You Can Photograph That Federal Building
(NY TIMES) The right of photographers to stand in a public place and take pictures of federal buildings has been upheld by a legal settlement reached in New York.
In the ever-escalating skirmishes between photographers and security agencies, the most significant battlefield is probably the public way — streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas — which has customarily been regarded as a vantage from which photography cannot and should not be barred.
Under the settlement, announced Monday by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Federal Protective Service said that it would inform its officers and employees in writing of the “public’s general right to photograph the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces” and remind them that “there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography by individuals from publicly accessible spaces, absent a written local rule, regulation or order.”
[The full text of the settlement.]
The settlement, filed on Friday, ended alawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security by Antonio Musumeci, 29, of Edgewater, N.J. He was arrested Nov. 9, 2009, as he videotaped a demonstrator in front of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse at 500 Pearl Street. His principal camera was confiscated but he recorded the encounter on a second camera. On two later occasions, he was also threatened with arrest.
The protective service, which guards buildings and properties that are owned by or leased to the federal government, is part of the homeland security agency.
“This settlement secures the public’s First Amendment right to use cameras in public spaces without being harassed,” said a statement issued by Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented Mr. Musumeci in Federal District Court.
On behalf of the Federal Protective Service, Michael Keegan, the chief of public and legislative affairs, said in a statement that the “settlement of Mr. Musumeci’s lawsuit clarifies that protecting public safety is fully compatible with the need to grant public access to federal facilities, including photography of the exterior of federal buildings.”
At issue in the case was a federal regulation that was cited in the arrest of Mr. Musumeci but that seems — on the face of it — not to have prohibited what he was doing. It says, in part, that “persons entering in or on federal property may take photographs” of “building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors or auditoriums for news purposes.” Mr. Musumeci told the arresting officers that he worked for the radio talk program Free Talk Live. He was given a ticket and released on the spot. His account appeared on his Blog of Bile.
As part of the settlement, the Federal Protective Service said it construed the regulation “not to prohibit individuals from photographing (including motion photography) the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces.”
Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the civil liberties union and lead counsel in the case, said in a telephone interview that the settlement could be interpreted to apply to any federal building anywhere in the country under the aegis of the protective service. Because the regulation speaks broadly of federal property — not only courthouses — Mr. Dunn said the settlement was “tantamount to a recognition that there is no restriction on the photography of federal buildings from public places.”