< Arbitrary Restrictions on Photographers

Transcript

Friday, September 09, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So taking the long view, America did not roll back basic freedoms to the same degree as it had during earlier perilous times. It is, nevertheless, a fact that authorities, especially law enforcement, still act randomly to quash inconvenient forms of expression in the name of national security.

Case in point, a spate of recent instances of police stopping people with cameras from using them, for no apparent reason.

MORGAN MANNING:

The notion that you could enhance national security by limiting photography does not make sense.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Attorney Morgan Manning wrote about several of these cases last year. She says that a never ending war on  terror seems sufficient justification for law enforcement to insist a camera be capped.

MORGAN MANNING:

After they realized that they really don't have a sound basis for doing this, then they kind of attached just use a broad statute, you know, obstruction of justice or interfering with a police officer or a statute that’s written that could apply to anything, but was not really meant to apply to the average person taking a picture.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Take Dwane Kersik. Apparently, he likes trains.

MORGAN MANNING:

Amtrak was actually sponsoring a contest and it was called Picture Our Trains, I believe. And one individual took a picture of the train and he was stopped by a security guard hired by Amtrak and told that he was not allowed to take pictures of the train and that it was - you know, they cited to, I think, the 9/11 Law.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The 9/11 Law?

MORGAN MANNING:

[LAUGHS] The 9/11 Law [LAUGHING]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

He just made up the “9/11 Law?”

MORGAN MANNING:

Yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Dwane Kersik declined our request for an interview, but he did talk about the bizarre episode, with Stephen Colbert, back in 2009, shortly after his arrest:

[CLIP]:

DWANE KERSIK:

My intention when I went to the station that day was just to get a couple of good photos of trains that were shiny.

STEPHEN COLBERT:

Shiny! The officers leapt into action.

DWANE KERSIK:

They searched me, and they then handcuffed me to a wall for about an hour, while they figured out what they were gonna do.

STEPHEN COLBERT:

But you can feel safe, America, because Dwane Kersik was arrested!

DWANE KERSIK:

Yes, I got arrested.

STEPHEN COLBERT:

For terrorism.

DWANE KERSIK:

For trespassing.

[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

STEPHEN COLBERT:

Well, they both start with a “T.”

[LAUGHTER]END CLIP]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Emily Good noticed flashing lights in front of her house in Rochester, New York. She went outside to check it out. It was a traffic stop. She decided to record it.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You guys need something?

EMILY GOOD:

I’m just – this is my front yard, and I’m just recording what you’re doing. It’s my right.

MALE OLICE OFFICER:

Actually, not from the sidewalk. 

EMILY GOOD:

This is my yard.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The police officer told Good he doesn’t feel safe with her standing behind him, although he doesn’t explain why. The confrontation begins to escalate.

EMILY GOOD:

All I have is the camera. I’m clearly wearing nothing. I have no weapons.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

It does not matter what – you’re, you’re not listening to our orders right now. We don’t feel safe with you standing behind us. You’re not moving even a foot further back. You’re gonna be – you’re gonna be –

[OVERTALK]

EMILY GOOD:

Do you want me to move a foot further back?

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You’re gonna be under arrest. We already warned you.

EMILY GOOD:

I will move a foot further back –

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

She says, I’m going to back up, and the police officer says:

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You're gonna go to jail. That’s just not right.

FEMALE POLICE OFFICER:

We’re just calling –

POLICE OFFICER:

No, no, no, stay right here.

[OVERTALK]

Stay right here.

EMILY GOOD:

I’m sorry.

[VOICES IN BACKGROUND]

[BREAKING UP] I’m – I’m – I’m asking them what – I mean, I’m observing what they’re doing and they’re arresting me – I don’t understand what is going on!

[OVERTALK]

I did nothing – I did nothing!

MORGAN MANNING:

Once you’re told to stop, and if it’s any kind of a dispute between the officer and the individual, the officer charges you with obstruction of justice, it’s his word against you; it’s a factual issue.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Good was charged with obstruction of governmental administration, but the charges were dropped in July. Morgan Manning:

MORGAN MANNING:

At that point, even if the charges are dismissed, I mean, she's gone through the hassle and, and expense and time of litigation. Things like that are not supposed to happen.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Surely you've run across some cases where you thought, okay, the police officer had a reasonable right to be suspicious and to stop the photography.

MORGAN MANNING:

I've run across cases where the police officers had reason to clear the area. But, to tell you the truth, it's not a very reasonable conclusion that someone who is taking pictures poses a national security threat.

And, and, furthermore, all of these national exhibits, etc., photographs of them are available on the Internet, widespread. Google Earth, for example, shows you [LAUGHS] pretty much any angle of anything that you would - you would like to see.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Of course, the police are entitled to prevent needless risk to themselves when performing their duties. But just last month the chief of police in Long Beach, California said that, according to his department’s policy, police officers may detain photographers who are taking pictures with, quote, “no apparent aesthetic value.”

Meanwhile, last month the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Constitution protects the right to videotape a police officer while they’re on duty.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

The tug of war between security and the First Amendment is everlasting.