DHS photography guidelines

Erin sez, "As part of a back-and-forth regarding the harassment of photographers at U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, I've gotten my hands on the Homeland Security Department's official guidelines for photography of federal buildings. They're lame, to say the least, but I'm pretty sure they haven't been widely shared before now."

DOT response to the ACLU regarding photo harassment (Thanks, Erin!)


  1. So to summarize:

    Federal security guards are obligated to harass people taking pictures of federal buildings on federal property, albeit in a polite manner.

    If the photographer is not on federal property, the security guards should immediately call local authorities to do said harassing.

    I’ve actually been harassed and threatened in a Boston Subway (MBTA) station, so this information is disappointing, as I previously thought I was within my rights.

  2. BuneDoggle: This has nothing to do with what your rights are or not. It’s a policy.

    Policy is not law, and organizations HAVE had policies before which “required” employees rights to be violated, or required employees to violate the rights of the general public.

    Just because it’s written down on nice letterhead doesn’t make holy writ.

  3. So, what happens if I want to take a picture of a entrance, lobby, foyer, etc because the building is interesting, or there is a pretty bird nesting on a sign, or my child is taking her first steps on the sidewalk … none of which qualifies as a ‘news purpose’.

    How long will it be before people will be restricted from even looking at a federal building for fear that they might remember some details?

  4. Just days before that priceless DHS document was issued, it was Election Day 2004, and I took a Tibetan refugee from New York to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell and to get out the vote for John Kerry. Down the street from the Liberty Bell is a famous federal building, and I took this refugee inside so we could look at the beautiful lobby and take a photo. We were chased out by the moronic guards on duty, who wouldn’t even let us look for ten seconds. “You have to get out!” they demanded, as though we were national security threats. And here we had just seen a huge photo of the Dalai Lama at the Liberty Bell, the bell itself surrounded by ridiculous “anti-terrorist” barriers. What a paradox was George Bush’s democracy! I chastised them by telling them democracy dies behind closed doors, knowing full well they didn’t give a rat’s ass.

  5. How can we push this issue? A Flickr pool of photographs of federal buildings, and another one of photographers at federal buildings being harassed by federal building security? If having a large public repository of images of federal buildings help bring light to the ridiculous nature of discouraging people from taking more pictures of them?

  6. jackasses. We need thousands of peope to walk around wearing baseball caps that have “Sekrit Kamera Inside” written on them.

  7. #10 Takuan

    I see what you mean – it could cut both ways – but they’re still in control of the footage unless they’re very stupid.

    I seem to remember Titus Alone (1959) had floating surveillance cameras as part of the plot, but it’s not in the wikipedia page.

  8. #13 Takuan

    I meant jackasses=police. I’m not sure why not thousands of unaligned jackasses with hat cameras. I’d have to think about it.

  9. In the run up to D-Day and, I believe, The raid on Dieppe in 1942, Brits were asked to provide any and all pictures involving the coastlines and other spots so as to provide intelligence.

  10. so I gathered. Re: Dieppe: free satellite imagery everywhere makes that moot. And Dieppe was a slaughter based on executive incompetence anyway.

    As has been pointed out over and over, there has not been one modern terror attack in which photography played a role.

  11. there have, on the other hand, been plenty of instances of abuse of power by corrupt officials exposed by public cameras.

  12. I like how D.6 says “professional but polite”. Shows how they conceive of their professional duties.

  13. Last year I had watched several groups of tourists take photos of the US Embassy in Manila and I was positioning myself to take some photos of the guard in front when several other guards came to take my camera. (I showed them all my pictures and as I did not take any, they let me keep it.) I called someone “inside” the Embassy (because they would not let me in) and said I was not familiar with the law that stated a US citizen could not take pictures of a taxpayer, paid-for US Embassy. I was HOT. They politely stated that that although not a law it was their request that the Embassy not be photographed for security reasons. I ask to go inside to look around. They said I could not do that unless I had business there. “What type of business?” I ask. They told me so I picked one and told them I needed to “register” with the Embassy as a visitor in the Philippines so they let me in after they repeatedly stated, “you can do it online.” I politely said, “No thank you, I am already here.” so they finally let me in the door. A few minutes later my girlfriend, a filipina, was standing outside when two jeeps full of filipino soldiers pulled up. They started talking to her and she learned they were there because some American was causing trouble. ME! After their IT guy came to fix one of the two broken computers I finally was able to register and I left. When I walked outside the soldiers soldiers called me over and pointed out where she was waiting. We talked for few minutes. I got the names and numbers of two soldiers and said I would invite them to our wedding. As we walked back by the guard he called me over and ask me if I was FBI or CIA and how I got inside after being told I could not go in. I stepped back and took his picture with the Embassy in the background and stated, “I’m not at liberty to divulge that type of information” and we left. Robert in Muskogee, Ok.

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