Status Report on the War on Photography
Worth reading: Morgan Leigh Manning, “Less than Picture Perfect: The Legal Relationship between Photographers’ Rights and Law Enforcement,” Tennessee Law Review, Vol. 78, p. 105, 2010.
Abstract: Threats to national security and public safety, whether real or perceived, result in an atmosphere conducive to the abuse of civil liberties. History is littered with examples: The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the Palmer Raids during World War I, and McCarthyism in the aftermath of World War II.Unfortunately, the post-9/11 world represents no departure from this age-old trend. Evidence of post-9/11 tension between national security and civil liberties is seen in the heightened regulation of photography; scholars have labeled it the “War on Photography” – a conflict between law enforcement officials and photographers over the right to take pictures in public places. A simple Google search reveals countless incidents of overzealous law enforcement officials detaining or arresting photographers and, in many cases, confiscating their cameras and memory cards, despite the fact that these individuals were in lawful places, at lawful times, partaking in lawful activities.
This article examines the so-called War on Photography and the remedies available to those who have been unlawfully detained, arrested, or have had their property seized for taking pictures in public places or private places open to the public. It discusses recent incidents that highlight the growing infringement of photography rights and the magnitude of the harm that law enforcement officials have inflicted, paying particular attention to the themes these events have in common. It explores the existing legal framework surrounding photography rights and the federal and state remedies available to those whose rights have been violated. It examines the adequacy of each remedy including: (1) declaratory and injunctive relief, (2) Section 1983 and Bivens actions, and (3) state tort remedies. It discusses the obstacles associated with each remedy and the reasons why these obstacles are particularly hard to overcome in the context of photography. It then argues that most, if not all, of the remedies discussed are either inadequate or altogether impractical considering the costs of litigation. Lastly, this article will discuss the reasons why people should be concerned about the War on Photography and possible ways to reverse the erosion of photography rights.