NOT illegal to photo in NYC subways

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by red_jenny, Jun 7, 2005.

  1. Lets be clear about something: it is NOT illegal to photograph
    inside the NYC subway system.

    They may raise a fuss about tripods though, on the grounds that it
    blocks access. Otherwise, normal hand-held photography is NOT,
    repeat NOT illegal in the NYC subways. It NEVER was illegal either.
    There WAS a proposed law which would have made photography in the
    subway illegal, but the law was not approved.

    So, if anyone -- ANYONE -- comes up to you and tells you to put your
    camera away, remind them of the First Amendment which gives you
    every darned right to photograph buildings, trains, subways,
    tunnels, etc. and if they say its illegal, ask them "What law says
  2. The First Amendment doesn't have much to do with photography, but otherwise you are completely correct. There is no explict right to take photographs, by the way, there's only a general right to do whatever you please as long as it's not illegal.
  3. I agree Jenny, simply because it is easier to do so.

    I remember when people over there were saying how terrible it was concerning the proposed ban etc. Anyhow, if I were approached by someone telling me (in no uncertain terms) to put my camera away, I would do so, simply because it is easier to agree than to argue with people.

  4. Kaa's post is pure ignorance. The first amendment has everything to do with photography, and in fact protects the right to take photographs and otherwise document matters of public concern specifically, as pointed out in briefs by the National Press Photographers Association, the New York Civil Liberties Union and others.

    "In a letter to officials of MTA and NYCTA, the NYCLU cited state and federal case law which has held that taking photographs, videotaping or filming in a public place is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment."
  6. While photography is NOT prohibited, the transit police have every right to question you if they see you taking pictures. In fact they have every right to question you if they see you doing anything that they might regard as "suspicious".

    If they tell you to stop shooting and you argue, I'm guessing they have every right to ask you to leave the subway too (causing a disturbance...)

    I'm not saying you don't have rights, just that there may be other statutes - which don't mention photography - which could lead you into trouble if you're looking for it.
  7. Ok, don't make me take out my law degree!

    The first amendment has a lot to do with photography -- you're entitled to free expression, whether its through photography or dancing or writing. They can no more tell you to stop photographing than they can tell you to stop talking or writing. They CAN impose reasonable time-place-manner restrictions, as long as they are content neutral, so for example restricting the use of tripods is reasonable on the grounds that tripods impede traffic flow (supposedly -- open to debate IMHO. What if there's no foot traffic?)But except for inside military bases and prisons and such, I don't know of any other place where restrictions on photography in public places have any legal validity.

    If someone tells you to put your camera away, ignore them. First of all, just anyone can't go around telling you what to do. If its a police officer, they can ask you for ID and in NY you legally have to produce it. You don't have to answer questions about why you're photographing something, anymore than you'd have to answer why you're writing something or thinking something or saying something, though you can choose to answer if you like. Its none of their business why you're photographing something -- in this country we don't have to give a reason for exercising our God-given rights. And there's no "disturbing the peace" in doing what you have every right to do -- I'm not saying you should throw a fit and attack the policeman, mind you. Of course the police can and probably will try to use a pretext of some sort to get you to do what they want or to arrest you, simply because they don't like to be disobeyed, but that would be illegal and you should still stand your ground because ITS ALL OF OUR RIGHTS that are being challenged, not just your rights.

    And now I will share with you my recent experience:

    I was photographing the NYC Police Museum building, which is located near Wall Street and downtown NYC, using my old Rolleiflex. I wasn't being surreptitious or otherwise "acting suspiciously" (whatever that means -- not that it would justify being hassled.) WHile taking a shot, I was physically standing across the street from the museum, on the sidewalk in front of a building on Water Street. I hear a voice calling me, and I turn around to see two building security guards approaching me with a swagger. The "boss" guy says "Hey you -- why are you photographing here-- show me your ID!"

    Now, I have always expected this -- but funny enough, the only other time I have been confronted whilst taking photos was ONCE in Axis of Evil Iran, inside a (private) computer & electronics mall, where the mall security guy said photography was prohibited due to the threat of burglaries (reasonable enough) -- but here was this guy hassling me about photographing A PUBLIC BUILDING, FROM A PUBLIC LOCATION!

    So I said that I didn't have to show him my ID, and the reason why I was taking a photograph is because the Constitution says I can since this was a public place. To which he responded that I was not standing in a public place -- in fact the "sidewalk" belonged to the building he worked in. To which I responded that there was obviously a public easement which permitted people like me to walk on that location everyday on my way back and forth from work, and so I still had every right to be there. Then the "little guy" piped up and said that the first Amendment applies to journalists, so I can't take photographs, so I rolled my eyes at him and said the first Amendment applies to EVERYONE.

    Using the word "easement" threw him off -- I guess he hadn't expected legalese. So he tried the old "in these terrible times, security demands giving up some rights" routine (funny how we're always told to sacrifice our rights!) when he said "don't you care about safety of my people who are in this building" to which I responded that I cared very much, especially about their Constitutional rights, and anyway I wasn't talking a picture of his building, I was photographing a museum across the street! (I wish I had quoted Benjamin Franklin: "THose who sacrifice a little bit of their rights for a little bit of security will end up with neither")

    So at this point he gets mad and calls me a f--- a---- (defamation!) which then upsets me a bit so I said "Look, not only am I going to take a picture of your ugly building, I'm going to take a picture of you standing in front of your ugly building." And I did. Too bad I hadn't had the time to get the exposure right, but I think the shot will still come out relatively OK, and one of these days when I have some extra chemicals and paper I'll try to print it too.

    So I got to the office, and told my office mate, and his response was "You shouldn't be confrontational" -- frankly I was dumbfounded. Since when are we supposed to not be "confrontational" when self-important security guards take it upon themselves to impose themselves on our rights?
  8. You go, girl!
  9. Hi Red Jenny,

    I was confronted whilst passing thru N.Y. with my girlfriend.
    I found that even getting a hamburger in Mac Donalds (yuk) can be
    stressful, coming from an obese mutha with an attitude bigger than space: 'Step down, sir. How may I be of any assistance you today sir?' 'Jeez, can I even just buy a burger?' That kind of ludicrously formulaic attitude goes nowhere to salve my nerves or stimulate cultural diversity in a country full of guns and psychopharmacology. In fact, it is the very essence of a nightmare for me, so I left!

    I think your friend in the office was right, no need to confront something that ain't gonna change or dosen't want to change.
    You may have a good idea of life and he law, but that is your idea,
    and it is not something everyone else needs to know, or 'should' know.

    Look at it the other way around, if you feel so strongly about human rights (I do too) then what is he point in arguing with people who will not change, and who wil actually just make life (and photography) even more complex?

  10. vdp


    Dear Red Jenny, I had a similar experience last fall as I was in midtown on Madison between 46 & 47 Street. I was on the East side of the street trying to photograph the reflections in the glass building accross the street when a security person came over to me and stated "This is Bear Sterns' Street- you cannot photograph here." He kept on repeating that like a mantra and I kept on asking to see the metal plack that states that the sidewalk is privately owned. He became threatening so I went home and called 311 and was told that since I wasn't using a tripod I could photograph all I wanted especially since there was no indication that this sidewalk was private property. This 311 person stated that even if there was a plack I could likely take photographs. My feeling, aside from anger, is that these security guards are likely being watched by their superiors who are so fearful for their jobs they will hassel anyone who they think might be frowned upon by the "Big Bossman".
    Another observation:I have never been hasseled by any New York City policeman, in fact at the many rallys I have attended they have always been professional. On the other hand, the only times that I have been hasseled was by private security working for private companies.
  11. A lot of the problem seems to surround private security guards.What exactly is their position under the law ? How far does their jurisdiction extend ? What legal back-up do they have to accost a private individual on the street, in this I include malls ( I think you call them) and the like for surely if they want you to come in they must accept that it is a public place ? Are these people licensed and do they have to have any form of training (for example in the UK nightclub bouncers now have to be registered and undergo training) ?

    The position of the police is (presumably) set out by law which provides protection for them and the individual and can be quoted by both sides.In addition they receive training and, if they are anything like those in the UK, by and large they are reasonable if you are reasonable.
  12. Since all 3G mobile 'phones contain cameras now, what are the official prodnoses going to do about that?
  13. Bill -- the status of exercise of Free Speech rights inside privately owned shopping malls (and other privately-owned places which are open to the public) in the US is a bit more complicated than a public street -- and more so in the UK. I don't want to even sound like I am dispensing legal advice of any sort, so here's a good link to start your own research:
  14. ...and I also recommend that ALL photographers read the First Amendment Handbook published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press -- especially Chapters 2, 3 and 8, for starters.

    Remember -- these are your/our rights. The fact that some other horse's rear doesn't know/care about them is all the more reason to insist upon protecting our/your rights!
  15. Would still like to know what the status of "security guards" is.
  16. Training & regulation of security guards varies from state to state, and depends too on the type of guard (armed? or unarmed?) but in general, they have the status of private individuals -- like the rest of us-- and no special privileges by virtue of having a plastic badge. So, for example, they can hold you for suspected shoplifting at a store -- but so could the store owner. They have no authority to accost you on a public street and tell you to stop photographing something.
  17. The problem in NYC is a lot of "public places" are, in fact, privately owned. The plazas outside many of the large skyscrapers aren't public propery.

    Now clearly they allow the public to walk on them, but I suspect the "easement" argument doesn't apply and make anything you can do on the public street OK to do on the private property. You are allowed to walk in a shopping Mall for example, but if they catch you taking pictures they can ask you to leave, and if you don't leave and don't stop taking pictures they can have you arrested. I suspect similar rules apply to all private property, and the plaza outside an office building may technically be just as private as the inside of that building and thus under the control of the building owners and their agents.
  18. An easement is not the same as the private property of a shopping mall. The public has a right to walk on a public easement -- there is no public right to walk into a shopping mall.
  19. I was in the 'Water Garden Plaza' in Dallas, Texas shooting an amateur model for her portfolio (on TFP basis). I was stopped by a private security guard. He said I'd have to get a permit from the management. I wasn't even shooting the building, only the model with the fountains as a backdrop. While I was there shooting, there were dozens of young kids playing in the fountains. They must have then watched me with cameras since I walked around to the other side of the building and was shooting on the sidewalk when the guard came over again and told me that even though I was ok on the sidewalk, the model was on their property. I then went to a Dallas tourist website and posted my experiences warning that Dallas was a camera-unfriendly place.
  20. It has often been said in the Philosophy of Photography forum by other people that there are no rules in photography.

    It can be seen clearly that all of life including using a camera and lens has inherant rules, if only the rules and laws of physics.

    The question is how to best live with whatever rules your country decides you need to live by, juridicial or otherwise.

    It reminds me of a story I read when I was very young, it was called 'The Boy Who Breathed On The Glass Of The British Museum'.
    You can guess what happened to the poor kid in such a Victorian culture. I liked the title because it was from a new culture, however it was not until 20 years later, that the pure simplicity of the 'moral' became apparent. I have always avoided breathing on the glass in the british museum, and I would ask before using a camera there.

    Don't argue, and you will not be confronted. Going further in this way would involve diagnostics and particulars I have no idea of.
    One thing is clear, we are 'selves' who only understnad our 'selves' by relation to the 'Other'. Therefore, we need to understand how to negotiate with the 'Other' and how to be comfortable in photography as a result.

  21. What about calling 911 to tell them you're being harrassed by the security folks?

    Red Jenny - Thank you very much for bringing well-founded legal information to this discussion. (Amazing how many of us here are lawyers, and are careful not to give advice online, but many others seem to do so freely.) - John
  22. Always knew there were too many lawyers - I reckon it is part of the problem.Go on, at least have an opinion.

    Seriously though, I just wonder if having a little synopsis of the basic law/case law on all this to hand when out and about which one could present to the officious might be useful ? Somehow the written word, at times, seems to carry more weight, to misquote - "the pen is mightier than the word".
  23. Bill, There are probably several nice little summaries of your rights that have been prepared for use by photographers. I have saved this one, The Photographer's Right - A Downloadable Flyer for myself.

    The larger problem seems to be that police are taught a matched pair of rules: 1. The Law Enforcement Officer is always right and 2. The Law Enforcement Officer will always maintain control. Even before the Patriot Act, LE Officers would do all sorts of things to keep to these two rules even if it meant bringing you in (arresting you) on some trumped up 'trespassing' or other violation. The Patriot Act works to exacerbate LE Officer behavior by reinforcing these two rules and making it easier to threaten 'suspicious behavior'. Also, LE Officers are more frequently embarrased by street photographers (ala the Rodney King video) than not, so they may be prejudiced right out of the box. For the most part, LE Officers are reinforced in these two rules by the courts, prosecutors and other legal administrators.

    Unless you like being arrested, spending two or three days in jail, all the expense necessary to get an lawyer to spring you, etc most people would simply cave in and do whatever the LE Officer says to do (letting him be right and in control even when he is not) including don't take pictures here. The security folks emulate the LE officers. Then everyone seems to think that photography is illegal and pretty soon it becomes a 'suspicious activity' and you are even more likely to get wrapped around the axel with a LE Officer.
  24. Mike - thanks.Hopefully someone has one to fit the UK although we seem to have less of a problem.

    There was a case recently regarding British tourists in Greece that was pretty frightening and went the whole way.It also became a bit political as well.They were not too bright in what they were photgraphing (airfields) but it was an "organised" trip for that specific purpose that many had done before.In the end it worked out reasonably OK but must have been hairy at the time.The point is that it did make the headlines in the UK and brought up the whole question about right to photograph which may be has had some effect on the UK "authorities" view.

    Not suggesting anyone deliberately sets out to create such a high profile situation but it may just come and the air maybe cleared for the benefit of you all.

    At the moment it seems that you can suffer guilt by association i.e. by association with a camera.

    I have learned quite a bit from this thread even if I am somewhat of an outsider.

  25. Bill -- having studied law in the UK too, all I can say "don't be sure sure." The laws which permit the authorities to detain people without charge are less strict in the UK than the US but sadly in the last few years the US has started to seriously slip in that area.

    This goes off the topic of photography, but most people in the US don't realize that today, a US-born citizen can be picked up off the streets and sent off to a military prison, then even shipped off to prison in other countries to be tortured, and kept indefinitely, without ever having the opportunity to know what you're charged with, or to even see the inside of a courtroom, and even if you do ever go into court, you don't have a right to see any "secret" evidence against you -- and neither does your lawyer or even the judge himself. You can be asked to give up your citizenship and agree to being permanently exiled, even if you are a US citizen who was born in the US, as a condition of being released. It has happened so I'm not joking.

    Also, your house can be searched without your knowledge and withOUT a warrant issued by a judge, and for example your local librarian is required to provide a list of books you checked out upon the request of the FBI, and in such a case the librarian isn't even permitted to mention the FBI's request to you or anyone else -- not even with their own attorney.

    Furthermore, many Americans have been placed on no-fly lists -- and I'm not talking about the "terrorist suspect" no fly list, but another list that seems to be composed of politically-active people who may want to fly to a demonstration or attend a political rally. Once on the list, there's no way to know why you're there, how you got on the list, or how to get off the list. You can simply be turned away at the airport, and you have absolutely no recourse.

    All of this has happened. I am not making it up.

    IMHO its only a matter of time before public photography does get banned if we don't assert ourselves.
  26. In London there is also a serious problem. I know of the police stopping someone in Trafalgar Square. Apparently the mayor is putting up signs that say no photography allowed and in the beach at Bournemouth they now have wardens who stop people photographing with mobile phones. There is a real danger that a whole time period will not get photographed for posterity.
  27. I think Red is essentially right. According to current adminstration policy basically anyone either US citizen or not can be picked up anywhere, anytime in the world, sent to Guatanomo and held indefinitely without charge or shipped to a foreign country to be tortured or whatever. There are no judicial or legal processes and certainly no independent scrutiny to ensure any protection of innocent people who may be mistakely picked up. Indeed the evidence to date suggests well over two thirds of those who have done several years at Gauntanamo have done nothing and were simply picked up by mistake.

    To all you legal boffins out there - lets suppose you got sent to Gauntanamo for photographing the NY subway. What legal remedy do you have to ensure your rights?
  28. Regarding security guards, it is wise to note that there are two types of security guards-- plain guards and "Special Police." That second type undergo the exact same training as municipal and state police, but it is important to note that they are not "sworn" officers, which carries some heavy differences and varies greatly between jurisdictions.

    The important thing to note, however, is that IN GENERAL, in most places security guards don't have the right of "arrest and detention" except in the case of things like shoplifting. Special Police, however, have most of the powers of regular police IF they are operating on the private property of their employers and under the auspices of their employers. In most places they can also carry firearms.

    This info is applicable for the U.S., but even here, YMMV.

    Happy shooting. -BC-
  29. Perhaps I am going even more off topic but I have always believed that politicians (whoever and wherever) will take advantage of any event to make the citizens of a country feel more fearful and therefore become more docile.This way they can take actions that in more normal times would be "thrown out of court".

    The detention without trial concept has been very strongly attacked here in the UK at last and it would appear that we are reverting to the rule of law as I understand it.It does not have to be a trial by jury - I am happy (until convinced otherwise) for a senior judge with top level security clearance to safeguard what I see as the rule of law.

    To cover some of the points made I would 1) ask David Graham to point me in the direction where I can learn more about our Ken's decision to prevent photography as I have obviously missed this little gem 2) ask if these special police are specifically indentifiable ? and 3) ask what does YMMV mean ?
  30. Bill-- Most Special Police will have an arm patch indicating such. My experience is that they want to look as much like regular police as possible, and for reasons both legal and intimidating they have the word "POLICE" somewhere prominently displayed on their person.

    YMMV means "Your Mileage May Vary." It was a phrase that was created in the late 1970, when gas mileage tests for new cars were performed under very artificial circumstances, and often had no relation to the mileage that the automobile actually got in real life. So many people complained (and I imagine some sued) that the lawyers finally convinced the advertisers to insert the phrase "Your Mileage May Vary" somewhere in the ad, usually as an asterisk at the bottom of the page. Anyhow, it's gone on in cyberspeak to mean, "This may be true where I am, but circumstances where you are may change the results significantly."

    Happy shooting. -BC-

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