Know Your Constitutional Rights as a Photographer

Photo by Raúl González on Flickr

Photo by Raúl González on Flickr

These are hard times for photographers, even in a country where freedom and liberty are our basic human rights. Amateur photographers are getting beat up for taking photos in public spaces, and even professional photographers who work for big publications are getting arrested for doing their jobs.

As with everybody else, we are governed by laws, regulations, and considerations for others that we must respect and abide by, especially if we expect the same courtesy from others. But we absolutely should know our rights as photographers in the United States, so that we know, or have at least an idea of, where we stand during delicate and tricky encounters.

While it seems that police officers (and at times, the public) are cracking down on photographers, the fact of the matter is taking pictures of things in plain sight in a public space is our constitutional right.

In an attempt to squelch the “widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply,” the American Civil Liberties Union has released a detailed list of photographer rights that will hopefully define that fine line between what we can and cannot do in complicated situations like taking photos of “federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.”

Here are some of the important ones from the list:

  • When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view.
  • When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs.
  • Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant.
  • Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.
  • Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.