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Police/Security and Rail/Aircraft Photography

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  • Police/Security and Rail/Aircraft Photography

    The following was forwarded to me and I thought it might be of interest to aircraft spotters here. It deal primarily with rail/public transit photography in the USA, but the lessons can be applied to aircraft photography as well. Apologies for the length...note the bold and italic portions.

    PTP NOTE: Harassment of transit and railway photographers by law
    enforcement personnel - lately on the pretext of "security" concerns in the
    post-Sep.11th era - is becoming of increasing concern to many public
    transportation professionals who depend on photographic images to
    enhance public understanding of mass transportation and advance
    research in technical issues. This harassment appears to be illegal, and
    an infringement of clear constitutionally protected rights, as the following
    article indicates.
    May 06, 2004


    By Leroy W. Demery, Jr., and Michael D. Setty

    A report from New Jersey suggests that measures to prevent terrorism
    include an extralegal - perhaps unlawful - policy regarding photography of
    New Jersey Transit (NJT) vehicles or facilities. Reports of harassment and
    threats of camera confiscation by police of photographers require that NJT
    management clarify its policy - and rescind any extralegal ban on
    photography. We assume that NJT does not intend to waste tax dollars
    defending itself against legal action brought by persons who have been
    subjected to such harassment.

    NJT Police Chief Joseph C. Bober, acting in concert with local law
    enforcement officials, is alleged to have established that cameras will be
    confiscated from anyone observed taking photographs of rail lines,
    according to a report received from a New Jersey-based colleague.

    This allegation is supported by recent reports of harassment by police of
    persons photographing NJT facilities including the Hudson - Bergen Light
    Rail Transit line and the new River Line. Another recent report describes
    passengers aboard a River Line train warning another to put away his
    camera lest he "get in trouble" with the police.

    NJT's alleged "crackdown" was in apparent response to the March 11,
    2004, terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain, that killed 190 people and injured
    more than 1,800. Bombs, concealed in rucksacks ("backpacks"), were
    planted aboard four Spanish National Railways (RENFE) commuter trains.
    Ten out of 13 bombs were detonated by mobile ("cellular") telephone
    during a five-minute interval as trains approached or stood at major
    stations during the morning peak period.

    Harassment of persons observed photographing rail vehicles and facilities
    is nothing new in the U.S. Trespassing on private property (e.g. railroad
    yards) is of course unlawful, but there are few restrictions on photography
    from public areas. Legal "gray areas" include certain public facilities (e.g.
    transit stations) where photography may be controlled (to insure that
    photographers do not create hazards or interfere with operations) but not

    Certain U.S. transit operators have a long history of harassing
    photographers. Perhaps most notorious is Boston's Massachusetts Bay
    Transportation Authority (MBTA); reports of harassment by MBTA
    personnel for photography from the street or sidewalk are not uncommon.
    New York City Transit (NYCT) was once a close second; a tourist from
    Iowa was once arrested for photographing his mother in a subway station
    with the "Grand Central" sign in the background.

    Such harassment intensified following the terrorist attacks of September
    11, 2001. Various reports describe police harassment of persons
    photographing other subjects, e.g. bridges. One memorable report
    described police harassment of two men observed photographing an oil
    refinery near Philadelphia, silhouetted against the sunset. (If the subject
    matter sounds "esoteric," consider that someone has published a large-
    format art book with black-and-white photos of closed European steel

    The matter of photography in public places in the U.S. brings up a number
    of issues - some of which make some people uncomfortable.

    Portland lawyer Bert Krages has written and posted online an excellent
    summary of legal issues related to photography ("The Photographer's
    Right - A Downloadable Flyer" ; he is
    also the author of "Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and
    Liabilities of Making Images"
    20/102-1238331-1616147 ).

    --In the U.S., absent specific legal prohibition (e.g. statute, ordinance),
    people are free - and legally entitled - to take photographs of whatever
    they wish when in a public place (e.g. streets, sidewalks, public parks), or
    on private property, with the owner's permission or "implied consent"

    --U.S. transit operators may "control" photography by individuals to
    prevent photographers from impeding passengers or operations, or
    creating unsafe situations. We are not lawyers, but we know of no
    "specific legal prohibition" that empowers transit agencies to prohibit
    photography. We also know of no recent reports - other than those
    pertaining to NJT - suggesting that any U.S. transit operator has
    attempted to do so.

    --Three U.S. transit operators are known to require that individuals wishing
    to take photographs obtain a permit ( ). These are Port
    Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), Massachusetts Bay Transportation
    Authority (MBTA) and Miami-Dade Transit Agency (MDTA; information
    may not be correct). The legal grounds (if any) for such requirements are
    not known to the authors. Most U.S. operators surveyed by provided very reasonable responses, such as the one
    from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA):

    "CTA Rail Service Bulletin R146-03 states: ‘Personal photographers are
    permitted on CTA property if their activity is incidental, does not pose a
    distraction to others and does not affect any customer or employee's

    --In the U.S., many people believe they can control photography of
    themselves, their property or their children by persons in public places.
    Almost the opposite is true, for privacy rights are very limited in public
    places. Anyone may be photographed without consent unless they have
    secluded themselves in a place where they have a reasonable
    expectation of privacy (e.g. rest rooms, dressing rooms, medical facilities,
    inside their homes). Law enforcement personnel may prevent access from
    areas where members of the public may impede their activities or
    endanger safety, but do not have authority to prevent photography from
    other locations (Krages).

    Journalists are well aware of the above, as are police - but police may not
    acknowledge this to anyone who does not produce press credentials.

    --Some states, including California, have enacted so-called "anti-
    paparazzi" laws to protect celebrities from intrusive photojournalists. Such
    statutes are specific to "paparazzi" type behaviors and do not apply to
    non-intrusive photography in public places.

    --Attempts to control photography of property have been rejected by the
    courts. Businesses cannot ban photography from public places on
    grounds of safeguarding "trade secrets;" anything visible from a public
    place cannot be claimed as a "trade secret" (Krages).

    Early in 2003, singer - actress Barbra Streisand filed a $50 million lawsuit
    against an amateur photographer for posting an image of her home on his
    "California Coastal Records Project" website ( ; see menu item "About the Streisand
    Lawsuit"). The photo, taken from a helicopter flying offshore, was part of a
    documentary containing nearly 13,000 images of the California coast. The
    photographer, multimillionaire Kenneth Adelman, successfully parried
    Streisand's suit, which was dismissed by the California Superior Court at
    the end of 2003. (Adelman could in theory file suit against Streisand for
    unlawful prosecution.)

    --Absent a court order, no private party has authority to confiscate film.
    Threats to use force or call law enforcement may constitute theft or
    coercion. When making an arrest, law enforcement personnel may have
    authority to confiscate film but otherwise require a court order (Krages).

    --Absent a court order, no private party has authority to confiscate
    cameras; this also applies to law-enforcement personnel unless they are
    making an arrest.

    It is unfortunate that many people in the U.S. believe that film or camera
    confiscation is okay and acquiesce meekly. Journalism students learn the
    obvious recourse: file a theft charge. "Wildcat" photography bans do not
    apply to "the media" or "press" because people who work in these
    professions know the law and have the means to make life uncomfortable
    for overzealous law-enforcement personnel.

    --A person harassed for photography in a public place has specific legal
    remedies, up to and including civil action or filing of criminal charges
    However, "standing up for your rights" is not necessarily a
    means to "win friends and influence people" in the U.S. One who does
    this tends to be labeled as a "troublemaker," or worse. We have seen
    various unfavorable commentary on Krages' elucidation of photographers'
    rights by "railfans" on bulletin boards and in letters to the editor. This does
    not surprise us. As noted above, many people do not like being told that
    they can exercise but little control over photography of themselves, their
    property, or (sore point with more than one parent) their minor children
    when in a public place.

    One aspect of the current New Jersey Transit story has the cachet of an
    urban legend. The story goes like this: under the federal "Patriot Act" of
    2001, police may impose a ban on photography at any location in the
    interest of national security, and may also confiscate cameras. If a person
    objects, they may be arrested and denied access to a lawyer.

    It would not surprise us to learn that some law-enforcement personnel
    have used such "lines" to intimidate unwary individuals. The majority of
    U.S. peace officers abide by the laws they are sworn to uphold, but a
    minority is known to resort to unethical and unlawful tactics.

    We are advised by legal sources that prohibitions on photography from
    public areas on grounds of "national security" must be 1.) issued by a
    "competent authority," 2.) be site-specific and 3.) be posted at that site.

    For example, commanders of military installations may prohibit
    photographs of specific areas, and the U.S. Department of Energy may
    prohibit photography of designated nuclear facilities (Krages).

    As stated above, we are not lawyers. That said, we find nothing in the text
    of the "Patriot Act" - or legal analysis of same - on the subject of police-
    imposed photo bans. Nor do we find anything that might grant
    "extraordinary" powers to police to confiscate cameras.
    (see for a
    summary of materials related to the "Patriot Act" available online; note the
    item "The USA Patriot Act - a sketch"). Police may seize "evidence"
    pertaining to an ongoing criminal investigation. However, absent an arrest
    and criminal prosecution, "camera confiscation" is spelled "t-h-e-f-t," plain
    and simple.

    We are, to put it mildly, extremely skeptical that any U.S. peace officer in
    his or her right mind would arrest and hold incommunicado a person
    objecting to camera confiscation. However, it is no secret that some U.S.
    law enforcement personnel routinely make threats that have no basis in
    law. Anyone who does not fit the description of "foreign terrorist" probably
    need not worry about being arrested and denied access to a lawyer.

    "Photography has not contributed to a decline in public safety or economic
    vitality in the United States. When people think back to the acts of
    terrorism that have occurred over the last forty years, none have
    depended on or even involved photography (Krages)."

    This is true of "9/11" as well as the more recent attack in Spain.

    To paraphrase a colleague, we think that it would behoove rail supporters
    - especially those based in New Jersey - to approach elected officials with
    this problem. Perhaps it is true, as U.S. Senator and Presidential
    candidate Barry Goldwater once asserted that "extremism in the defense
    of liberty is no vice." However, lawlessness in the defense against
    terrorism is no virtue.


    Briginshaw, David. "Terror Attack Calls For Cool Heads And Vigilance."
    International Railway Journal XLIV, IV (April 2004): 1.

    Krages, Bert. The Photographer's Right - A Downloadable Flyer.
    George R. Widener
    Oshkosh, WI USA
    Aircraft Photos Here
    Railroad Pictures Here

  • #2
    Good read George. I am in the process of trying to make a list of places at LAX where photography is perfectly legal..though in many case, the fact that we are on private property voids those rights. I am wondering, however, if airport property (since the airport is run by the city) is in fact public property?



    • #3
      Originally posted by Leftseat86
      I am wondering, however, if airport property (since the airport is run by the city) is in fact public property?
      I can only speak for BWI because thats where my experience lies but the airport land is public property. However the agency that runs it can have you removed. The MAA only wants people at BWI spotting from the Dorsey road park, like how at LAX they want everyone on Imperial Hill. I try to push the envelope but I really don't need the state of MD. to do anything with my license.


      • #4
        Well if they tell you to move on on PUBLIC property then that is a violation of your constitutional rights Greg. You can call them on that. I did the same while spotting from the Westchester bridge a few weeks ago. Technically if I am on the sidewalk I am on public propery thus perfectly allowed to be there.



        • #5
          Originally posted by Leftseat86
          Well if they tell you to move on on PUBLIC property then that is a violation of your constitutional rights Greg. You can call them on that. I did the same while spotting from the Westchester bridge a few weeks ago. Technically if I am on the sidewalk I am on public propery thus perfectly allowed to be there.
          I told the officer that what I was doing was perfectly legal but he said the MAA didn't want me on their public property.

          I was tempted to argue further but he had my license.


          • #6
            Could always just do what I did when I was harassed down at KMKE...get the officer's name and badge number, then contact their superiors about it. I now have a handy letter from the Sheriff in charge of KMKE that specifically states photography is allowed...
            My next step is to get something from the TSA and FAA for other airports, covering aircraft photography in general.
            George R. Widener
            Oshkosh, WI USA
            Aircraft Photos Here
            Railroad Pictures Here


            • #7
              I plan to go back to that location if the winds require, there isn't anything wrong with standing on a parking garage.


              • #8
                Now that was a post worth reading. Thanks for the post George!

                Equipment: A camera (who gives a rip about the brand?)


                • #9
                  anybody care to post the cliffs notes? I just finished finals so my brain is on summer vacation. Those be a lot of words


                  • #10
                    Glad to be of help...I found it quite interesting reading. Emu, I'd love to paraphrase it but the whole thing is really good info.
                    George R. Widener
                    Oshkosh, WI USA
                    Aircraft Photos Here
                    Railroad Pictures Here


                    • #11
                      This has to be one of the best post's ever submitted to this site. Thanks George


                      • #12
                        Possible Solution?

                        Forgive me if this has already been posted, but I think it's pertinent to this conversation. I would love to get something like this going here in the states.

                        From the BBC (

                        Plane-spotters join terror fight

                        Police and BAA are recruiting aviation enthusiasts to help fight terrorism at London's Heathrow Airport.

                        Plane-spotters will be given identity cards and a code of conduct encouraging them to report anything suspicious.

                        Scotland Yard is backing the scheme, which has been introduced by aviation enthusiasts' club LAAS International.

                        "Aviation enthusiasts are watching the activities of the airport every day and their legitimate interest can only be to our advantage," a spokesman said.

                        Ch Supt Jerry Savill, borough commander for Heathrow, said the enthusiasts might be able to recognise people outside the aviation enthusiast community whose interest in the airport was not genuine.

                        "We want to encourage everyone, but particularly those who know the workings of the airport and can therefore spot something out of the ordinary, to contact police if they believe something they see or hear is suspicious," he said.

                        Steve Dickens, airport security manager at Heathrow, said aviation enthusiasts could help keep airports secure by reporting suspicious behaviour.

                        He added: "We also want to ensure that genuine enthusiasts are still able to enjoy their hobby despite extra security measures which are introduced from time to time."

                        The code of conduct, which spotters agree to when they sign up for the card, commits them to reporting unusual activity as well as clearing up litter and keeping away from security fences.

                        David Seex, chairman of LAAS International said: "The scheme recognizes that, far from being classed as possible security risks who need to be moved on from car parks and viewing spots in and around airports, genuine aviation enthusiasts can actually play a valuable part in the battle against crime and terrorism."

                        He said the club had developed the "Aviation Enthusiasts Security Scheme" in response to a request from the authorities for a single sponsoring organisation for plane spotters.

                        But Mr Seex said the £15 card was available to all enthusiasts, whether or not they were LAAS members.

                        He said the card would help airport operators "identify the real, responsible enthusiasts".

                        "When it is launched, we intend it to have the widest circulation amongst police forces and airfield operators, first in the UK and then overseas," said Mr Seex.

                        The Metropolitan Police has also issued a series of leaflets and posters targeted at aviation enthusiasts as well as airport staff and drivers urging people to report suspicious activity to the anti-terrorist hotline or to local officers.

                        It said the campaign was part of an ongoing counter terrorism strategy and was not in response to a specific threat.

                        Ch Supt Savill said: "Police, together with BAA and airlines are working hard every day to help make the airport more secure and the groups we have targeted are in positions, through their work or leisure, which could make them invaluable to our efforts. "

                        He added: "Experience has shown us that communities defeat terrorism."

                        Click Here to view my aviation photos.


                        • #13
                          Great post,very informative. Thanks for posting.

                          "It's better to keep ones mouth shut and be thought a fool, then to open it and remove all

                          Click Here to view my aircraft photos at JetPhotos.Net!


                          • #14
                            My country hasnt gone that far yet and I hope it will stay that way.
                            Sam Rudge
                            A 5D3, some Canon lenses, the Sigma L and a flash


                            • #15
                              I can't believe that the CTA is in on this. Well if they don't have a problem, then it's ok but what about METRA?(I've seen people photograph their trains with no problems) The Chicago Police has installed one of their cameras near a traffic light over at Midway's airport terminal exit and it's near the sidewalk to the beginning of runway 22L and 22R, but I hope that they don't install them near any other spots around the airport.