Shortly after 9/11 I was working with a small crew shooting an advertisement for Microsoft Mobile on a street corner in downtown Seattle directly across from the Federal Building. Within minutes of breaking out a couple large reflectors and clicking away a few frames, two armed officers came over and shut down our operation saying “you can’t photograph federal buildings”. I assured them the building was not the subject of the image. Nonetheless they shut us down. And in the many years since 9/11, we’ve of course seen and heard numerous incidents/reports/cases of cops unjustly and illegally harassing photographers for similar stuff.
Although this approach was systematically the standard for almost a decade, that treatment was officially laid to rest between August and October 2010 with a settlement between the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Feds that stated it was okay to photograph Federal Courthouse buildings. TODAY however, the NYTimes Lens Blog reports that the NYCLU has received a redacted and updated version of the directive that was sent to all law enforcement agencies nationwide indicating that it is officially legit to photograph ANY AND ALL exteriors of federal buildings from “publicly accessible spaces such as streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas.”
I encourage you to download and print this updated version of the directive and keep it in your camera bag in case you ever get hassled.
In addition to illustrating that you can photograph buildings from public spaces, it mandates that “absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause…officers should not seize the camera or its contents, and must be cautious not to give such ‘orders’ to a photographer to erase the contents of a camera” as this constitutes and illegal seizure or detention.
Good news for us all.
[via the NYT Lens blog]