NYPD's enforcement of non-existent subway photo-ban costing taxpayers a fortune in lawsuits

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47 Responses to “NYPD's enforcement of non-existent subway photo-ban costing taxpayers a fortune in lawsuits”

  1. xaxa says:

    I’ve taken lots of pictures in London and never been stopped (it’s a lot rarer than BB would suggest…), but if I was ever stopped and asked to delete them, I’d refuse, and explain that if I’ve broken the law you’ll need the photos as evidence.

    Maybe I’ll go to the American Embassy at the weekend :-).

  2. Anonymous says:

    Everyone knows that all of the 9/11 hijackers went to the WTC and took pictures of it so they would know how to identify the WTC. They did this because there are no pictures of the WTC available on the internet in 2001 and digital cameras were very expensive.

    They also photographed the Pentagon as well as a filed out in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. They were ALLOWED to take these pictures unimpeded!

    Makes me sooo ANGRY!

  3. Anonymous says:

    what if they were confronted with film, gasp shock shock.

    (coming from a photographer, who is sick of the digital)

  4. Cementalicious says:

    Dear Boing Boing,
    Would it be too much to ask for you to actually credit the source of the “story” you are referring to? It was written by a reporter at The New York Times, which spends a lot of money (about 200 million dollars annually, from what I’ve read) on news gathering. It didn’t just appear out of nowhere.
    I realize that if readers click on the link, they’ll be directed to the paper’s web site. But not everyone will do that, and anyway, shouldn’t you really give credit where credit is due?
    Or maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

  5. zikzak says:

    @cementalicious: I think a link can be considered giving credit. In fact, I’d rather have a link than a non-linked explicit acknowledgment.

  6. brandon says:

    So Cory, concerning your post earlier about how I’m going to survive this economic collapse? I just found a great 4-step plan to make money, and I know ALL 4 steps.

    1) Go to New York.

    2) Take pictures.

    3) Get arrested.

    4) PROFIT.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is truly laughable. Banning photography for the slight chance the a person with malicious intentions will use that photography for reconnaissance (prior to launching some sort of attack) is an unneeded collective punishment. What about people with photographic memory (an extreme example being the savant Stephen Wiltshire…there are videos of him drawing entire cities from memory on YouTube). Are they going to begin evaluating peoples memory capabilities prior to allowing them entrance to the subway?

    Could you imagine the police stopping you and saying, “Sir…staring is not allowed…if you stare in one direction for too long we will assume you are memorizing the layout in preparation for an attack…and arrest you.”

  8. urbanspaceman says:

    @stragefriend – I like your approach! Not entirely sure it’ll work as you’ve described, but I still like it!

  9. Man On Pink Corner says:

    #10:

    Hopefully, now that less paranoid minds are running this country, more sensible ideas about how to deal with such situations will begin to be disseminated.

    More sensible ideas such as using the million-name No-Fly List to determine who can buy a gun?

    I don’t know how much more Hope and Change this country can take.

  10. strangefriend says:

    If a cop or security guard tries to stop you from snapping a picture & uses 9/11 as the justification, look contemptuous & say “9/11 never happened. It was all faked by ‘the government’ to hide the fact that (World Trade Center was never built/ aliens stole the WTC/ WTC had to be blown up because all the employees turned into Zombies on 9/11/ etc).
    Walk away with dignity as they stare in disbelief.

  11. Cementalicious says:

    @zikzak: Why not both? It’s not THAT many extra keystrokes, after all.
    Obviously it’s not a huge deal, but I was struck in reading Boing-Boing today that most of the posts credited the source (LiveScience, Fortean Times, etc.) but this one didn’t.

  12. colonel gentleman says:

    #5,

    I’ll be in trouble if an officer ever detains me due to “probably cause”, I won’t be able to stop laughing.

  13. bhorn says:

    Hopefully, now that less paranoid minds are running this country, more sensible ideas about how to deal with such situations will begin to be disseminated. We need statements and discussions coming from the top about what measures are actually effective in protecting our country while still ensuring our citizens’ constitutional rights.

    Have their been any proven cases where photographs from easily accessed public venues have been a major factor in planning a terrorist act?

    Is it a significant enough risk to consider taking away those rights?

    We also need a re-affirmation from our leaders that this is a country run by the rule of law. That all people are required to follow those laws and you can’t just make up new laws out of thin air and apply them to certain people because you want to.

    Police, security guards and others take their direction from what they see their leaders doing.

    Yes it is great that individuals stand up for their rights when they are persecuted under non-existent laws but really they shouldn’t have to. The police should know very clearly what the laws are that they are supposed to enforce and that they are not allowed to enforce laws which don’t exist.

  14. Pipenta says:

    There’s a solution in the works folks, and it comes from within the system!

    The economy continues to collapse. No one has the money to buy new electronics. These newfangled electronic cameras, as lovely as they are, don’t have the lifespan of a sturdy old film SLR. They die once their hamster-short lifespans are spent. No one buys film cameras then because no one has the money and the climate has gone to shit, so everybody is starving and freezing or frying, and they’re all eating each other anyway. So nobody is out in the open taking pictures because they’d be lunch!

    See? All the photographic problems will be solved. And it’s brought to you courtesy of the same great minds that profit from the sale of the electronics which you are forbidden to use: our corporate overlords!

    It’s tidy, so tidy.

  15. mdh says:

    The only real solution to this problem is to throw out all the laws and start from scratch.

    I believe Thomas Jefferson said just about that same thing.

  16. mdh says:

    ahem.

    Tomas Jefferson said that said thing should be done to OUR laws about every 20 years or so.

    (a clarification, because, of course, he said the same thing to the British)

  17. bondjamesbond says:

    November 28th, 1963, I was a middle school student with a penchant for photography, living in a small town in Michigan.

    The week had already been a bit surreal, what with the events of the 22nd, we were all still reeling with the ramifications of that act.

    I took the day to sort out my thoughts, and, with my camera in hand was wandering through our small town, taking pictures. I believe that, in the back of my mind, there was a thought that I would someday want to revisit the way the world looked, I knew it would never be the same.

    I had burned through a couple of rolls of film on the old Argus brick that I had obtained a couple of years before, it still worked fine, it still works today, I get better pictures from that old 35mm than I do from a new Nikon digital slr, but that’s another story.

    Our town had a city hall that dated back to the 1800′s, wonderful old stone building, two stories. I was spending a few minutes with the camera taking close-ups of corners and sills, carved and ornate.

    I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to see one of the local police officers, one hand on his gun… (“damn” I thought, what is THIS about!)

    “What are you up to son?”

    Being well aware of the imbalance of power, I stood tall and said “Taking pictures, sir.”

    “Pictures of what?”

    “The building, sir.”

    “Come with me,” he said, “and turned me around towards the entrance to the police station/jail.

    I had no idea what the problem was, I had never been in any significant trouble.

    The holding cell was 10×10, I was not the only resident, there was some drunk in the corner, dead to the world, smelling like last weeks garbage.

    5 hours later the officer returned and dragged me in front of the magistrate.

    “Espionage”, he said, “plain and simple. The world ain’t what it used to be, we’ve got to be careful!”

    There was no acronym for “WTF” back then, so I just said the words.

    “Shut up, kid”, the officer said.

    “Espionage” the magistrate repeated, he liked the sound of those words.

    “I’m 15 years old!” I said!

    “Shut up, kid.”

    This went on for about two hours, my parents were called, they called a lawyer, the lawyer showed up (his office was next door). Threats were exchanged, names were dropped..and, eventually I was sent out the front door….

    Things haven’t changed much.

  18. KnowitallguyfromGizmodo says:

    Many good points made here.

    There is nothing more un-American than this crap. What amazes me is the verve and joy with which cops and especially renta-cops go after photogs.

    People with cell phone cameras get ignored. It’s people with real camera’s that get the harassment.

    Nazi bastards.

  19. angusm says:

    It’s the old “You may beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.” If the threat of arrest doesn’t make you back down, they’ll arrest you and pile on as many charges as possible in the hope that something sticks. The psychology of (some) individual cops means that they’re unlikely to back down if someone tells them they’re wrong; the nature of the police force as an institution means that they will drag the matter out for as long as possible, until a lawyer tells them that they don’t have a case and that they have to settle up.

    If you are sure of your rights and can stick it out, you may eventually collect, but they’ll go out of their way to make the whole thing as unpleasant as possible for you.

    As it’s ultimately the taxpayer who has to foot the bill, there’s not a lot of incentive for them to fix the system.

  20. flytch says:

    Don’t these morons realize that if your a “real” terrorist you’ll simply use a hidden video camera? Spy gear is cheap and the high quality photos are very easy…

    What we need is someone to imbed a video camera in a cane and take tons of photos of the cops and then post them anonymously on a blog… show them that anyone holding a camera in plain sight is not a terrorist…

    Of course the other side of this is that they know what is coming… I guess getting the ovens ready does that to a person…

  21. Anonymous says:

    Creating a new legal system isn’t a reasonable course of action. You might imagine it would be, but that is exactly what Napoleon attempted to do, and what has led to a terrible system that the French (via Jacques Chirac and now Sarkozy) are testing the waters about changing. The rules that are created are not rational in that you can’t think of every situation and write a perfect law, and similarly you can’t generate a set of perfect laws, or even get agreement about how many there should be, let alone the plain old content. The difference between civil law and common law (French and British traditions, resp.) have been blamed for lower growth rates in French colonies even. It just doesn’t work.

  22. AGC says:

    Can someone prove to me that we won against the USSR.

    No pictures in public.
    Debt.
    Public money to fund banks, farming, auto production, arts.
    An election system that is not transparent.

  23. Oren Beck says:

    There is a demarcation between reasonable and unreasonable. That’s why we use those literal terms. The true answer in these cases lies in who is made answerable for abuses. Not a punishment of the taxpayers in fines against “the State” The person who has become a wrong-doer is that officer. We hold certain persons in a free society to a higher standard of conduct. A sworn officer is in that category. Thus it becomes a rather clear to me situation. Either these officers are guilty of not being competent or are willfully making a bad choice. They have a choice to either learn and follow the defined in law rules or be removed.

    Oh, there is a very dark and grim probability that these actions are being directed from above as “reality manipulation” but we all know such things never could happen in a free society….

  24. Narual says:

    Ferris: “You honest men are such a problem and such a headache. But we knew you’d slip sooner or later…this is just what we wanted.”

    Rearden: “You seem to be pleased about it.”

    Ferris: “Don’t I have good reason to be?”

    Rearden: “But, after all, I did break one of your laws.”

    Ferris: “Well, what do you think they’re there for?”

    Ferris: “Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed? We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

    …not sure why, but the additional charges levied reminded me of that.

  25. dculberson says:

    AGC, we don’t give the rabble free health care. That’s our triumph!

  26. deejayqueue says:

    @35: “if you are a photographer and want to use a (recognizable) photo of someone else you need to have their release to do so.

    Umm… no you don’t. If that person is in a public place, in public view, they have no expectation of privacy, and you are free to snap as many pictures of them as you want. You can walk around all day taking pictures of people on sidewalks and park benches and never have to fill out a single release form.

    The line here gets blurry when you decide what gets done with the photo. If you’re selling it as “person on street” or “group on street” it doesn’t matter who the people were, it’s just a candid shot. However, if you’re selling “fascinating woman with piercing blue eyes in Central Park” then it IS about the person, and you probably ought to credit the subject. In that case, you’d probably already have had a conversation with them anyway and have their permission to take their photo.

    Basically, as long as you’re IN a public place, taking pictures OF a public place, you’re ok.

  27. zuzu says:

    “They were citing 9/11,”

    “They were citing the Reichstag Fire.” oh, wait… :p

  28. HeruRaHa says:

    We need to start requiring individual officers to maintain a sort of malpractice insurance. There’s only one thing that irks me more than uppity, self-righteous pigs who abuse their authority — my city/state having to shell out *MILLIONS* of dollars because Deputy Doughnut has never heard of YouTube, and feels like clotheslining a 14 year old for skateboarding.

    I didn’t hire this idiot, I didn’t authorize him to use excessive force for personal pleasure, and I certainly didn’t authorize the multi-million dollar payouts that ensue. Let them pay for their own stupidity. We require doctors to maintain malpractice insurance, and most of them don’t carry firearms like a second dick.

  29. dballing says:

    This sort of thing gives me hope.

    That there are still Americans who are like “Oh yeah? You think so… make the arrest and we’ll see who’s laughing at the end!”

    Too many have become sheep, and it’s reassuring to know that there are at least SOME people out there standing up for themselves and defying “non-existent authority” so to speak.

  30. coffeemoon says:

    @DBalling
    You’re right, and you’re lucky. In the US this is an option, here in the UK, standing up against the police (not matter if you’re found innocent) will cost you a lifetime entry in the national DNA and fingerprint database.
    It would be better in both countries though, if the police where educated enough about their limits, and the legal system had the balls to deal with misconduct in no uncertain terms.

  31. thebassguy says:

    there’s NO WAY this situation’s gonna change, I think. Even doormen are threatening to call the cops if someone takes a photo of a shadow on the outside of a building!

    I think something SHOULD be done, but here in Amerika we don’t dare stand up for our 1st ammendment rights because of, well, 9/11, duh!

    Our country is evidently ruled by idiots and bullies. And now Tourist (with camera) equals Terrorist (with camera).

    Even the USSR was less restrictive, I think.
    UK is worse than USA I hear.

  32. spazzm says:

    How is taking pictures of people in a public space and posting them on Flickr different from recording CCTV images of people in a public space and posting them in a database?

    The best answer I’ve seen so far is that “CCTV cameras are creepy”, which is a subjective judgement, not an objective reason why one should be legal and the other not.

  33. wills7577 says:

    Last spring, I took a photo of the US Embassy in Paris (just the exterior). I was rushed by guards and told that if I did not delete the photo, I would be taken into custody.
    No one batted an eye when I took a picture of the Élysée Palace earlier that evening.

  34. dculberson says:

    Zuzu, that’s a very chilling parallel. Very.

  35. HeruRaHa says:

    Hey BassGuy,

    The situation will change when We, The People start demanding that it changes. You ever hear the saying, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people he didn’t exist?”

    Well, the greatest trick government has ever pulled is convincing its citizens that they are powerless.

  36. kox says:

    I was out in Jersey last year making some large format photographs. The first day, I was just framing up a shot, focusing cloth over my head, when a black SUV pulls up in front of me, blocking the shot. “What are you doing,” asks the cop.

    Uh, taking a photo.

    “You can’t do that here, this is port authority land.”

    How come?

    Sure enough! “9/11″.

    So I packed it up and went elsewhere. The following day, I’d just shot this – http://redirx.com/?sque – when three private security cars pulled up rather dramatically. Same story: what are you doing, you can’t photograph here, we have to take your film.

    I don’t know if it comes across when you read about these situations, but when guys with guns stop you and start talking about 9/11, it gets the adrenaline going pretty good. But I stood my ground and politely told them that they weren’t police, that I was on public property, and that they couldn’t have my film.

    So they told me they’d have to arrest me, which might have even raised a chuckle, and I reiterated that as private employees they had no right to do that either – but that I would gladly wait with them, if they wanted to call the police.

    Eventually they settled for taking one of my polaroid tests with my name and address written on the back, and I said to the guy, you seem like a good guy; doesn’t it concern you that a lot of the freedoms that made this country great are being eroded?

    Yeah, he said, it sucks for honest guys like you and me, but it stops the terrorists.

    I had to leave it at that.

  37. adamnvillani says:

    For what it’s worth, I work at L.A. City Hall, and tourists take pictures of the building all the time. I’ve never seen one harassed for it.

  38. KeithIrwin says:

    One of my friends was on the NYC subway when he heard the conductor announce that photography was prohibited. He emailed the MTA to see if they had really banned it. They affirmed that they have not. He wrote about the whole thing here:
    http://www.telescreen.org/2008/12/photography-prohibited-by-mta.html

  39. SteveKiwi says:

    I spent the weekend on my first ever trip to NYC. Saturday night, standing in Times Square, taking pics of everything I could see, at one point I realized I had just taken a photo of a sign with three cops standing in front of it, and had a momentary chill as one of them glanced in my direction.

    Reading Boing Boing made me paranoid.

  40. Apreche says:

    One of the biggest things eroding our rights in the US is overlegislation.

    Sure, you are protected from unwarranted searches and seizures. The police can’t do anything to you without probably cause.

    All that doesn’t matter because there is always probable cause. There are so many laws on the books, that no matter what you do, you are doing something illegal.

    Notice how the police in the article came up with the unreasonable noise and blocking traffic charges? The same thing happens in traffic stops. Got pulled over for speeding when you weren’t? That’s fine, they’ll find something wrong with your car. Worse yet, they might claim you were driving erratically, or come up with some other subjective accusation. Then when you go to court, it’s your word against the officer’s on whether or not you were speaking in a loud voice.

    The only real solution to this problem is to throw out all the laws and start from scratch. Either that, or change the law to make room for common sense. In other words, it isn’t going to happen.

  41. amuderick says:

    You mean that useless and idiotic feel-good security measures have a ‘cost’? I was told that everything in life is free and that nothing is more important than keeping us safe.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Glad I wasn’t arrested in September for taking pictures in the Subway. Clearly snapping a photo of my wife while we waited was a serious threat to national security.

    Do the NY city police realize how bad of a reputation they have and how many people it may scare off from visiting an incredible city? (I should note that every officer we met was polite as was just about everbody we met in NYC)

  43. jjasper says:

    Apreche – How is it that “real solutions” like this always seem to involve unrealistic things like convincing the population of the US to scrap the current legal code? Oh, and does your definition of “common sense” seem to be embedded in the other impossible solution?

  44. Oren Beck says:

    Perception is reality. Manipulate perception and? Saying a thing might not make it so.Said enough times it does make it become perceived to be. And from that one more nibble gets taken out of freedom. Eventually, when someone comes forward with hard provable evidence that reality is different from the manipulated perceptions we have been fed? The perception has an inertia of sorts rendering truth sort of less important to the hoodwinked.

    Of course such things like announcements of willfully false information or police arresting photographers are all fabrications from those who would lie to us. As our authorities never lie -right-?

  45. funkfunkfunction says:

    @34: if you are a photographer and want to use a (recognizable) photo of someone else you need to have their release to do so. CCTV is institutional surveillance that asks for no such permission and could be used to inhibit an individuals freedoms. Frankly given the multitude of bureucratic injustices perpetrated against citizens I would prefer they did not have us surveilled indiscriminately.

  46. ill lich says:

    Yeah. . . “citing 9-11″, what’s that supposed to mean?

    “I’m sorry, sir, I’m going to have to shoot you in the face, you know, because of 9-11!”

    “Oh, of course officer, I understand, fire away.”

    The fact that they’re “citing 9-11″ and not an actual law of some kind is almost a joke. Almost. Of course cops can get away with it– it’s your word against a cop’s word in court, and they can make things up to suit their needs: “The second was for disorderly conduct, which consisted of addressing the officers in an “unreasonable voice.” (Unreasonable? By who’s standards? I guess it falls under section 7-f, “pointing out the ignorance of a police officer”).

  47. bhorn says:

    Hopefully, now that less paranoid minds are running this country, more sensible ideas about how to deal with such situations will begin to be disseminated. We need statements and discussions coming from the top about what measures are actually effective in protecting our country while still ensuring our citizens’ constitutional rights.

    Have their been any proven cases where photographs from easily accessed public venues have been a major factor in planning a terrorist act?

    Is it a significant enough risk to consider taking away those rights?

    We also need a re-affirmation from our leaders that this is a country run by the rule of law. That all people are required to follow those laws and you can’t just make up new laws out of thin air and apply them to certain people because you want to.

    Police, security guards and others take their direction from what they see their leaders doing.

    Yes it is great that individuals stand up for their rights when they are persecuted under non-existent laws but really they shouldn’t have to. The police should know very clearly what the laws are that they are supposed to enforce and that they are not allowed to enforce laws which don’t exist.

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