(NOTE: This article is intended for photographers in the United States.)
One of the saddest things to happen in the last decade has been the war on photography. It seems there has been a mindless rush to blame photographers for just about every bad thing that has ever happened in the universe. Photographers are routinely illegally harassed, and even assaulted by everyone from civilians to police. Unfair and illegal arrests have been documented across the USA. Most photographers have no idea how to fight back. I’m glad to say that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has decided to help fill that void.
The ACLU has regularly interceded on behalf of photographers who have been illegally detained and arrested by police. These interventions by the ACLU have led to settlement agreements, policy changes and money damages for photographers.
But the ACLU’s hard work is only valuable if photographers learn and assert the rights they have in this country.
So let’s start with the basics. Know your basic rights. The ACLU has a primer for you here – http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/know-your-rights-photographers.
These guidelines not only spell out your rights, but they help you know how to deal with situations where police are confronting you. The ACLU is particularly interested in photographers who have been harassed by the TSA and have a site set up to receive complaints for such harassment. Visit https://secure.aclu.org/site/SPageNavigator/TSA_Travel_Complaint to lodge travel complaints against the TSA.
Another area where the ACLU has worked diligently is that relating to the right of photographers to photograph police. Read this post – http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/you-have-every-right-photograph-cop. While the law is on our side, many cops don’t actually care about the law and will still illegally harass and detain you despite your rights. So be ready for such consequences if you decide to exercise your Constitutional rights. Making that decision is brave, correct and probably going to cost you a few hours in jail and maybe even money for an attorney. Be absolutely sure that if you DO decide to photograph police you do it from a safe distance. While you absolutely do have the Constitutional right to photograph the police, you do NOT have the right to interfere with their work. That is in fact a crime in most jurisdictions. If you decide you want to photograph police, do it from across the street, out of traffic, without disrupting either the police, pedestrians or the motoring public.
The illegal harassment, assault, detention and arrest of photographers continues across the country. This will only stop if photographers know their rights and vigorously assert them. If you feel you have been wrongfully denied your Constitutional right to practice photography, contact the ACLU immediately at ACLU.org.