specific statute you're violating. Explain that you always strive to respect and obey all laws, but you really hadn't heard of any law against photography and would like to know exactly what the law is so you can obey it completely.
    While it's possible that such an approach will only antagonize the officer just because you didn't cower and scurry away in fear like you're supposed (and/or because he just doesn't like people who are smarter than he is or who in any way challenge his Authority), more than likely he'll either back off or bring in a supervisor who does know the actual law and can put things right.
    I believe this is an essential approach despite the small but real risk. If photographers routinely pack up and run away when an officer says "stop in the name of the Patriot Act," the Patriot Act will have the effect of banning photography (along with any number of other perfectly legal activities that police and security guards don't like), even though its actual text does nothing of the sort.
    Constitutional lawyers call that a "chilling effect," and recognize that it can demolish rights and liberties just as effectively as an explicit ban. If the Patriot Act-- or merely the magical invocation of its name-- becomes the instrument that de facto nullifies the Bill of Rights, John Ashcroft's pure and righteous heart will surely fill with ecstatic joy. But that will only happen if we let it happen. People fought and died for our rights and liberties, so it's unpatriotic to let officials use fear and ignorance to steal them from us.
  36. So Ms Soccer Mom doesn't "know" photography (Bronica/Camcorder despite the frequent loud 'clunks') and is then transformed into a Soft Nazi person. Who should get the duh!

    In your next travel, go to the Korean War Vets Memorial in WDC and use the Bronica to photo the saying "Freedom is not Free". I'll bet AG Ashcroft will not even blink an eye. :)
  37. Anthony wrote: And yes, I am one hell of a hot head. I'd put money on it that I shoot in more possibly compromising situations than most any of you people do.

    I think someone needs a good cry to get all this out of his system.
  38. ct xor ca != crying


    ct and ca == complaints
  39. Read the very informative artical on this web-site, <>
    Happy shooting
  40. Great link. Thank you Bert.
  41. Lots of emotive ill-informed, and reasonable informed stuff here, which is fine
    - thats a good range of opinions. Why we should all be interested in this is that
    such incidents will become more common - thats the real effect of global
    terrorism -and unless we are aware of our rights they will be eroded and
    eventually removed.

    There is an aspect of 'photography' that really bothers me and which I foresee
    will lead to all kinds of trouble - and its the current trend to include cameras in
    mobile phones. I need a new phone but ones with good features but without
    cameras are few, similarly many current PDA's. So.......what are YOU going to
    do when happily and non-threateningly using your (camera)phone on
    Federal Property to call your spouse or child OR making a diary entry in your
    Palm/PDA and a lumbering uniform informs you that "...using photography
    equipment on Federal Property is forbidden/illegal/punishable"???

    It might sound absurd - and in many respects it is, but THATS why people like
    us need to be at least AWARE of the law if not absolutely certain of the letter
    of that law; if we are not then all sorts of RIGHTS will be removed and no
    amount of whining will get them back.

    Fighting "a war on terrorism" should NOT mean terrorising citizens.
  42. I photograph all over the United States, and rarely have ever been questioned or asked why I'm taking a photo. But, just in case I am asked, I always carry business cards. On the occassions I have been asked what I was photographing and why, I just handed them a business card and said, "Here's my phone and address, I do this professionally." Then, we had a nice conversation about the subject I was photographing and aesthetically what interested me in the subject.

    Try turning it into a learning situation by showing the people what you're doing and why, and that you have absolutely nothing to hide. Even worked in New York City when I was photographing a federal building - had a nice converstation with the Federal Protective Service officer.
  43. I once took pictures of my young daughters at a local shopping mall - in the training room of one of the major department stores. They were acting as models for a teenagers' hair and makeup class. While walking through the mall with my camera and flash on a bracket, I was approached by security guards on two separate occasions. One was nice, the other threatened to confiscate my equipment. I responded politely to both, left the premises because I was already on my way out after eating lunch, and was stopped by a security supervisor in the parking lot as I was on my way to my car. I basically stood my ground. I told them (while being very polite) that they'd have one helluva legal battle on their hands if they tried to take my camera or CF card, and there is no way I'm doing it without a police officer present. I also told them I expected them to confiscate every cell phone with a camera in the mall at the same time. I got a couple of neat expressions, but i went on my way, no problems. This stuff doesn't just happen at federal buildings.

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