So it IS ok to photograph Federal buildings!

It was just about one year ago that photography activist Jerome Vorus had his Flip camera taken from him and the footage deleted, after he was “caught” taking pictures of DC’s Superior Court. (He had begun to film the US Marshals that were questioning him.)

photo by Jerome Vorus

There was never a Federal law prohibiting photography from public spaces like sidewalks, but in light of a recent lawsuit settlement by a photographer who was arrested after filming New York’s federal courthouse, Homeland Security has sent out a bulletin to federal employees clarifying the need not to disrupt people taking these types of pictures. From the document, “This Information Bulletin is being released to raise awareness of the public’s right to photograph the exterior of federally owned and leased facilities.”

But I suspect this won’t be the end of it. Officials are still allowed to question photographers, although strictly prohibited from seizing their property without due cause. Definitely an improvement but a possibly slippery slope. Which just brings us to the ever-worrisome trend of freedoms being eroded in this era of heightened security. While I realize the need for sensitivity, I just hope and wish that more time will be spent addressing legitimate threats rather than harassing citizens. In my own family, my mother, an avid boat nerd, was tailed by ┬áBorder Patrol and confronted when she took photos of the famous Sault Ste. Marie Bridge.

The Sault Ste Marie Bridge between Michigan and Canada

My brother was driving around lost in downtown DC (sounds familiar) when he was stopped for driving a box truck (his converted-ambulance tow vehicle) too close to the White House and was menacingly told not to answer his cell phone as it rang. It just erodes one’s pride in being a citizen when being treated with suspicion and sometimes hostility while basically minding their own business.Some balance must be struck between security needs and respect for a country’s people. In the words of the photographer-activist Jerome Vorus, “I believe there is a good case to be made that having lots of cameras in the hands of citizens makes us more, rather than less, safe.”

What do you think? Have you ever been shoo’d away from photographing in a public space?


8 thoughts on “So it IS ok to photograph Federal buildings!

  1. I’ve heard stories from photogs about it, but have not experienced it first hand. It occurs to me there are steadfast rules in place and for some reason nobody on either side of the issue is ever really that familiar with them. It’s always a gray area. I suppose it comes down to a power struggle. I’m going exert my authority over you by making you stop shooting pictures. My response – You can’t do that. This is America!

  2. Yiykes! How can tourist be expected to know what’s a federal building and what not? I wouldn’t, unless there was a big plaque.
    But I definitely think more pictures do make us – in a sense – safer. Less private, but safer. There were already all kinds of “wrongs” that were exposed by regular people taking pics/video.

    • Which makes me wonder how often entities are more worried about protecting themselves from exposure (rather than supposedly protecting the public).

    • I agree! Shoot- I’m a U.S Citizens and I still wouldn’t know what or what not I am allowed to take pictures of. (I think this is a bit problematic.)

  3. Well, I might not be the best person to describe my concern for this issue (because I’m not a photographer) but it does upset me. It upsets me not because of the camera safety or the clarity of this problem, but how Americans are being treated. In most cases, (I’m speaking for U.S citizens) we are proud citizens that are taking pictures of monuments and things that we proud to be apart of. If we are being chastised and harassed over this, I feel like we have the right to be offended (and should be!)

    If the government doesn’t want photos to be taken, shouldn’t we be aware of these policies? I just think its a bit wrong….. and something should be done about it!

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