A very interesting story ran earlier this week in the Baltimore Sun: The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has said it intends to sue the Maryland Transit Administration because transit police tried to stop a pair of photographers from taking pictures of trains and other transit infrastructure.
The ACLU contends that in this case photography is a protected First Amendment right. Excerpt from the story that neatly frames the issue:
The right of photographers to take pictures in public places has been a point of contention virtually since the invention of the camera. But the disputes have become more frequent — and more contentious — since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which prompted police to challenge individuals who take photos or video of public infrastructure as potential security risks.
Civil libertarians and rights advocates say police have been given no new powers to curb photography since 9/11. In many cases, they say, police are making up laws and rules on the spot and issuing orders they have no right to give.
The Maryland Transit Administration declined comment on the prospect of a lawsuit but said its media guide requests that people request permission from the agency before taking photos.
Attentive readers of The Source know why this is a relevant issue: Our “Art of Transit” posts feature photography of transit systems across the globe on a daily basis. Furthermore, I frequently encourage readers to take photos of Metro’s system because I believe it’s a creative and fun way to show readers the Metro system.
As I’ve noted before, Metro does have photography guidelines:
- Only permissible in public areas, proof of fare required in marked fare required areas (station platforms of all rail stations and the Metro Orange Line)
- No commercial photography without prior authorization and consent from Metro
- Hand held equipment only, no tripods are permitted
- No photography inside moving trains for privacy and safety reasons
- No flash photography, especially into oncoming transit vehicles (rail or bus)
- Photography must not interfere with passenger safety or movement at any time
I don’t believe these guidelines are overly burdensome. One issue briefly alluded to is the taking of photos of strangers — an issue that photographers must contend with everywhere.
On this front, I’ll say this: if you intend to publish a photo of a stranger, the courteous thing to do is ask their permission. As for the “Art of Transit,” I do consider the privacy of all transit passengers when selecting photos for The Source.
As for the larger issue of allowing photography of our transit system, I’ll say this: if I thought it compromised the safety of passengers or employees of Metro, I wouldn’t encourage it. But I believe photography is one of the great tools that humanity has to tell its own story and those who wish to do evil will do so with or without a camera.