Protecting The Right To Record – Defending Photography


You have the right to photograph police – or anyone – in public. This is a right enshrined in the law and upheld many times in courts around the country. If someone is in public, they have absolutely no expectation of privacy, and this includes the police, whether they like it or not. You may find yourself in a situation where you are challenged for taking pictures, and you neeed to know how to respond. Remember, the rights you have, you have because they are defended.

Many police officers do not like being photographed, and harassment of photographers continues, despite the string of pro-photography rulings and judgements, despite almost everyone having a camera in their smart phones. People have been illegally detained, arrested and their footage deleted by police accross the country who feel their authority is being challenged, or who wish to destroy evidence of their misconduct. There is a shocking amount of ignorance by police about what is legal and what is not. At the bottom of this post are some links to educate you on the law, how to respond, and how to defend the right to take pictures.

You have the right to record the police in public. After all, cameras are recording you – police car dash cameras and surveillance cameras on buildings record you, and you have the right to do the same. Know your rights when confronted about taking pictures.

Many police (not all) contend that people taking pictures of them endanger them, citing terrorism as an excuse. However, there is no evidence that terrorists took photographs of any of their targets. None. Yet the rationale continues.

  • Timothy McVeigh, who used explosives to attack a courthouse, took no pictures
  • The raid on Osama Bin Ladin’s compound revealed no photographs of intended targets
  • The terrorists who attacked the Word Trade Center took no photographs of the Twin Towers complex
Many police departments view advocates of photography as being anti-police, but this is simply not the case. Police have a great deal of power. They can detain you, deprive you of your freedoms, issue citations that can cost you a great deal of money, time and stress, all of which give them the power to intimidate. Such power demands oversight. If the police can record us, there is no justification for preventing us from recording our encounters with them. There is nothing anti-police in this at all.

Stay Calm and Respectful

In this video that takes place in Tampa, at the federal courthouse building, both the officer and the photographer are calm and respectful; indeed they have a reasonable debate about the rights of photographers in public places. There is no reason for such encounters to become confrontational; watch how the photographer stays calm as he debates the officer and stands up for his rights. This is how to conduct yourself during such an encounter. Jump to :34 to where the officer approaches the photographer

A Terry Stop, by the way, is a legal term, meaning a brief detention by the police based on a reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in a crime, but without enough probable cause to make an arrest. If you are detained by the police you have to provide identification when asked. If you are not being detained by the police, than in many cases you are not legally required to provide identification. Read more about Terry Stops HERE. 

Important Links

  • Know Your Rights: Photographers – The ACLU’s legal guide for the rights photographers have. Read them, annd consider making a donation to the ACLU, who defends expression in all its forms
  • Photography Is Not A Crime – Carlos Miller has done more than almost anybody to publicize efforts by law enforcement to stop legal photography. His blog is filled with video encounters of police harassing photographers
  • The Value Of Citizen Journalism – An op-ed piece by Dan Gillmor, the journalist who introduced the Snowden files to the world, encourages people to stay vigiliant with their smart phones in the face of increasing efforts by authorities to keep their actions from being recorded


And last, but not least, a famous poem by Pastor Niemoler that is still as relevent today as it was when it was originally written:

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.


Like this? Share with your friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>