Dennis Michaud, 63, is a fan of airplanes, and is one of many who have been watching them take off and land for years at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. About two years ago, the airplane watchers – called “spotters” – began receiving warnings from police officers after the Connecticut Airport Authority took control of Bradley Airport from the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
While plane spotting is a well-known hobby that includes photographing planes and recording tail numbers, the plane spotters were told:
“‘Get out of here, you’re not supposed to be photographing airplanes,’ and it got worse and worse and worse to the point where we were basically not allowed anywhere at the airport,” said Michaud.
Instead of conceding to fictitious laws, Michaud and the rest of the plane spotters went to the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut to stand up for their right to observe and record in a public space. The ACLU of Connecticut questioned the Connecticut Airport Authority as to why the plane spotters were being told by officers that their activities were illegal when the plane spotters had broken no law. Many plane spotters are pilots, and some U.S. airports have even built observation decks for them.
Facing pressure from the ACLU, the Connecticut Airport Authority responded this week with a letter that says the hobbyists can photograph in any public area of the airport. “That is a well-established constitutional right,” said David McGuire, a lawyer for the ACLU of Connecticut, according to USA Today.
“We’re happy they recognized that.” This is the third time in a week that the ACLU made the pages of PINAC, after the Pennsylvania ACLU sued Philadelphia police for arresting a photographer for recording an arrest, and the Maine ACLU sued a Portland officer for a nearly identical unlawful arrest.
However, Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon is still claiming that spotters are not allowed on the perimeter road outside the airport fence where the spotters have the best sight lines – even though it is a public space where people jog and walk all the time – because of liability and public safety concerns.
Dennis Michaud said spotters, who typically carry cameras with large lenses, are being treated differently than people who jog along the road. Similar to the Jacksonville Airport Authority which claimed that a public road outside an airport is private property and unlawfully violated a man’s First Amendment rights, the CAA has yet to learn the law: Photography Is Not A Crime.