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Insights & Thoughts

The ‘Ansel Adams Act’ Protecting First Amendment Rights| This Is A Big Deal For Us All

By Kishore Sawh on January 6th 2015

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The First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And that’s it, really. Some forty-odd words are the basis for so much discussion in, and regarding, this country, especially since September 2001. Tyranny is a strange and insidious beast, and can rear its head in the greatest of places, and amidst the best of intentions, under the right circumstances. Some of the government’s actions since 9/11 have been called despotic, and whatever side of the fence you stand on in that argument, it’s fair to say that most saw what was happening, regardless of whether they agreed with it or not, and few would or could disagree that the people were being stripped of their First Amendment rights.

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Photographers, in particular, have been subject to all manners of mistreatment due to the demonization/suspicion of the craft. We’ve been endlessly harassed by public authoritative figures, many arrested, many abused, had equipment seized, and let’s not forget that fees for permits and the likes have jumped, along with the number of situations a permit is required for – oh, and the fines are worse in many instances as well.

But there is hope.

Representative Steve Stockman of Texas has introduced the ‘Ansel Adams Act’ to Congress. Plain and simple this is, “To restore the First Amendment Rights of Photographers.’ That sounds really, really good. Let that sink in for a moment.

Rep. Stockman introduced the bill on January 2nd, and is quite succinct. That it is this way is a good thing because it’s easy enough for anyone to understand, and even if you’re a little weary of legal jargon, it’s worth a read over and you can find the whole thing here. It shouldn’t take you more than 2 minutes. In any case, it essentially spells out circumstances endured by photographers which seem to be in conflict with the First Amendment, such as:

  1. In recent years, the Federal Government has enacted regulations to prohibit or restrict photography in National Parks, public spaces, and of government buildings, law enforcement officers, and other government personnel carrying out their duties.
  2. In recent years, photographers on Federal lands and spaces have been threatened with seizure and forfeiture of photographic equipment and memory cards, and have been arrested or threatened with arrest for merely recording what the eye can see from public spaces.
  3. Even in the absence of laws or regulations, Federal law enforcement officers, other government personnel, and private contractors have been instructed to prohibit photography from public spaces, and threatened photographers with arrest or seizure of photographic equipment.

It then goes on to make clear that still and motion photographs are speech, and that the above are clear abridgments of the freedom of speech and press.

Thoughts

I never wanted to even have a conversation like this, and frankly, even as a teen when 9/11 happened, I didn’t think it could. I sort of took the mentality of Alexander Hamilton, who at the time of the creation of the Constitution, was questioning why there even needed to be a Bill of Rights or the First Amendment, simply because he was incredulous that Congress could even think of overreaching and depriving the people of these basic rights. But, I guess it’s good there was Jefferson to demand that these things be included in writing – though he wasn’t actually there at the time of the Constitutional Convention, since he had the good sense to be in Paris, hopefully enjoying fine wine and charcuterie.

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[REWIND: The Road Ahead – The Future Of Our Gear & Industry]

But in any case, this is a big deal, since it’s always a balancing act to manage the First Amendment and something like national security (look up the New York Times vs. The United States referring to the Pentagon Papers), and often that balancing act has been tipped due to language and interpretation – it is only about 40 words with which to draw from. This is why it’s great that this bill spells out clear as day that photography is speech, and hopefully, that will make things easier, along with noting the ridiculous fines and fees we have been subjected to in order to exercise what is in effect, our rights. But I digress, because even if this gets all sorted, we may have a win in court, but a lot of problems with authority figures who don’t even know what the Bill Of Rights is in the first place. What do you think? Will it make a big difference?

PS – Called the ‘Ansel Adams Act’, apparently a nod to Adams’ contribution to bringing home the beauty of the US to its citizens and the World, the importance of natural resources, and how his efforts helped turn Yosemite into a National Park.

Source: Congress.gov

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Great one

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  2. Richard Hartmann

    Robert, thanks for the reply.

    “however, you comment to the effect “Unregulated commercial use of federal land is a recipe for disaster” and if there is a way to reply, explaining it, I am ever so curious…”

    Oh gosh, where do I start? Do we discuss unregulated commercial use by oil companies, mining or other heavy use? I would think that these unregulated uses raise red flags well enough on their own. They have a clear track record of environmental destruction that will burden our natural environment as well as our financial system for centuries to come. Most all are aware of this aspect.

    Are you are curious only about unregulated commercial photography or cinematography?
    Even with this smaller focus I can imagine numerous undesirable consequences. Indeed these consequences have already played out all too many times.

    From the text
    (c) Prohibition on Fees, Permits, or Insurance.–No Federal
    Government agency shall require fees, permits or insurance as a
    condition to take still or moving images on Federal lands, National
    Parks and Forests, and public spaces, whether for private, media, or
    commercial use.

    Key words being “whether for private, media, or commercial use.”

    So in other words he wants to remove the permits and fees paid by big money commercial users. I seriously doubt he cares in the least about photographers rights. Just look at his track record.

    Could you imaging big money18 wheeler production rolling into our “protected” lands at will, whenever and where ever they like? Into protected wildlife habitat, blundering over sensitive ground, too close to endangered nesting birds, animals attempting to mate, etc. It has already been demonstrated time and time again that allowing these disturbances causes undesirable consequences. This is why we have protection laws, protected zones where nobody, photographer or otherwise can go.

    I seriously doubt that unregulated for profit companies, on our lands, simply to get a photo of their Jeep/ SUV/ or otherwise really gives a hoot about protecting the land.

    Are we now to simply trust that big or small money production will follow the rules? I don’t think so.

    Unregulated big money rolling into our national parks at will, affecting the public’s enjoyment of our lands. Pretty obvious how this would play out in the more popular parks, particularly at peak times.

    Even small photo tours are having a negative impact on the public’s enjoyment. Myself as well as others have experienced a photo tour arriving at a popular location only to have the tour “leader” business owner, try to bully us out of the way so his paying customers can get the shot. I do want to point out that this this is not the norm, but it does happen. The threat of losing the tour permit seems to help stop physical confrontation.

    All this aside, professionals need to pay, for many reasons. No free ride.

    The new laws put in place after 911 and the unfortunate way in which they have been enforced is in many cases just plain wrong. I’m sorry that this has made airport photography or otherwise more challenging or even off limits. I’m sorry that it has caused hardship and even unnecessary confiscation of personal property.

    But let’s not allow less than honest “lawmakers” to highjack this unfortunate scenario in order to remove needed regulation in our precious, protected open spaces.
    The two have nothing to do with each other.

    By now, most know that many of these feel good laws really have devils in the details and that most who vote for these have no idea what they are voting for. Legislation is written into them that would make most feel they had the wool pulled over their eyes.

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  3. Richard Hartmann

    I may be missing something but this sounds like big money wants to make it free for commercial shoots in our public lands. Sounds like they want to remove restrictions put in place to protect the land and the public’s enjoyment of these lands.

    Looks like the bill is disguised as freedom of speech.

    To my knowledge it is already legal and free for nonprofessionals to photograph our national parks, etc.
    Big money, big 18 wheeler production, photo tours or any other professional, for profit company needs to pay to use our lands and these companies need to be restricted as to what they can and cannot do to our lands.

    No free ride for big money. No unrestricted professional use of our public lands.

    Please clue me in if I am missing something.

    “This is from the same guy proposing turning the permitting of energy resource “exploration” on federal lands over to the states. All under the cute moniker of “Federal Land Freedom Act “.

    http://www.ontheissues.org/International/Steve_Stockman_Energy_+_Oil.htm

    Unregulated commercial use of federal land is a recipe for disaster. Using the name of one of the most noted nature photographers of our times just adds to the insult.”

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    • robert garfinkle

      Here is what I will say –

      I think you are right here. Why is it, that I can walk onto the grounds of a monument or museum in D.C. and for that matter the war memorial and just take pictures all day long, not a problem. I am just measly ole me with a decent camera minding my own business (personal business)…

      I am a big freedom of speech guy, to a fault, will even thrown down over it… so, I would defend a professional photographer’s right – treating it as a human right more so than a business transaction – to film / photograph where they want – etc…

      however, you comment to the effect “Unregulated commercial use of federal land is a recipe for disaster” and if there is a way to reply, explaining it, I am ever so curious…

      at any rate, I have a photo, of a set of trees with fall colors, just amazing fall colors – looking like GOD waived a crayola soaked brush over them and said, HEY ROB? take a picture of us… Thought the picture was pretty neat, not as sharp as I’d like it to be, but just the same, it is cool.

      But that set of trees is on Abbott Laboratories land – private, and in a subsequent attempt to capture a picture the next year, the guard drove frantically out in his truck towards me and confronted me, asked me what I was doing. I said taking a picture of these trees. He said “No, you are not, you must leave and not point the camera towards the facility” – to which I agree, it is private land, under private ownership. but where does the line in the sand get drawn I ask?

      He has the right to ensure I am not on private property, which would be trespassing, correct? Yet, would it be trespassing if I grabbed a 500mm lens and stood 1/2 mile from those trees, off the land, and took the picture? Is a camera pointed towards something possibly trespassing? I fail to see so?

      It’s funny, airports are off limits – had the same thing happen there too, where I wanted to capture a sunset (I do that often) and I happened to be standing on the east side of the airport looking west towards the airport to capture the sun. Let me tell you, you have never seen security react so fast. Seriously I am willing to bet no greater than 20 seconds after stopping I was approached by airport security – seriously. I had not even got my back hatch to my car open, after stopping, to grab my camera, and I was asked WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I did not even hear the guy pulling up behind me – insane!

      The airport I understand – I suppose…

      But let’s talk about that for a second. Airports and aircraft… First off, I qualify myself, as I am a web developer who works as a contractor for an agency I cannot mention but related to transportation, that much I’ll say, just not specifics – part of contract, he he…

      Anyway, we can’t take pictures of airports, aircraft landing or taking off, inside FAA buildings or the outside of buildings for that matter, yet it is completely OK to take pictures from within an aircraft looking out, even of the airport from a distance while you are in your seat – how does that work.

      and one confusing thing I will leave you with – while this supposed bill stands up for our rights, where is our rights being protected with stop light cameras complete violation of 4th amendments rights all in trade off for “safety and security” but more so for city commerce…. yeah right.

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  4. Ellis Vener

    It’s a dead bill as it was introduced in the very last days of the 2013-14 Congressional session and Rep. Stockman is no longer in Congress. if someone else introduces it this term than it will be reconsidered. Stockman had no co-supporters for the proposed bill.

    Finally there is a lot of irony in Stockman calling his proposed bill “the Ansel Adams Act”: As a Representative, Stockman compiled one of the most anti-environment records while he served in Congress (.http://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/steve-stockman) while Ansel Adams was a passionate believer in, and an outspoken advocate for protecting the natural environment from commercial despoliation of the kind Stockman supported.

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  5. Ed Rhodes

    “Federal law enforcement officers or private contractors shall not seize any photographic equipment or their contents or memory cards or film, and shall not order a photographer to erase the contents of a camera or memory card or film.”

    Looks good, i would just change the “memory card or film” part to “storage medium.” Who knows what type of storage we will have in the future.

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    • robert garfinkle

      As a reminder, and I can lookup the reference for the “act” or law that states anything put up on the web public / private (In the cloud in social sites or privately held cloud storage) is essentially the same as a “user” throwing it away in the trash and free for the picking by the government.

      So, if your device is tethered to a cloud service or you decide to manually upload your content, it is not safe by virtue of the law imposed.. it is able to be seized, at will without warrant, probable cause, or your permission.

      not sure if people were aware…

      not trying to go down a grim road, adding to the mix of concerns regarding “tests” first amendment rights, yet stating a contamination of fourth amendment rights, IF, you decide to use “cloud” storage as your media – to Ed’s point…

      I wonder how people here feel about the fact that YOUR copyrighted material is free for the picking without your consent, that is unless you consent by virtue of using social media sites and or cloud storage… who becomes the rightful owner or who retains the rights, vs what you may give up..

      lastly – and with the kindest of words possible…

      I just cited a law, which essentially states YOU willfully abandon “throw away” your right to privacy related to the (ANY) content you push across the net, across public wires / airwaves etc. If you make a general statement to the effect “It’s OK, I’m not doing anything wrong” you effectively not only co-sign / authorize a forfeiture of your rights, but abandon mine (and other’s) too…

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  6. Win Shaw

    i will leave the philosophizing and heavy lifting to others and limit myself to practical matters. As a professional photographer working as a freelance I have occasion to cover news events in the National Park in the town where I live. The local newspaper often uses the images I produce for them on a freelance basis. Not long ago a boat used to carry tourists on fishing trips came to grief and was smashed to bits on the rocky shore. Happily there were no passengers aboard, and the captain escaped unharmed. One day after the sinking occurred I drove down to document cleanup efforts and found a yellow tape strung along the nearby hiking trail emblazoned with the words “caution.” Shortly after I arrived a couple of young people hired by the boat owner began walking along the wreckage picking up debris. As I was too far off to get a shot I ducked under the yellow caution tape and walked cautiously down the shore about 25’ for a closer shot. Not long after I began shooting images a Park Ranger arrived on the scene and he shouted at me to get back. i responded in a friendly way by saying that I was covering the cleanup for the local newspaper and needed just a few more moments to finish up. The ranger’s response to this was to yell, “I said Get Back!” When I pointed out that there were no waves, and no dangers whatever posed by any other factor and that I was exercising my rights as a news photographer covering a news event the ranger just continued to yell “I said get back!” So I left.
    Now while some Americans may be willing to see this as a harmless exercise of legitimate authority I do not. I rather enjoy being able to say that I live in “The Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave” and thus would tend to interpret this sort of a abuse of power as being totally unacceptable. Add to that the economic cost to me of the lost photo op and it becomes clear I was not/am not a fan of the US Government’s current tendency to trample on our Constitutional rights under the guise of protecting us from terrorism. Lest readers think that this particular was an exception I hasten to add that I have suffered similar harassment by Park Rangers on several,other similar occasions as have countless other photographers. In fact the eminent outdoor photographer Galen Rowell protested this heavy handed National park treatment of photographers way back in the 1980s!

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  7. J. Wolf

    I only can shake my head about the “Ansel Adams Act”. Although I am also a photographer, see big problems in this proposal:
    1) the try to engross a great name without the consent of this person
    2) the usage of “epic names” or perfect abbreviations such as “AAA” in this case for a simple bill which is misleading about its content in the end.
    3) the topic of “freedom of speech”: to me, speech is something that goes out from my person. Similar to writing, drawing, acting. Photographing on the other side is something that is the total opposite – to me it is similar to seeing, reading, hearing, feeling, sensing.
    4) Thinking further than this proposal, it would imply (considering point 3 in my list), that everyone also should be eligible to see, read, touch everything he wants. Thinking even further, in the end this proposal would bring down probably every single law that was made in the last 220 years.

    To me, this “act” is pure populism to
    1) show a particular group that “he is covering their concerns”
    2) express a general mistrust against everything from the government (where he is definitively a part of!)
    3) occupy resources (time, money etc.) in Washington while critizising that Washington is throwing out money for nothing.

    Sorry, but this cannot be true.

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  8. David McGrath

    Facinating topic! Concerns me though that most comments do not actually address the 1st amendment. Yes I agree with the notion that photographers are bullied in public situations, but what most people are failing to reconignze is that a photograph is not only a freedom of expression but it is also a documentation of another freedom of speech caused by another. It’s one thing to stand up on a soapbox and express your thoughts as to taking a permanent digital image. Now don’t get me wrong, I want whats best for all photographers, but we need not be too entitled sometimes. Just an FYI…. (It’s interesting that it’s called the Ansel Adams act, who is known for his iconic landscapes, and the images used in the story are of police and human interactions.) Having said that I think as a whole, more photographers should not jump to conclusions on this and follow your craft.

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  9. Kevin Galbreath

    the problem is that it was introduced….now the special interests and “servants of the people” will get a hold of it and start adding road paving funding, high speed rail, etc etc
    No bill EVER comes out in the modern era that clean and concise.
    Read it again in march and see what it says
    great idea….wrong group to institute it

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  10. norman tesch

    how i see it its rich people that think they are more important than everyone else. because they sure dont care if you are at a park photographing average joe…most cops dont want you taking pics because they are probably doing something not so official or acting as they are suppose to..for me the only people that dont want to be seen are criminals. now there are ligidimate places you shouldent photo like a military base, but even they have air shows and tours to let you take pics

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  11. robert garfinkle

    The following response is my view only and not that of SLR Lounge or any of it’s members or guests… nor is any commentary directed at any individual / group public, private or political. I must say this up front to show signs of respect (not apology) for speaking out on what I think is the behalf of every citizen carrying a camera, video device, or use of mouth (e.g. any form of communication used in the commencement of freedom of speech)

    I was unaware that there were federal laws restricting / preventing where / when / why / how / and for no reason at all – us from taking pictures / shooting movies in those places listed in the article.

    Now that I know; I will be very strong about what I’m about to say – that not only do I hope this legislation passes, if it does not, I will stand up for our rights, continue to “fight” until it does. period, done end of story. Well, actually I lied, there is more, it is also a clear violation of the 4th amendment!

    The constitution guarantees that even in the midst of committing a crime there is due process, yet in this (these) cases, and more so by virtue of the laws put in place to sequester / prevent / forbid / deny freedoms of expression (speech) such as photography or video capture, which the “Ansel Adams Act” seeks to abolish, treat us as criminals even before a crime has been committed. I see that as a violation of the 4th amendment on many levels… due process, illegal search and seizure (in some cases), and probable cause.

    From what I understand, Mr. Ben Franklin stated (paraphrasing) – anyone who puts security / safety before liberty, deserves neither…

    I am not sure “exactly” why the laws were formed, preventing us from carrying out our freedoms of expression in the places described in the article, yet my gut tells me it is for “national” security purposes more or less and to me, that is a farce. There are entities in higher forms of government who have blatantly violated our rights by enacting such rules and what is worse, law enforcement officials who don’t even know the law, even if there is no law suppressing our rights in a particular location, still attempt to treat us like we are criminals…

    statement – the constitution is, a) not the reason for our problems today, and b) not a threat to national security.

    having said that – I think it should be the mission of every citizen who understands the very nature of the laws that do infringe upon our rights, to use what’s left of our first amendment, lawfully, to re-claim and upright ALL 360 degrees of our constitution, for which it stands…

    It’s enough to have found out over the last few years that there are laws put in place which ALLOW the government to seize ANY form of communication, expression, image, data that leaves the hands of an individual who may transmit, post, and / or receive it. it’s a tragedy. this is also a 4th amendment right violation…

    I could go on with more points, but won’t – as you can see I’m a very strong advocate, not just for the photographer’s, artist’s rights, but for anyone who walks this land and wishes to observe their HUMAN RIGHTS they were born with.

    If you honestly believe that certain aspects of our first amendment is in fact a “national” security threat I cannot convince you otherwise, yet let it be known, that I put the constitution first and foremost before anything else and will defend YOUR rights even in the midst of you willfully giving up your own…

    Remember, anything we put before our constitution will be the second thing we lose…

    and so it goes.

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  12. David Hall

    I’ve not experienced this in my small home town. I’ve never been bothered or even questioned. I hope that trend continues for me. It seems really silly to be questioned or harassed when it seems blatantly obvious what it is you’re doing. You’ve got a large camera in your hand, for crying out loud. In my case, a model or subject I’m photographing.

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  13. Dre Rolle

    Great Article…I think it’ll take time for this – if passed- to have the intended results, and even then it won’t be fully enforced. Especially since there are protest every other week and the tension between anyone with a camera and law enforcement. keeps building up.

    If they get rid of photo permits that would be HUGE, especially for people just starting out and using photography as a side business like I am. Even if it’s following the regulations so that I don’t need one, it feels weird having to rush a shoot or keep looking over your shoulder waiting for someone to nag me about it.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Dre, it certainly will take time, but the legal ramifications of having this course corrected, carries a lot of weight, and what’s held up in court, typically trickles down, if even after a while.

      I don’t think there’s going to be a complete abolishment of permits, of course not, but fingers crossed that the need for one is severely reduced. As you said, those starting out would benefit greatly, and frankly, so will everyone else. I remember as shoot I did for a small clothing line a few months back, and at the first location, within about 5 minutes there was a cop at my shoulder with 20 questions. What a drag.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      Some of this must be a regional issue. In downtown St. Louis we have a federal courthouse, the Federal Reserve and a national monument and I’ve photographed not only all of those, but around those as well as a street photographer and I’ve never been questioned.

      The same goes for the protests in Ferguson where I was only asked to leave one time, which was the day after the grand jury decision was in. I was on West Florissant Ave where much of the destruction (arson) occurred. The police had it blocked off, but I know the area very well and was able to get on the street and photograph. A police car pulled up and asked me who I was and what I was doing (as if the cameras didn’t give that away). The whole street was considered a crime scene and I had to leave.

      In the early days of the protests the police were always very nice to me (as I was to them) and the only hassle I received was from protesters who threatened me and prevented me from getting to my car because they didn’t like the website I was shooting for. So much for the First Amendment!

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    • Dre Rolle

      Kishore – lol I know they’ll never get rid of permit but it’s just wishful thinking. Someplace rely on them and it’s understandable. I understand the legal aspects, I guess this bill and the freedom/dignity/(insert words) it brings are comparable to the bill that allowed military personal to openly express that they are gay without fear and being treated with respect for simply doing their job. Not sure if that’s the best analogy but I’m exhausted and can’t think of another one lol.

      Steve- I’m in dc and depends on the cop, tripods are allowed but they don’t really have signs to say where. One cop let me use his rifle as a make shift monopod (hilarious guy btw) while another threatened to put a hole in my camera for using a newspaper dispenser to get a time lapse. Would he fire a rifle in a heavily populated area over a camera, hell no, but is it worth the hassle, not really.

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    • Steve VanSickle

      I’m also in the DC area, and I’ve had very mixed results when carrying a camera in the open. Most police have acted as though nothing is amiss (because, nothing is) but I’ve had some friction with Metro police that have asked me all sorts of stupid questions about why I’m taking pictures in a metro station. Fortunately, I’ve never been arrested or had equipment seized, but I have been “ordered” to delete all my photos. I never have, but it’s a ridiculous demand, none the less.

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  14. Steven Pellegrino

    It’s an interesting bill and I hope it passes.

    There is a lack of common sense when it comes to public photography. Not by the photographers, but by some authorities. Logic dictates that if you’re up to no good, you’re not going to be obvious about it with a DSLR and camera bag. You’re going to be subtle and use a phone. Everyone is walking around with a camera. But don’t forget that everything has already been photographed. I doubt there is a building in the world that you cannot find a photograph of. Google Maps will let you drive around it and see it from every angle, including from above.

    A while ago I saw a business card that you can hand out if you’re questioned about what you’re doing and it stated very simply – “I’m not a terrorist, I’m a photographer”.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Common sense, such a pity it’s so infrequently common practice. You make good points there Steven, that really it’s far less likely the guy with the foot long lens that’s the problem. But who knows, I’m no spy, though I wouldn’t tell you if I was. I just hope with this, and the act itself, that there comes a slightly broader population who understands the First Amendment – I’m looking right at Police with that one.

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    • Austin Swenson

      You know, I don’t understand why there is a negative connotation with photographers taking images of what’s happening around them anyway, I would say that if anything, they are helping the police document what is happening just in case they missed it. If you catch a perp when they don’t see it, you can bring that to them as evidence. How many terrorists sit there and take photos of someone else terrorizing people anyway?

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    • Stan Rogers

      On the other hand, common sense is needed on BOTH sides of the equation. I’m reminded of the recent incident in Ottawa, where journalists were busy posting police positions and movements in real time, somehow failing to recognise that what they were posting wasn’t merely documentary or news, but useful tactical intelligence (had the incident actually been a coordinated attack rather than a lone wingnut). You’d think that, after all of the “drunk posting” embarrassments that have happened over the years, people would have clued into the fact that instant isn’t always a good idea, but it seems that tech evolves faster than brains. The cops didn’t *prevent* photography in that case, but they did have to ask *several times* over the course of an hour or so that real-time posting stop as they tried to regroup.

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  15. Brandon Dewey

    Great Article!

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