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NOT illegal to photo in NYC subways

Red Jenny , Jun 07, 2005; 01:33 p.m.

Lets be clear about something: it is NOT illegal to photograph inside the NYC subway system.

They may raise a fuss about tripods though, on the grounds that it blocks access. Otherwise, normal hand-held photography is NOT, repeat NOT illegal in the NYC subways. It NEVER was illegal either. There WAS a proposed law which would have made photography in the subway illegal, but the law was not approved.

So, if anyone -- ANYONE -- comes up to you and tells you to put your camera away, remind them of the First Amendment which gives you every darned right to photograph buildings, trains, subways, tunnels, etc. and if they say its illegal, ask them "What law says so?"


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. Kaa , Jun 07, 2005; 02:15 p.m.

The First Amendment doesn't have much to do with photography, but otherwise you are completely correct. There is no explict right to take photographs, by the way, there's only a general right to do whatever you please as long as it's not illegal.

ben conover , Jun 07, 2005; 02:15 p.m.

Response To NOT illegal to photo in NYC subways

I agree Jenny, simply because it is easier to do so.

I remember when people over there were saying how terrible it was concerning the proposed ban etc. Anyhow, if I were approached by someone telling me (in no uncertain terms) to put my camera away, I would do so, simply because it is easier to agree than to argue with people.


Mark Ci , Jun 07, 2005; 03:54 p.m.

Kaa's post is pure ignorance. The first amendment has everything to do with photography, and in fact protects the right to take photographs and otherwise document matters of public concern specifically, as pointed out in briefs by the National Press Photographers Association, the New York Civil Liberties Union and others.

Mark Ci , Jun 07, 2005; 03:57 p.m.


"In a letter to officials of MTA and NYCTA, the NYCLU cited state and federal case law which has held that taking photographs, videotaping or filming in a public place is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment."

Bob Atkins , Jun 07, 2005; 06:24 p.m.

While photography is NOT prohibited, the transit police have every right to question you if they see you taking pictures. In fact they have every right to question you if they see you doing anything that they might regard as "suspicious".

If they tell you to stop shooting and you argue, I'm guessing they have every right to ask you to leave the subway too (causing a disturbance...)

I'm not saying you don't have rights, just that there may be other statutes - which don't mention photography - which could lead you into trouble if you're looking for it.

Red Jenny , Jun 07, 2005; 10:39 p.m.

Ok, don't make me take out my law degree!

The first amendment has a lot to do with photography -- you're entitled to free expression, whether its through photography or dancing or writing. They can no more tell you to stop photographing than they can tell you to stop talking or writing. They CAN impose reasonable time-place-manner restrictions, as long as they are content neutral, so for example restricting the use of tripods is reasonable on the grounds that tripods impede traffic flow (supposedly -- open to debate IMHO. What if there's no foot traffic?)But except for inside military bases and prisons and such, I don't know of any other place where restrictions on photography in public places have any legal validity.

If someone tells you to put your camera away, ignore them. First of all, just anyone can't go around telling you what to do. If its a police officer, they can ask you for ID and in NY you legally have to produce it. You don't have to answer questions about why you're photographing something, anymore than you'd have to answer why you're writing something or thinking something or saying something, though you can choose to answer if you like. Its none of their business why you're photographing something -- in this country we don't have to give a reason for exercising our God-given rights. And there's no "disturbing the peace" in doing what you have every right to do -- I'm not saying you should throw a fit and attack the policeman, mind you. Of course the police can and probably will try to use a pretext of some sort to get you to do what they want or to arrest you, simply because they don't like to be disobeyed, but that would be illegal and you should still stand your ground because ITS ALL OF OUR RIGHTS that are being challenged, not just your rights.

And now I will share with you my recent experience:

I was photographing the NYC Police Museum building, which is located near Wall Street and downtown NYC, using my old Rolleiflex. I wasn't being surreptitious or otherwise "acting suspiciously" (whatever that means -- not that it would justify being hassled.) WHile taking a shot, I was physically standing across the street from the museum, on the sidewalk in front of a building on Water Street. I hear a voice calling me, and I turn around to see two building security guards approaching me with a swagger. The "boss" guy says "Hey you -- why are you photographing here-- show me your ID!"

Now, I have always expected this -- but funny enough, the only other time I have been confronted whilst taking photos was ONCE in Axis of Evil Iran, inside a (private) computer & electronics mall, where the mall security guy said photography was prohibited due to the threat of burglaries (reasonable enough) -- but here was this guy hassling me about photographing A PUBLIC BUILDING, FROM A PUBLIC LOCATION!

So I said that I didn't have to show him my ID, and the reason why I was taking a photograph is because the Constitution says I can since this was a public place. To which he responded that I was not standing in a public place -- in fact the "sidewalk" belonged to the building he worked in. To which I responded that there was obviously a public easement which permitted people like me to walk on that location everyday on my way back and forth from work, and so I still had every right to be there. Then the "little guy" piped up and said that the first Amendment applies to journalists, so I can't take photographs, so I rolled my eyes at him and said the first Amendment applies to EVERYONE.

Using the word "easement" threw him off -- I guess he hadn't expected legalese. So he tried the old "in these terrible times, security demands giving up some rights" routine (funny how we're always told to sacrifice our rights!) when he said "don't you care about safety of my people who are in this building" to which I responded that I cared very much, especially about their Constitutional rights, and anyway I wasn't talking a picture of his building, I was photographing a museum across the street! (I wish I had quoted Benjamin Franklin: "THose who sacrifice a little bit of their rights for a little bit of security will end up with neither") So at this point he gets mad and calls me a f--- a---- (defamation!) which then upsets me a bit so I said "Look, not only am I going to take a picture of your ugly building, I'm going to take a picture of you standing in front of your ugly building." And I did. Too bad I hadn't had the time to get the exposure right, but I think the shot will still come out relatively OK, and one of these days when I have some extra chemicals and paper I'll try to print it too.

So I got to the office, and told my office mate, and his response was "You shouldn't be confrontational" -- frankly I was dumbfounded. Since when are we supposed to not be "confrontational" when self-important security guards take it upon themselves to impose themselves on our rights?

george sanderson , Jun 07, 2005; 11:38 p.m.

You go, girl!

ben conover , Jun 08, 2005; 09:41 a.m.

Response To NOT illegal to photo in NYC subways

Hi Red Jenny,

I was confronted whilst passing thru N.Y. with my girlfriend. I found that even getting a hamburger in Mac Donalds (yuk) can be stressful, coming from an obese mutha with an attitude bigger than space: 'Step down, sir. How may I be of any assistance you today sir?' 'Jeez, can I even just buy a burger?' That kind of ludicrously formulaic attitude goes nowhere to salve my nerves or stimulate cultural diversity in a country full of guns and psychopharmacology. In fact, it is the very essence of a nightmare for me, so I left!

I think your friend in the office was right, no need to confront something that ain't gonna change or dosen't want to change. You may have a good idea of life and he law, but that is your idea, and it is not something everyone else needs to know, or 'should' know.

Look at it the other way around, if you feel so strongly about human rights (I do too) then what is he point in arguing with people who will not change, and who wil actually just make life (and photography) even more complex?


Vincent DiPietro , Jun 08, 2005; 11:06 a.m.

Dear Red Jenny, I had a similar experience last fall as I was in midtown on Madison between 46 & 47 Street. I was on the East side of the street trying to photograph the reflections in the glass building accross the street when a security person came over to me and stated "This is Bear Sterns' Street- you cannot photograph here." He kept on repeating that like a mantra and I kept on asking to see the metal plack that states that the sidewalk is privately owned. He became threatening so I went home and called 311 and was told that since I wasn't using a tripod I could photograph all I wanted especially since there was no indication that this sidewalk was private property. This 311 person stated that even if there was a plack I could likely take photographs. My feeling, aside from anger, is that these security guards are likely being watched by their superiors who are so fearful for their jobs they will hassel anyone who they think might be frowned upon by the "Big Bossman". Another observation:I have never been hasseled by any New York City policeman, in fact at the many rallys I have attended they have always been professional. On the other hand, the only times that I have been hasseled was by private security working for private companies.

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