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Photography and the Law

October 10, 2018
By Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

Photographers are stopped, harassed and even intimidated into handing over their personal property simply because they take photographs that make other people uncomfortable. Most of the attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the supposed dangers that unrestricted photography presents today.

I've dealt with closed meeting and had people say don't record this. One thing I've never had to deal with being told was I couldn't take pictures. Last week, I didn't know how to react when told this, so I decided to find out what the laws say.

So what exactly are a photographer's rights? As a general rule, in the United States anyone can take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or when they have permission to take photos in certain places. Like everything else there are exceptions to the anything goes rule. There are certain government installations and nuclear facilities that are off limits because national security could potentially be compromised.

People that are out in public have very little expectation of privacy. Basically, anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they are in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a restroom, dressing room or medical facility, to name a few.

Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the following can always be photographed lawfully: accident and fire scenes, children, celebrities, infrastructures, such as bridges, commercial and residential buildings, industrial facilities and public utilities, criminal activities and arrests and law enforcement officers.

Persons who are afraid to be photographed initiate most of the confrontations. The most common reason given for no photographs is security, which is rarely the case. Taking a photograph is not a terrorist act; nor can a business legitimately say that taking a picture that can be seen by the public infringes on trade secrets.

Although anyone can walk up to someone in public, questioning someone incessantly without any legitimate purpose is illegal in many states if it causes serious annoyance. If someone's conduct goes beyond questioning, such as threatening you that you will get hurt, damage or take your property or falsely accuse you of a crime, the states have laws against this and you can file charges. Private parties have very limited right to detain you against your will and may be subject to criminal and civil charges should they try to do so.

Absolutely no one - not even law enforcement - has the right to review your images or take your photography gear. Nor does anyone have the right to make you delete your images. Law enforcement has the authority to seize your camera when making an arrest; however, they must still have a court order to view the images.

Taking a camera or cell phone directly, or by threatening to use force or call law enforcement, can constitute a criminal offense such as theft and coercion. It can also constitute a civil tort such as conversion

If someone has threatening, intimidated or detained a photographer for taking photographs, they may be liable for crimes such as kidnapping, coercion and theft. Report them to the police.

There is also the possibility for civil remedies which could cost the person doing the harassing and their employer (if it is being done for their employer) money.

This came from a document put out by Bert P. Krages, Attorney. I would never have thought that a photographer had much freedom.



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