Skip to comments.NYC sued over right to shoot video, pictures in public
Posted on 01/13/2006 12:21:45 PM PST by freepatriot32
NEW YORK The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the city yesterday, challenging restrictions on people's right to photograph public places after an award-winning filmmaker from India was blocked from videotaping near the MetLife building.
In its lawsuit, the civil rights group highlighted the plight of Rakesh Sharma, who said he was left feeling ashamed and humiliated when he was detained in May 2005 after police saw him use a hand-held video camera on a public street in midtown Manhattan.
Sharma was taping background footage for a documentary examining changes in the lives of ordinary people such as taxi drivers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He was told he needed a permit to film on city streets, then was denied one without explanation when he applied to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, the lawsuit said. It alleged his constitutional rights were violated.
It said he would like to resume filming but fears further police detention and harassment.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration letting Sharma film in public places and compensatory damages for his May encounter with police.
Gabriel Taussig, chief of the city's administrative law division, said the city had not received the lawsuit but would evaluate it thoroughly.
"Obviously, in this day and age, it's a high priority of New York City to ensure safety on its public streets," he said in a statement.
The NYCLU has received other complaints about people being harassed for taking pictures in public places, Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.
"The NYCLU is deeply concerned about what this says about the state of our democracy," she said. "The streets of Manhattan are public spaces, and the public has a right not only to be on the street but to take pictures on the street. Nobody should risk arrest to take out his camera or video camera."
The interference by police was not the first time Sharma has encountered resistance to his work.
State censors in India have banned his award-winning 2003 documentary, "Final Solution," saying it might trigger unrest. It shows the 2002 religious rioting in the western Indian state of Gujarat, which killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. The Hindu-Muslim mayhem began when a Muslim mob set ablaze a train carrying Hindu activists in Godhra, killing nearly 60 passengers.
The NYCLU lawsuit said Sharma's documentaries rely on candid footage of people, places and events, as he does not use actors, sets or crews.
It described Sharma as a conscientious, law-abiding resident of Bombay, India, who had never been arrested or detained by law enforcement officials before his New York experience.
Last May, Sharma was approached by police after he shot footage of traffic emerging from an underpass near Grand Central Terminal for about half an hour, the lawsuit said.
An officer asked him why he was filming the MetLife building, which sits atop the underpass, and he explained he was filming traffic and had only tilted his camera up to capture sunlight hitting buildings, the lawsuit said.
The officer then told him he thought it was suspicious that he was filming a "sensitive building," formerly the Pan Am building, for 30 minutes and that further investigation was necessary, the lawsuit said.
Sharma said he felt stunned and scared after he turned the camera on to show officers what his filming looked like, only to have one of them charge at him, shove him in the chest and grab the camera.
He said he felt ashamed and humiliated when he was kept on the street for about two hours as hundreds of people passed by or gathered to stare. Detectives later apologized after taking him to a police precinct, searching his camera and then returning it scratched and cracked, the lawsuit said.
Security officials have said that preparations for terrorist attacks against sizable buildings and other places may include videotaping for the purpose of studying approaches to the target.
In May 2005, New York police and transit officials abandoned a proposal to ban cameras in subways to prevent terrorism.
NYC abandons plan to ban subway photography
The ACLU is like a stopped clock, only less frequently.
I have to agree with the NYCLU...everyone should have the right to photograph in public. A camera, after all, is only an extension of the human eye. ( fellow libertarian )
there is no constitutional protection to use a camera.
why can't I legally tap domestic cell phone calls them, after all, its just an extension of my ear. the listening device simply converts the sound waves present in the air at different frequencies, to a frequency I can listen to.
Well, if the civil liberties union is agin' it, then I'm fur it!
Not really, but get ready for that kind of attitude.
The Constitutional right to take photos? Hmmm.... Well, I guess John Adams would have put it in there, if he'd known the camera would someday be invented, so it's only fair to say that it's in there, huh?
Not in the constitution, though. Probably the issue is this: Can the NY authorities find any law that was violated by photographing the building?
We still see the phrase "freedom of the press" as applying to newspapers even though they no longer use old-fashioned printing presses. The First Amendment is interpreted as protecting a general freedom of expression, which is why the city will lose this case.
What else should one expect from NYC and its "Republican" mayor? I'm actually not sure what's worse - that the government prevented this guy from filming in a public area, or that the government itself wants to be able to film every public area.
On second thought, I'm pretty sure the government filming is worse.
"Can the NY authorities find any law that was violated by photographing the building?"
If they can't, rest assured that it'll magically appear in the next 'Patriot Act'.
Well, it's electromagnetic waves, not sound -- but, yes, you should have the freedom to decode publicly emitted signals all you want, as well as taking pictures.
Good post and interesting web site. Once in a blue moon (pun intended) the ACLU is right it seems.
Those cameras the British govt. has on London street corners and in the Underground, etc. -- there's been talk of setting up a similar system here. Couldn't you sue and say the state or city was invading your privacy or whatever? Just a thought.
Don't you need a permit of some type to ply a trade as a visitor to the US?
only if they aim the cameras to photograph inside your house.
Love the irony! He should just incorporate his experience into the documentary, probably making it much more interesting.
there is no constitutional protection....on anything these days.
My complaint: What the hell is a V line. There is no such subway as the V -- yet they insist on putting up signs for te V line. As far as I'm concerned, the V is just a cut rate version of the F! Ban the V line!
The other thing -- I don't like those fancy shamncy new subway cars on the 4,5,6 line. Who are they trying to impress, tourists?
oh yeah, bump...
John Adams didn't have to specifically name the camera as something the people have a right to use because the constitution doesn't restrict the citizens it restricts what the government can and cannot do and one of the things the government cant do is stop someone from using a camera on city streets because the government doesn't like it
Do you agree with the mayor using the police force to go into every office building in new york and fine any company that has ashtrays in thier office building for providing tobacco paraphernalia?Or do you think that is unconstitutional even though owning an ashtray is not specifically named in those words as something the american people can own?
yes there is, but let's not be guilty of what the left is - saying that some abstract "privacy" right covers a whole bunch of things it doesn't cover.
where does the constitution say the government can't stop someone from photographing a sensitive location, even if its done from a public street? you are interpreting "freedom of expression" much too broadly. can you walk nude down the street? that is certainly more an act of freedom of expression that photography is.
Where in the Constitution does it guaranty the right to own tobacco paraphenalia? If the legislature can identify a rational basis for regulating tobacco paraphenalia, it can do so, just as it can Constitutionally regulate the sale of virtually anything else. It's not the Constitution that protects you from that. It's the ballot box. If your rep votes to ban the sale of something you want to buy, then you vote against him.
They closed down the 2nd Ave Deli....
I know. it will relocate someplace else, I am sure of it.
I just want to complain. I need to practice for when I'm an old man sitting in the park.
I also don't like the fact that the Coliseum bookstore moved over to 42nd street or they closed the first floor bathroom in the Strand. I saw William Styron go in and use that bathroom. It was a landmark!
I have been stopped from photgraphing food displayed at a buffett in las vegas for similar reasons. not by the government of course, since I was inside a privately owned space, so its not a constitutional issue. I imagine the same applies when inside a mall.
Actually, you can. It's the government that can't. Back when there was only analogue cell phones a lot of people listened to conversations using commercial scanners. Now, you can't pick up phone conversations without very special equipment not commercially available.
on US soil, he has the same rights (the legitimate ones) as everyone else (so long as he isn't an agent of a foreign power doing harm to the US).
I don't know what the rules are now, but in Washington DC it used to be that without a permit you could not use a tripod to photograph any federal monuments or buildings. This was to prevent anyone from exploiting those buildings for commercial purposes. The idea being that professionals would need to use a tripod. Obviously, because of tourism DC can't stop people from shooting film or still pictures of anything in DC and it would seem to me they are a more likely target of terrorists than most buildings in NY.
I don't believe you can legally tap cell phone calls, even as a private citizen.
At one time this would be considered a local matter, one that the local citizens would decide upon.
Those days are gone, but please do not confuse the restrictions placed on the Federal Government with restrictions on the state goverments. The Federal Government should have little control over the what happens in the States. This concept is paid lip service when the Federal Government is forced to bribe the states to pass certain laws.
Actually, you are right. Back when cell phones were analogue you could because already available commercial equipment was out there which could do it passively. They have since passed laws making it illegal to do so, even if you have the right equipment.
The relevant constitution amendments to this case were incorporated to apply to state and local governments by the 14th amendment.
I know that many freepers feel that the SCOTUS was in error in those incorporation decisions, but the fact of the matter is that it until those decisions are overturned by another SCOTUS ruling or by constitutional amendment the incorporation decisions are binding law - like it or not.
Nothing in NYC should change. Everything should stay exactly the way it was...
Somewhere in the 19th or early 20th century, the courts decided several absurdities.
First, that the U.S. did (or even could) adopt a constitution that applied to everyone in the world.
Second, that it applies to casual tourists in transit or even enemy agents illegally here!
Hmm, I too am a (semi-) professional photographer, and I never really thought about this.
Fortunately what I mainly specialize in is remote, lonely landscapes, and the only serious cityscapes and buildings I have done are in Las Vegas and my home town.
It has always been my belief that as long as you are on public property you have a right to photograph anything (of course under many situations you need to get a model release from identifiable people in your shot if for publication).
But to a terrorist, so many things that millions of people have photographed for years may be a 'strategic' target.... Hmm, A thorny issue indeed. I can see where New York City might want to be 'better safe than sorry'... And maybe require a permit for anything but the most casual 'tourist snapshots'.
But I guess I say let them take pictures... And if they are taking photos in a manner that leads one to suspect that they are doing surveillance or planning something nasty, THEN haul them in for questioning.
As to the broader question of 'Constitutionsl Rights' for foreigners I'm a little less generous. As far as I'm concerned, anyone here illegally have NO constitutional rights... They should be treated humanely and sent back where they came from within 24 hours.
And maybe we (Congress) should codify precisely the 'constitutionsl rights' of legal visitors. I don't believe that merely setting foot on American soil should give one the full rights of a citizen.
"The Court is most vulnerable and comes nearest to illegitimacy when it deals with judge-made constitutional law having little or no cognizable roots in the language or design of the Constitution."--Justice Byron R. White
"In a constitutional democracy the moral content of law must be given by the morality of the framer or legislator, never by the morality of the judge." --Judge Robert Bork
"Judges who take the law into their own hands, who make up constitutional 'rights' in order to strike down laws they oppose, undermine the people's right to have their values shape public policy and define the culture."--Senator Orrin Hatch
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