Even though the Washington Post assured we had nothing to worry about regarding a policy that allows police to arrest photographers who spend more than five minutes at a single location taking pictures, the National Press Photographers Association wasn’t too convinced.
So earlier today, Mickey Osterreicher, general consul for the NPPA, sent a letter to the city’s district attorney, asking him repeal the current policy and offering to work with the city in establishing a policy that is not so vague and broad where it could subject anybody with a camera to arrest.
The policy is meant to target street photographers who prey on tourists, according to the Washington Post, which states that “as long as you don’t make a living hustling tourists for snapshots, you can snap away without keeping an eye on your watch.”
But we’ve all seen cops abuse laws in the books to harass innocent citizens with cameras.
Given the recent penchant for police to interfere with, harass and in many cases arrest photographers (i.e. D.C. Taxicab Commission meeting), the NPPA is concerned that these infringing regulations would provide the police with unbridled discretion to abridge the rights of photographers covering such events as “Occupy Wall Street” or any situation involving “photography of any person(s)” or lasting longer than five (5) minutes in any one location. Nationwide, photographers are increasingly subject to harassment by police officers, who, under color of law, cite safety and security concerns as a pretext to chill free speech and expression or to impede the ability to gather news. In that regard I would direct your attention to a recent decision by the First Circuit where the court recognized “the fundamental and virtually self-evident nature of the First Amendment’s protections” of the “right to film government officials or matters of public interest in public space.”1
It is our position that these facially defective regulations will only further contribute to the erroneous belief by law enforcement that public photography may be arbitrarily limited or curtailed. We therefore respectfully request that these regulations be repealed immediately. In the alternative, we propose to work with your office to draft revised language that would be more narrowly tailored to serve a substantial government interest as a reasonable time, place and manner restriction on commercial photography.