Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Right to Photograph Public Places

OK, technically this is not an employment law post. But given my Pennsylvania Courthouses Photo Album, it's obviously an issue of some interest to me and possibly my readers.

The Washington Post ran a story this week titled Freedom of photography: Police, security often clamp down despite public right. The article explains that:
Courts have long ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to take photographs in public places. Even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies have reiterated that right in official policies.
Apparently, some people have had unpleasant experiences involving security and photographing government buildings.

As I explained in a previous post, I had my own "run in" with security while photographing the federal court in Williamsport, PA. As I stated at the time, they were courteous and professional at all times (as was I, I might add). A door guard (I don't know which agency employs them) came outside and asked me why I was taking photos of the courthouse. I explained that I was an attorney and that I take pictures of the courthouses I go to for a photo album (and that I actually had a hearing at the state court down the street that day). He asked for ID which I gave him and then he asked if I would speak with an FBI agent. I said that would be no problem and we went inside and waited for the FBI guy.

The FBI agent came down and was likewise polite and friendly. I again explained why I was taking photographs and he said that was fine. He explained that he liked to follow up with people who appeared to take an "unusual interest" in the building. Despite taking some offense to his labelling of my hobby as an "unusual interest" (just kidding), I explained that I post the pictures on my blog. He said that was fine and told me to have a nice day.

At no point did anyone ask to see the photos or make any attempt to delete them. As I said before, a cordial interaction at all times. My First Amendment rights remained intact and they vigilantly performed their security duties.

Posted by Philip Miles, an employment lawyer with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania.