With vague reasoning and little explanation, moves are afoot in the city of New York to stamp out all forms of filming in public, be it by professional television crews, protestors or simply by tourists on sightseeing trips.
Some tourists, amateur photographers, even would-be filmmakers hoping to make it big on YouTube could soon be forced to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance before taking pictures or filming on city property, including sidewalks, reports the New York Times.
Though the Mayor’s Office of Film has said that the new rules are not aimed at families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers, the enforcement would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in public for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance. The same ruling would also apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment.
Even people simply holding cameras could be subject to the rules, the ACLU says.
The ACLU has pointed out that there is no distinction in the wording of the rules that excludes non professionals and it would be down to the discretion of the police as to whom to enforce the rules upon.
Given that camera crews are routinely threatened with arrest for filming peaceful demonstrations and the fact that cops have been caught stealing protestor’s cameras in the past, the new ruling does not bode well for photographers and independent reporters.
Filming in public is a right every American citizen has under the first and fourth amendments, which is why the cops in the cases above had to steal the camera and the footage, because there was no legal basis to seize it.
We have even seen police seize cameras and film from innocent people under bogus charges of “wiretapping”. Earlier this month a man was charged in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with filming police officers during a routine traffic stop and faces up to seven years in prison. Last year a North Middleton Twp. man was charged in a street racing case that involved a wiretapping charge. Police claimed the man ordered associates to tape police breaking up an illegal race after officers told him to turn off their cameras. Furthermore, last month a 48-year-old man from Dover, New Hampshire was arrested for “wiretapping” for allegedly recording police while they were investigating him for driving while intoxicated.
The charge is invalid because it flouts privacy laws. Under the fourth amendment the expectation of privacy is not reasonable at such public places as automobile thoroughfares.
In other words filming on a public highway cannot be classed as an invasion of privacy.
Furthermore, the expectation of privacy is not reasonable if there exists a vantage point from which anyone, not just a police officer, can see or hear what is going on.
With the greater availability of camera technology there have been numerous incidents in recent years where the heavy handed police actions have importantly been caught on camera. Just yesterday we covered a story out of Hot Springs where a cop was caught on film choking out kids merely for skateboarding down the street. Without such evidence the cop might not have been placed on leave and an investigation may not have taken place.
While the Department of Homeland security is throwing money at cities and towns to put cameras everywhere to film the public, and police routinely film public gatherings, the right of citizens to film and photograph in the streets is under direct attack.
In addition, the Mayor of New York is Michael Bloomberg, who owns one of the biggest media outlets in the country. This move also therefore represents a direct conflict of interest on behalf of the mayor’s office.
It seems that filming and photographing is now deemed to be a threat per se. Pick from any number of stories archived at www.freedomtophotograph.com for example.
- In Seattle, police banned a photography student from a public park. He was taking photographs of a bridge for a homework assignment. The officers who ban him from the park do so without the knowledge of park officials and have no authority to do so.
- In Texas a man was first threatened by neighbors and then reportedly accosted and sprayed with pepper spray by police. He was walking around his neighborhood, filming with his new video camera.
- In New York, National Press Photographers Association members staged a protest in the New York subway system to bring attention to a proposed law to ban photography in the subway system.
- In Philadelphia a magazine photographer was detained and questioned after a parade for taking architectural shots while waiting for a subway train.
- In Harrisburg, PA a man was swarmed by 8 Police and accused of being a member of Al-Qaeda after shooting pictures of his new car under a bridge.
Such moves represent an attack on freedom of the press, liberty in general and the flow of information. They set a precedent for a national ruling to crack down on documentation of important events and incidents and give police the power to selectively enforce unconstitutional measures to restrict freedom.