In the Future, Only Governments Will Own Video Cameras

Having heard that Phoenix has been coming down hard on folks for the "crime" of photographing in public places, The Northern Muckraker went to take a look.  The Photography is Not a Crime blog has a partial transcript:

Hester: I'm free to go, correct?

Guard 1: Not yet.

Hester: Am I being detained?

Guard 1: Are you videotaping my building?

Hester: Am I free to leave?

Guard 1: You're are free to leave, go "¦  but if I catch you videotaping the building again you will be arrested by the Phoenix Police Department.

Hester: On what charge, sir?

Guard 1: On charge of "¦ we'll talk to the Phoenix Police Department about it.

Guard 2: You're not supposed to videotape any federal court building.

Hester: What law?

Guard 2: National Security Act.

Guard 1: Oklahoma City, that's why.

Guard 2: It all comes down to Homeland Security and all that.

Guard 1: If you want to talk to our Homeland Security people, we can arrange that right now and we will detain you.

He further observes that the National Security Act, passed in 1947, does not seem to have any mention of video recording.

Update:  Apparently, according to an official Houston PD statement, photographing and taping a police officer is sufficient probably cause for being charged with "assault on a police officer."

Mr. Haven admitted to verbally disagreeing with Officer Dickerson. He also admitted to photographing the police vehicle and Officer Dickerson, and taping their conversation. Under these circumstances, it is not unreasonable for Officer Dickerson to have believed that Mr. Haven's relevant actions, taken as a whole, constituted more than "speech only" [and therefore constituted sufficient probable cause for arrest]


  1. DrTorch:

    In DC there have been several incidents involving people photographing or videoing federal buildings. Not the ones w/ great architecture, but plain ol' boring office buildings.

    Here's where you're going to have to come up more than just theory. Libertarians are quick to defend individuals' rights, but they often stop short on the difficult questions.

    What is the answer here in the balance of freedoms: people's right to live in safety, and people's right to liberty.

  2. Bobby L:

    So.... DrTorch, we should just go ahead and shut down google maps because it sows pretty detailed aerial photos of DC, and all of our city centers?

    I mean, come on, is there really a legitimate threat here?

  3. DakotaSiouxCasino:

    I'll record it, later I'll post what happened.

  4. DrTorch:


    I believe that libertarianism is a great place to start a philosophy, but all too often it fails b/c it is not mature and robust enough to answer hard questions.

    You ask the question about a legitimate threat, already presupposing the answer. The first time I flew into National Airport in 1992, I discovered you fly right over the Pentagon. My thought, "Man, you could hijack this plane and fly it straight down. Does this concern the DoD? Of course who'd do that? They'd die too."

    I don't know all the real threats. When I see someone photographing a dull, bureaucratic, 1960s era office building, using a powerful telephoto lens, I do wonder what's going on. Maybe it's legit. But it does concern me. And if I worked in that office bldg, it would concern me more.

    I'm not pretending I have answers. I'm a big fan of personal liberties too, and I recognize lots of people are anxious to squash them. But, not every restriction fits that bill.

  5. Eric Hammer:

    Dr Torch, I think you make the common error of assuming that just because something could conceivably be used for evil ends, it must be forbidden.

    Your question is not even a difficult one. The answer is people only have the right to be free from real harm, and as photographing a building does not hard them, even if that photo is used later for something sinister, no rights are affected.

    If you say that the photo prepared for the act and made it possible, and therefore should be illegal, you open the door for anything to become illegal, whether it harms another or not. If taking the photo is a crime, does sending it to someone else a crime? If you post it on your blog, and some random person uses it to commit a crime, are you an accomplice?
    As you can see, things rapidly spiral out of the realm of sensibility.