“You push the button, we do the rest.” Eastman Kodak advertising the first Kodak Box camera, 1888.
Barely sixty years after photography was invented the original Kodak Box Camera brought photography to the masses. With a Kodak Box Camera anyone could take a photograph simply, without specialized equipment or the chemical knowledge required by early glass plate photographic image-making. With the invention of photography, and especially after George Eastman brought photography to everyone, people everywhere began documenting their lives. A rich, detailed, visual history of humanity was begun in the late 1800s because photography became easy and affordable. The ability of the everyman to document his life changed the world. And the world changed in profound ways. It became more visual, distant places were brought near thanks to the photographic print, and things unseen, or seen by very few, could now be seen by many.
The invention of photography was one of the most important, zeitgeist-changing technological advances ever. Visual communication changed forever with the Kodak Box Camera and even more so by 1900 with the even more user-friendly roll-film Kodak Brownie Camera. But today, nearly a century and a quarter after the Kodak Box Camera, it is the lightweight and simple-to-use cel-phone video camera that may prove to be an even more important technological invention leading to widespread social change.
To put things in context, here is a very brief history of photography, video, and cellular phones:
1827 Nicéphore Niépce makes the first photograph, which took days to expose.1839 Louis Daguerre develops the daguerreotype process, which took hours to expose.
The Glass Plate negative invented.
1840 William Henry Fox Talbot invents the Calotype paper negative process.
1888 Kodak Box Camera introduced.
1900 Kodak Brownie, roll-film camera introduced.
1935 Kodachrome color transparency invented.
1983 Sony released the first consumer video camcorder.
1983 First commercial cellular phone.1986 Kodak scientists develop the Bayer-pattern sensor for digital cameras.
1995 First consumer digital video cameras released.
2000 First cel-phone still camera, Samsung, .35 megapixels.
2006 650 million camera phones sold.
2007 Video capabilities added to cel-phone cameras.
2010 The worldwide number of camera phones totals more than a billion.
In terms of easy and inexpensive image-making, photography has made many profound technological advances in the past 189 years. But some other things, such as violent human nature and abuse of authority have not changed at all.
With still and video capabilities available on a device that’s relatively inexpensive, fits in a shirt pocket, and with such simplified operation that virtually anyone can shoot a still photo or video I’m a little disheartened that the narcissistic ‘selfie’ has become the commonplace photograph of our time. With cameras in everyone’s pocket, at the ready, I’d hoped to see some photos of such elusive subjects like:
The Loch Ness Monster
Any kind of Cryptid…
But we’re not seeing those photos. Maybe those things don’t exist? Or perhaps ‘phone photographers’ are missing the shots? Maybe the UFOs and aliens really can disable electronic devices? We’re not seeing new discoveries captured on cel-phone video, but we are seeing more videos of what’s been going on for a long time, but rarely filmed until 2007:
Police, abusing their authority and murdering or beating the shit out of innocent people.
Personally I’d rather see a high-resolution image of a UFO, but society needs to see authority figures behaving badly. And let’s face facts here, unless you’re Caucasian/white, you know the police can beat the hell out of you or even kill you with impunity. Most white people know this too, but won’t admit it because they are the beneficiaries of ‘white privilege’ and aren’t as effected by police brutality as non-whites. But although I’m a gringo even I’ve known since I was a little kid that the police are not really our ‘friends’ and they can get away with pretty much any type of bad (and illegal for the rest of us) behavior.
Even as a never-arrested, law-abiding, ‘privileged’ white guy, I’ve had my share of run-ins with Bad Cops:
· The first time I saw my mother cry was when a cop was leaning into the car, pointing his finger in her face, and screaming at her. I think I was about 5 or 6 years old and scared to death. I blame my fear of, and life-long lack of respect for authority figures on this incident. This happened in Kansas.
· In high school I worked at a burger joint and I rode a small, 90cc motorcycle. After closing one night I rode home at about 1am. When I pulled into my driveway, the place lit up with blue and red lights and the next thing I knew I was being pulled off the bike and thrown against my parents’ house. Two cops, with guns pointed at my face, were arresting me for ‘stealing’ my own motorcycle! They had no interest in my protestations and nothing I said got their attention. What did get their attention was the pump of 12-gauge shotgun held by my father, standing behind them. Only upon staring down the barrel of a weapon held by my Dad did they choose to listen to reason. My family should have sued, but instead the cops apologized to my Dad (but not to me) and left. This happened in Texas. And yes, I had my motorcycle license and my Dad had the title to the bike.
· At the age of about 35 I got pulled over by a traffic cop for allegedly speeding. Before I could even get off the motorcycle he began berating and screaming at me. I feared for my life; I’d pulled over immediately and complied with his orders, except for one. I refused to remove my helmet because I really did fear I’d be killed or beaten. (There is no law that requires a motorcyclist to remove a helmet and I didn’t need a head injury at the hands of a cop.) At that point I was handcuffed and tossed into the back of the police car. The cop actually screamed at me: “I can blow your fucking head off and toss your body off that cliff, nobody will find your body, you piece of shit.” This kind of verbal abuse and intimidation went on for over half an hour. Finally, something came over the cops’ radio and he dragged me out of his car, un-handcuffed me and drove off in a big hurry. I was not ticketed. This happened in Arizona.
· Post 9/11, a rent-a-cop pointed a gun at me when I aimed my camera at a public building. I was not detained or shot but I didn’t get my client’s photo either. This has happened a lot to photographers after the terrorism of 9/11. Photographers are easy marks for police harassment because we’re unarmed. I was standing on a public sidewalk. Photography is not an illegal activity and there were no ‘no photography’ signs.
· I thought police harassing photographers was confined to the city until I was harassed, asked for I.D. and subjected to a lengthy and intimidating lecture while I was photographing a cactus in the desert. I was fifty miles from the nearest city and completely alone! The officer’s excuse for detaining and questioning me was because, according to him, “…a number of dead bodies have been found along this road.” The next day I checked the local news and verified that the policeman was lying, no bodies had ever been found along that road. It’s really annoying to have to show a cop your identification when taking a picture of a cactus in the middle of nowhere!
· At the ‘mature’ age of ‘well over fifty’ I was pulled over by a traffic cop with my wife in the car with me. For over half an hour I had to listen to an idiot cop lecture. It was intimidating, emasculating and was extremely frightening. I told the officer that he was causing both me and my wife to fear for our lives. Was he going to kill us? That prompted another twenty-minute tirade about the second amendment. All the while I’m sitting in the car trying to shut up and be calm and just stay alive. I noticed the cop was wearing a bullet-proof vest, I could see the bulge of a weapon in an ankle holster under his pant leg, he had a 9mm Glock in his belt holster, he had a Taser, and he had a fire-extinguisher sized pepper spray. I was unarmed and wearing a t-shirt! We were not ticketed. My wife was so frightened she begged me to go home, we never made the event we were going to attend. This happened in Arizona.
That’s just a half-dozen of the many incidents that I have been involved in personally. I list these incidents to illustrate just how bad the police can be. None of these incidents were of major importance nor involved any criminal act or endangerment to anyone (except me, at the hands of the police). And to restate, I’m a Caucasian, male, I’ve never been arrested and I do not have a criminal record. I’m a good boy and a law-abiding citizen, but I’m sure if I were non-white I wouldn’t be alive to write this. As a result of these incidents I am convinced of two things: 1) my ‘whiteness’ saved my life, and 2) all cops are assholes.
Of course that’s just my opinion… Based on personal experience… (In that respect I’m no different than the average African-American man.) Yes, I’ve had a few encounters with ‘nice’ cops but in my view, about ninety-nine percent of them are assholes and liars. Unfortunately the problem with cops is you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones until it’s too late, or you’re dead. For one’s own safety one must assume that all cops are killers. Cops do the same thing, they assume all black men are criminals – which is exactly why so many innocent, unarmed black dudes are murdered by cops. As far as I’m concerned all cops are potential murderers until they prove themselves to me that they’re not. The cops’ reputation precedes them and currently that reputation is that of a killer, not a friend.
The only thing that can stop a ‘bad guy with a gun’ who’s also got a badge and bad attitude is someone with a video camera. Video cameras scare the hell out of cops because they know they can’t lie their way out of their own criminal acts caught on tape –although they do try and often their lies still allow them to get away with murder in our corrupt system.
Now let’s look at an abbreviated history of photography, video, civil rights and police killing or beating the shit out of unarmed Black Men:
1751 First American Police Force, Philadelphia.
1807 First American Police Force, Richmond, Virginia.1838 First American Police Force formed in Boston.1845 First American Police Force, New York.
1861 United States Civil War begins.
1865 United States Civil War ends. The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution frees the slaves.
1948 – 1972 Gordon Parks (an African-American) serves as photographer for Life Magazine documenting the civil rights movement.1970 Kent State and Jackson State. In May 1970, the collective student body of the United States erupted in protest over President Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. On May 4th, students at Kent State were shot at by Ohio National Guard. Nine were wounded and four were killed. On May 15th, in Mississippi, at Jackson State, a large group of students had protested throughout the day. That night, police fired over 140 shotgun blasts at the group of students, killing two and injuring twelve. This was extensively covered by television and print media.
1983 Sony released the first consumer video camcorder.
1991 Rodney King beating. Era of ‘Citizen Journalism’ begins.
1992 L.A. Riots as a result of police acquittal for the Rodney King beating.
2005 Robert Davis, a black man and retired elementary school teacher from New Orleans, was arrested and brutally beaten by police on suspicion of public intoxication. The beatings were videotaped by an Associated Press producer, who was also assaulted by police that night. The officers were either fired or suspended for their involvement, but many of the charges against them were cleared.
2007 Video capabilities added to cel-phone cameras.2009 Christopher Harris was outside Seattle’s Cinerama Theater when an officer charged at him and slammed his head into a wall, leaving him in a coma. Police were looking for a convenience store stabbing suspect when two witnesses mistakenly identified Harris. The King County sheriff's office investigated of the incident and says that it appears to have been a "tragic accident." This was recorded by surveillance video.
2014 Michael Brown, an 18-year old black man in Ferguson, Missouri, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white police officer.
2014 Kajieme Powell was reportedly carrying a knife, seemingly no larger than a steak knife, when police shot him down. We learned later that a bystander had videotaped the entire incident on his cell phone, from before the cop car pulled up to the scene, until Powell lay motionless on the ground as officers cuffed him. The video has put on full, unadulterated display what it looks like for cops to shoot a man down just seconds after arriving on the scene, without trying any other mitigating measures first.
2014 Eric Garner. Garner was killed after a New York police officer used a banned chokehold technique to restrain him, despite being unarmed. He was wrestled to the ground by several police officers after a complaint he was illegally selling loose cigarettes. In a video that went viral, the black 43-year-old said: "I can't breathe" which was soon adopted by protesters after Daniel Pantaleo, the only officer that was investigated by a grand jury, was not charged.
2014 Tamir Rice. Twelve-year-old Rice was shot by Ohio police in a public park as he was playing with a BB gun. It was reported at the time that a man called police saying someone was brandishing a pistol but added it was "probably fake". The police claimed Rice reached into his waistband for the toy gun when the two officers ordered him to raise his hands. Cleveland city claimed Rice's injuries - and subsequent death - “were directly and proximately caused by their own acts, not this defendant” in response to the family's lawsuit. In the lawsuit, the family accuses officers Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann of acting recklessly and failing to provide first aid and also name the city of Cleveland as a defendant.
2015 Sureshbhai Patel. Mr. Patel was left partially paralyzed, his family says, after being beaten by police in Alabama. The FBI has launched an investigation into what happened to the Indian grandfather after his encounter with police. A police officer has been arrested accused of badly injuring the man. In a video released by police, it shows an officer throwing Mr. Patel to the ground after officers stopped the man. He had been walking when police said officers tried talking to the man who spoke little English. Larry Muncey, Madison Police chief, announced last month that officer Eric Parker would be fired and he has pleaded not guilty to assault.
I have to conclude the list here in its woefully incomplete form. This shit just goes on and on and on, these are some of the ‘lowlights.’
We can see it almost every week on television news; ‘authorities’ and ‘leaders’ like police and politicians behave in aggressively stupid ways and try to lie their way out of their own illegal, immoral, unethical and abusive acts all the while their hideous deeds exist on video for all to see. Why do they lie knowing there is video that contradicts their stories? Because for so long there had been no record of their wrongdoing and they knew their positions of authority granted them immunity from penetrating questions. For decades every cop knew that merely being a cop made them instantly credible. For decades no one would question a cop’s word, all the while disbelieving the black man --no matter how credible ‘the black man’ might be. And the police also knew that their cop-buddies would cover for them. Lying liars who support other liars while noncriminal minorities lie dead on the ground. They ignored the visual facts of video because for so long there was no video, no visual record of their misdeeds, so they continue to lie today. They’re simply used to lying and getting away with murder as standard operating procedure. Although this won’t last forever in the new age of ‘citizen journalism,’ change is going to take quite some time; perhaps a decade or a generation. And no one changes their behavior until they first change the way they think; and cops still think they’re above the very laws they’re tasked to enforce.
Today the ‘bad guys in blue’ use lame, weak and fallacious arguments when their illegal acts are caught on video, like the videos being ‘edited,’ ‘faked,’ or ‘taken out of context.’ But video, unlike human perception, is easily analyzed and proven (or disproven) authentic and those who abuse their authority are beginning to have their lies exposed. Many police cars use dash-cams that mysteriously fail or point in the wrong direction when the police are busy abusing, beating and murdering their victims. The call for ‘body-cams’ is a good idea that will easily be defeated when the cop ‘accidently’ shuts off or disables the camera. I suspect the all-too-typical refrain of ‘he’s trying to get my gun!’ will be augmented with ‘the bad guy smashed my body camera – if he hadn’t done that you’d see I was justified.’
Meanwhile the police act as if photography is an illegal activity. It isn’t. The police want to make photographing and videotaping them a criminal act with the knowledge that without video of their own criminal acts, they get away with it. I’ve been a victim of cop-photographer intimidation on more than one occasion and to be completely honest, knowing that the law was on my side was in no way helpful in the face of knowing the cop could kill me on the spot. And the cop who’d kill me? He’d get a paid vacation while a farcical ‘internal investigation’ took place while the police department trashed my reputation!
Again I reassert my whiteness. I’m lucky! If I were black I’d be dead at the hands of a policeman by now. And this is normal, but none of my white friends get it. One of my (seemingly more intelligent) white friends was amazed that the black guy on TV tried to run away, “Why doesn’t he obey the policeman’s commands?” he asked. Because, my clueless white friend, that black man knows he’s got no chance with that white cop. He knows, guilty or innocent, he’s probably going to die, so by running away he’s at least got a chance to survive his cop-encounter. This seems perfectly logical to me. Avoid the bad guy! But my dear dumbass white friend has been a beneficiary of ‘white privilege’ his entire life and cannot comprehend that certain groups of people have a generations-long legitimate fear of the police.
I’m sorry to say, but my white friend is part of the problem. He’s part of the problem because he doesn’t recognize there is a problem because it’s not affected him personally. He lives in a white neighborhood, his kids went to white schools, he votes for white conservative pro-law enforcement politicians who share his point of view and just doesn’t get it that different demographic groups (re: dark-skinned people) might have a different experience. He thinks (without much effort, critical thought or analysis) that if the cops detain someone then that person must have done something to deserve it. And my dear white friend has a smartphone. I wonder if he’d video a cop abusing a minority? I hope he would because if he doesn’t, he could be a racist.
If we look at history, policing doesn’t have a good reputation in the black community and never has. The very first police forces, going back to the 1700s were founded specifically to round up escaped slaves, who, by the way, were black! A three-hundred year-old institutional mindset isn’t going to change overnight but, thanks to easily shot and shared cellphone video, it will.
The name Philippe Kahn should be remembered by history – and loathed by police because Mr. Kahn was the inventor of the cellphone camera. In 1997 Mr. Kahn wired his cellphone, laptop and a digital camera together to document and share the birth of his daughter. This began the era of cellphone photography. A decade later, in 2007, video capabilities were added and now, just short of a decade of cellphone video later the ‘home movie’ isn’t what it used to be!
The social impact of cel-phone camera still and video photography has been amplified tenfold thanks to the ease of sharing the imagery. Social media and free video websites like YouTube allow for huge, instant-audiences for all kinds of imagery –including videos of ‘authorities behaving badly.’ No longer are non-photojournalist images ignored and unpublished. Prior to the age of ‘citizen journalism’ a photographer, videographer or filmmaker had to have a client, a publisher, to get the images in front of the public’s eyes, but that’s not true anymore. Anyone with a cel-phone camera can upload their pictures to the internet where they can be seen, shared, copied and disseminated with democratic equality. In our modern era, where just a few companies control all our news media outlets who cannot be trusted it’s best to go around them, straight to the public, unfiltered. One person with a cel-phone video is as powerful as CNN! The camera plus internet sharing equals widespread awareness and only with widespread awareness does society change. The ACLU even has a free cellphone app called Mobile Justice which allows the cellphone-videographer-witness-victim to record their police interactions and immediately upload the video to the state office of the ACLU. The immediate-upload feature is especially useful when police (illegally) confiscate people’s cellphones. When police confiscate cellphones they’ve effectively suppressed evidence against them –nobody ever gets their phones back. Civil rights-era photojournalist Gordon Parks (a black man) said, “I saw the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs.” A gun is a weapon that can only kill one person at a time while the camera is a weapon that can change society. In 1961 Dr. Martin Luther King recognized that, “The world seldom believes the horror stories of history until they are documented via the mass media.” What Dr. King could not foresee in 1961 is that by the early 2000s the people are the mass media.
"The fact is that photography is power," says Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and creator of the organization's guide to photographers' rights*. "People are loathe to give up power, including police officers."
Americans thought they’d made progress on civil rights and racism after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin illegal. Although the act made institutional racism illegal it did nothing to alleviate the visceral racism that still remained in the hearts and minds of many white people. So, even with the ‘whites only’ and ‘no Negroes’ signs removed, racism still existed in full force quietly, subtly in the bosom of too many white Americans. Racism and discrimination never went away, it was merely expressed less frequently, publicly.
Sexual discrimination never went away either and Americans were unable to pass a simple, clearly worded Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Today, on average, a female worker earns twenty-five percent less than her male counterpart doing the same job. In 2016 a Republican presidential candidate routinely calls women ‘pigs’ and no one cares. America has made zero progress with issues of sexual discrimination and the progress made in terms of civil rights is illusory.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 exposed ignorant racist Americans at their worst. Fear and ‘terrorism’ now excuses discrimination and hatred based on religion (Muslims), national origin (Mexicans, Syrians, Iranians, etc.), race and skin color (all non-Caucasians).
The election of Barak Obama, the first African-American President has laid bare the hidden racism of America. I’m sorry to have to point it out, but Americans (as a group) are more racist than ever. We have one horrible political party that has held 300 million Americans hostage as they spent eight years obstructing virtually everything ‘President Blackula’ has done. I can’t say that all Republicans are racists but the Republican Party does provide shelter for racists.
When racism, misogyny, and unchecked hatred are combined with authorities with weapons we end up where we are today, with fully militarized police forces terrorizing those they swore to protect.
Technology has always ‘evolved’ at a faster pace than man’s intellect, morals and ethics. In medicine we have technology to keep a body alive, but few ethical guidelines on when not to. Listen to our ‘fearless leaders’ (especially conservatives) who talk, willy-nilly, about ‘nuking’ this and ‘bombing’ that while ignoring the veracity of negotiation. In the society we’ve created for ourselves, force beats finesse and competition is valued over cooperation.
Although I live in a state with ‘open carry’ laws which allow any dingbat to strap a gun to his or her belt and go to the shopping mall, I won’t carry a gun. As a civilized person, I don’t need a gun because my life is routinely not in danger. The only time I’ve ever felt absolute fear for my life has been in interactions with police, the authorities, and I know, even if I were armed, I’d have no chance whatsoever if the cop felt like killing me, I’d be outgunned anyhow. And I’m supposed to do whatever he says right? If I don’t, he can just kill me for not following his orders. All I can do is kiss his ass, hope he’s not in a killing mood, and thank god I’m Caucasian. This is no way to live and I can completely relate to how minorities feel when interacting with police. When dealing with cops I’m just as scared shitless as any black person would be.
The cops aren’t scared of me, but they are scared of my camera!
Why do police kill African-Americans at such a higher rate than white people? The answer is simple although they’d never admit it: police assume all black people are criminals. It’s the inevitable result of three-hundred years of institutional racism. They’ve been getting away with it forever, why change now?
The camera doesn’t lie. But cops lie –routinely. Most cops with whom I’ve interacted care greatly about the second amendment (despite the inherent danger to their own lives) but don’t give a damn about the first amendment. The first amendment protects journalists and ‘citizen journalists’ alike. But the era of police lying to cover their own abuse of authority and bad behavior is coming to an end thanks to the cel-phone video camera.
Yes, the objective, dispassionate, accurate, apolitical technology of the pocket-sized video camera will eventually force the police and other ‘authorities’ to do the right thing because when their crimes are laid bare for all to see they can no longer get away with murder. Gordon Parks was right, the camera is a weapon. It’s the best weapon to use when fighting for The Truth. No one has ever been murdered by a camera. A camera is not a dangerous thing. A camera is not a tool used to intimidate. While the police are armed with guns which too often are used against us, we are now armed with cameras –technology for truth! If officer Obie has a problem being photographed then he’s afraid of the truth and your life may very well be at risk. If the NSA can rationalize eavesdropping on our cellphone calls by saying, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to be afraid of,” then we can use the same logic on the police. “Officer, sir, if you’re following the rules, why fear video?” The common police argument that videotaping somehow ‘interferes with police duties’ is complete bullshit.
The momentum of change is upon us thanks to integrated circuits, miniaturization of technology, Philippe Kahn, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Samsung. Human nature, ethics and the abuse of authority has not changed on its own, but it is being forced to change as a result of cel-phone video technology. For now, to preserve our own safety we must assume all cops are bad (the same as they assume all black men are criminals) until they prove themselves otherwise. For centuries we’ve given the police respect and they’ve abused it; now they must earn it. In combination with a healthy wariness of police we must use the video camera –and we’ve all got them in our pockets now. The cel-phone video camera is a dispassionate machine with no opinion or agenda, it’s a device for recording pictures and sound –what it records is up the policeman. He can behave professionally, with respect (so can you) or he can be an unprofessional, disrespectful criminal, either way, ‘the tape tells the tale.’
We are at an epoch where video technology can change human nature for the better. People do behave differently when they know others are watching. Continual videotaping of police will ultimately force them to be accountable. Average citizens are filmed by surveillance cameras every day for ‘our own safety’ on sidewalks, in parking garages, office buildings and many public spaces; we can film the police for the same reason, personal safety. Photography is not illegal –and it may save your life. The cel-phone video, a democratization of communication and documentation is the unblinking lens of objectivity which will change society and eventually make us all better persons.
But until video forces police to change their behavior…
…this murder may be videotaped for training purposes…
*The ACLU Guide to Photographers’ Rights
Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.
When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner's rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).
Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant. The Supreme Court has ruled that police may not search your cell phone when they arrest you, unless they get a warrant. Although the court did not specifically rule on whether law enforcement may search other electronic devices such as a standalone camera, the ACLU believes that the constitution broadly prevents warrantless searches of your digital data. It is possible that courts may approve the temporary warrantless seizure of a camera in certain extreme “exigent” circumstances such as where necessary to save a life, or where police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that doing so is necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence of a crime while they seek a warrant.
Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances. Officers have faced felony charges of evidence tampering as well as obstruction and theft for taking a photographer’s memory card.
Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.
Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.
If you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:
- Always remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.
- If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, "am I free to go?" If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.
- If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Special considerations when videotaping:
With regards to videotaping, there is an important legal distinction between a visual photographic record (fully protected) and the audio portion of a videotape, which some states have tried to regulate under state wiretapping laws.
- Such laws are generally intended to accomplish the important privacy-protecting goal of prohibiting audio "bugging" of private conversations. However, in nearly all cases audio recording the police is legal.
- In states that allow recording with the consent of just one party to the conversation, you can tape your own interactions with officers without violating wiretap statutes (since you are one of the parties).
- In situations where you are an observer but not a part of the conversation, or in states where all parties to a conversation must consent to taping, the legality of taping will depend on whether the state's prohibition on taping applies only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. But no state court has held that police officers performing their job in public have a reasonable expectation.
- The ACLU believes that laws that ban the taping of public officials' public statements without their consent violate the First Amendment.
Photography at the airport:
· Photography has also served as an important check on government power in the airline security context.
· The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acknowledges that photography is permitted in and around airline security checkpoints as long as you're not interfering with the screening process. The TSA does ask that its security monitors not be photographed, though it is not clear whether they have any legal basis for such a restriction when the monitors are plainly viewable by the traveling public.
· The TSA also warns that local or airport regulations may impose restrictions that the TSA does not. It is difficult to determine if any localities or airport authorities actually have such rules. If you are told you cannot take photographs in an airport you should ask what the legal authority for that rule is.
· The ACLU does not believe that restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.