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Permit May Be Required For Public Photography in NYC 301

G4Cube passed us a link to a New York Times article about a troubling development in public photography rights. New York City is considering requiring a permit for photographers, film-makers, and even possibly tourists who want to shoot imagery in the Big Apple. "New rules being considered by the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance. The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment. Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers. Nevertheless, the New York Civil Liberties Union says the proposed rules, as strictly interpreted, could have that effect. The group also warns that the rules set the stage for selective and perhaps discriminatory enforcement by police."
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Permit May Be Required For Public Photography in NYC

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  • 1st Amendment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Antony-Kyre ( 807195 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:06AM (#19698465)
    Last I checked, cities cannot override 1st Amendment rights. I believe this falls under the freedom of the press.
  • Re:Absurd (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VirusEqualsVeryYes ( 981719 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:17AM (#19698501)

    the city deliberately kept the language vague, and that as a result police would have broad discretion in enforcing the rules.
    Yeah. Because that always works out so well...
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:18AM (#19698509) Journal
    Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers.

    Does the law say this?

    Is she aware that the police and the entire judiciary are obliged to enforce the law as written? A police officer would be obliged to arrest severy tourist who didn't have a permit. If it came to court, the "Julianne Cho said it was alright" defence isn't going to be a valid defence. The attitude of the courts is, and always has been "If that was their intent they would have said so", and the system is based around this prinipal.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:22AM (#19698517)
    The motivation for this proposal is the recent cases of people being arrested for filming the police. There is a serious danger that abusive officers of the Law will be caught on camera, and the best way of stopping this, is to have an excuse to confiscate the media for being potentially "unlicensed".

    This was implemented very successfully in Soviet times. The excuse was "National Security", but, of course, no secrets will be revealed by taking a photograph of a random government building (and anyone with enough skill to cause trouble there will conceal his camera anyway). In fact, what was important was to hide the truth about what goes on, and you do that by only licensing people who reveal your version of the truth.

    So much curtailing of liberty in the past 6 years, any thoughts I had that I might be paranoid about my government are now out of the window. It's obvious what's happening - and because the population is more educated and aware than 50 years ago, and because this time round it's going to be done peacefully, but with sufficient technology to make insurrection impossible, it'll just take a little longer to bring it about.
  • by kaleco ( 801384 ) <greig,marshall2&btinternet,com> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:23AM (#19698519)
    I can definitely see the danger in overzealous enforcement of this law, and as someone has already mentioned, there's a precedent for law enforcement to use any reason to curb photographic rights. If the law is properly limited, however, it could limit the nuisance caused by groups using tripods which can occupy busy public spaces for long periods of time. I can understand the motivation behind this law, even if it is a mere pretext to banning public photography in the long term.
  • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:33AM (#19698563)
    The IRS.
  • Re:1st Amendment (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tuoqui ( 1091447 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:48AM (#19698607) Journal
    They've been doing it for years. Ever since that PATRIOT Act was put into place.

    At the rate the US Government is going there wont be any First Amendment in a few years. Maybe they should have a protest in the form of a funeral for it. It might open up people's eyes instead of just running down a street chanting slogans.
  • Next up... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by speaker of the truth ( 1112181 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:53AM (#19698615)
    Next we'll require permits to for free speech in public areas for anyone whose speaking to more then one person for over 30 minutes or five people at the same time for more then 10 minutes. Beggars will be exempt as no-one pays attention to them.
  • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elemenope ( 905108 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @07:56AM (#19698625)

    What's the difference between 'self-righteous indignation' and simply 'righteous indignation'? After all, the only ways a person can really register their displeasure is with either action or speech, and both proceed from the self. How is a photographer supposed to be indignant about photography rules except through photography (or a boycott thereof)? Not everyone is an eloquent writer or public speaker (re:write to your congresscritter! and such sundry crappy advice), and it seems to me appropriate that a person act or withhold action through their medium of skill and choice. That a person is personally affronted by a rule that affects their preferred activity is no call to impugn the indignation as purely self-interested; that stems from a darkly cynical view of human nature that is both basically unsupportable by evidence and nihilistic in general. I hate nihilism; it's exhausting and yet isn't even an ethos. ;)

    NYC, being a large tourist-industrial city, *will* miss tourism dollars, esp. if other photographers/filmographers are as 'self-righteously indignant' as GP. Like many large cities with burgeoning service-oriented industry, NYC's economy relies heavily on visiting dollars.

    On a different note, I am indignant (and I dislike photography passionately) because I happen to believe that the public space should be publicly accessible in all ways that preserve the public order (and a few that don't). We all walk around with two cameras (if we are lucky) every damn day, whose resolution and video-motion capabilities are truly impressive; their only fault is a bad I/O system and a universally incompatible codec. People in public should be able to share what they see in a format that is export-friendly, and I can for myself find no good argument why that should not be so.

  • Riiiiight... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by killmenow ( 184444 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:06AM (#19698643)

    "While the permitting scheme does not distinguish between commercial and other types of filming, we anticipate that these rules will have minimal, if any, impact on tourists and recreational photographers, including those that use tripods," Ms. Cho said...
    She continued, "...unless, of course, they are dark skinned."

    But Mark W. Muschenheim, a lawyer with the city's law department, which helped draft the rules, said, "There are few instances, if any, where the casual tourist would be affected."
    He went on to say that mostly those speaking some form of Arabic would fall prey to selective enforcement. Upper and middle class white Americans needn't worry.

    The draft rules say the office could take up to 30 days to issue a permit, but Ms. Cho said she expected that most would be issued within 24 hours.
    Because the government is a bastion of efficiency.
  • Re:Absurd (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:10AM (#19698659)
    Hrmm, you guys should get some arabic looking guy with all those permits to go around trying the same thing. Better yet, maybe Brazillian or Indian just to find out if the dumbasses can even stereotype by ethnicity or just skin tones :)

    Honestly though, we need to change the 'land of the free' bit to 'land of the bureaucracy'.

    Capta was: ceases, like ceases to care, or ceases to have liberties :)
  • by xigxag ( 167441 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:11AM (#19698661)
    So basically, they grabbed this poor guy for b.s. reasons (brown-skinned plus camera = terrorist), and now they've got to come up with a whole mechanism to justify doing it again in the future.
  • Bloomberg is a nut (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:18AM (#19698689)
    The man is a total control freak and a pathetic excuse for a Republican. Glad he's running for president on an independent ticket, since no one will vote for him.
  • by rcastro0 ( 241450 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:22AM (#19698707) Homepage
    I used to say that the difference between my country
    and the United States was that here everything was
    prohibited unless expressely allowed, while in the
    US everything was allowed unless expressely prohibited.

    I guess I will soon have to revise that saying.
  • by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:25AM (#19698713)
    The first is the ole' terrorism card where we can't have people that might be terrorists casing targets and what not.

    Which leads me to wonder, when was the last time anyone of us saw terrorists with tripods?

    I mean... If you want to be a terrorist, you just strap on a vest of C4 and walk into the nearest crowd. Its not like the terrorists had to take pictures of the area first to plan their "get away" after the fact.
  • Re:Absurd (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:28AM (#19698731) Homepage

    Self-righteous indignation is fun, huh? I'm certain that NYC will *not* miss your tourism dollars.
    If NYC itself took such a haughty attitude as you do, and constantly annoyed tourists with petty bureaucratic rules, they almost certainly *would* see a drop in tourist income. Though whether tourism is a significant source of income to the city is questionable- I certainly don't know. If it's only a minor source, they might not consider it worth their while to change their stance.

    FWIW, the same could be said for the United States as a whole- I don't know whether tourism is a major enough part of the economy for them to worry about it. My understanding is that in the UK, those convicted- or even just arrested- for the most minor (e.g. traffic) offenses now require a visa to enter the US. In many cases this can mean a long journey across the UK (with one or more possible overnight stays) to a particular centre to obtain the visa. I can't remember what sort of interview- if any- is required, nor whether the granting of the visa is almost guaranteed if the offense is trivial.

    A family where one of the parents has a minor conviction for (e.g.) speeding may consider that the major inconvenience and uncertainty this throws into their holiday plans makes it worthwhile to consider going elsewhere.

    Personally, I'd just stop the convicted person from hiring a car or driving in the US, but it's their country, and if they think making it a PITA to visit for people with a couple of penalty points for speeding will improve Homeland Security, it's their decision.
  • by flar2 ( 938689 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @08:31AM (#19698747)
    I am a photographer whose specialty is urban photography. A precedent like this would kill my favourite hobby, at least in the US. It certainly violates freedom of the press, thought they will argue "just get a permit and you're fine". I would suspect that some undesirable photographers|journalists|artists would be denied permits. Right now in many cities a permit is required for other types of "artistic" activity in the streets or public spaces (ie: busking). But really, photography? It doesn't hurt anyone. You can look at Google maps or Microsoft Live and get photos of streets. There are security cameras almost everywhere. Why can't joe photographer do it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2007 @09:20AM (#19698953)
    ...need a kick in the face.

    'Nuff said.
  • by Macka ( 9388 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @09:39AM (#19699039)

    Strikes me that your lives have been so transformed by all this that in many ways they can already claim victory. Your nation is now so frightened of its own shadow that one by one your personal freedoms are being stripped away in the name of "security". And the sad thing is, you're doing it to yourselves.

  • Re:Absurd (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Just because I'm an ( 847583 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @09:40AM (#19699051)
    The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws. -Tacitus
  • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Garrett Fox ( 970174 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @09:48AM (#19699077) Homepage
    What seems to be happening is surveillance by the government, while surveillance by the people themselves is outlawed as a violation of privacy or national security. (See Brin's The Transparent Society.)
  • by m0llusk ( 789903 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @09:57AM (#19699133) Journal

    This proposal only applies to situations where cameras are in use for more than a half hour. This means that nearly all situations people have brought up as potential conflicts are unrelated to this proposal.

    Anyone who has spent much time trying to actually live or do business in NYC knows that sidewalks are often blocked either partially or fully for photography sessions. Most often this is done by advertising agencies in order to be use NYC and its crowds as a backdrop. Essentially they are making use of a public resource in order to produce private products, so this proposed regulation is yet another attempt to avoid the worst of an ongoing tragedy of the commons.

    The way this is getting blown up into a massive homeland security basic rights breach is an unfortunate demonstration of the stupid and reactive nature of the masses. Slashdot is supposed to have people actually using their heads, yet hardly anyone has actually read the proposal that stirred this up or seriously attempted to interpret what it might mean.

    The gold standard for opposition to an idea is to present a better one. Significant numbers of photographic sessions are to take place on some of the most busy streets in NYC. What is your proposal for avoiding chaos? Is asking for official notification in this way a bad way of mediating this conflict? Then what is a good way?

  • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BakaHoushi ( 786009 ) <Goss DOT Sean AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @10:10AM (#19699193) Homepage
    Don't worry. When they pass the new legislation that will allow police officers to shoot anyone they don't like on sight, they will only use it to protect us from the terrorists* lurking around every corner right now.

    This has been a message from the US Department of Fuck the Constitution.

    *Not a guarantee, if you don't like it, move to Canada you pinko commie.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2007 @10:19AM (#19699233)
    Well of course, there has to be a way of screening black, latin and middle east people!

    Because... who'll think a redneck or a white is a terrorist?
  • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BakaHoushi ( 786009 ) <Goss DOT Sean AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @10:29AM (#19699287) Homepage
    It also brings up another point.

    Why stop at cameras? Why not ban sketch pads? People sitting in the park drawing that sky scraper COULD be terrorists. Sure, they SAY they're an art student practicing drawing infrastructure, but better safe than sorry, right? Come to think of it, you can draw on anything. We better ban paper. Wait, You can still draw on your skin. We need to ban pens and pencils.

    Of course, cell-phones can transmit sounds from far away. Terrorists could be describing locations from up close to people far away to sketch. Good-bye phones. Especially since so many have hidden cameras in them.

    Of course, cops and all other law enforcement agents will have cam-corders on at all times, especially when giving your house a surprise inspection, or questioning you for "looking suspicious."

    Say, all that makes you NOT want to visit NYC? Well, I'd say that's mighty suspicious. Since when were YOU a terrorist sympathizer?

    Honestly, this bullshit has got to stop. We need to put our collective foot down and say "Enough is enough." We need to:
    1. Locate the nearest wall
    2. Locate local politicians
    3. Places 2. againt 1.
    4. Let the revolution begin
  • Re:Absurd (Score:3, Insightful)

    by insignificant_wrangl ( 1060444 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:17AM (#19699565) Journal

    This has been a message from the US Department of Fuck the Constitution.

    Awesome. Wish I had mod points. Hopefully the Supreme Court will remain sane and strike this down right quick. Otherwise I can see a lot of college photography students getting selectively harassed ...I mean investigated... in the future...

  • by Roblimo ( 357 ) Works for SourceForge on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:20AM (#19699589) Homepage Journal
    My primary video camera is a Sony A1U, usually mounted on a Manfrotto tripod with fluid head. This is obviously "professional" gear. If I whip that sucker out, with or without tripod, nearby cops in big cities tend to freak.

    If I haul out my little Panasonic "grandpa and the grandkids" handheld camcorder, nobody ever says a word to me.

    My next cam purchase will probably be a Canon HV20 -- it does HD and gives pretty good quality in any rational amount of light, but is small enough not to alarm The Nosies. The only problem is going to be audio.... even a shortie shotgun mic suddenly makes a cam look "professional" enough to cause suspicion.

    I recently taped some short takes at JFK airport in NYC -- not of security or anything -- and some Delta employees totally freaked out and called airport security, who told me not to take shots of security personnel but otherwise left me alone.

    Luckily, I don't live in NYC, but in Bradenton, Florida. Here and in nearby Sarasota I *routinely* tape commercial video on the streets and beaches, often with a tripod and boom mic, and nearly as often with 3 - 5 people in cast/crew, and nobody bothers me at all. Cops just ask, "Oh what are you filming?" out of ordinary curiosity, then maybe stand around to watch if they're not busy.

    Yeah, you're supposed to have a permit for most "professional film activity" here, but I've never gotten one, and I've never been hassled about permitting. Around here, even small-time professional video production is rare enough that people want to watch you do it, not keep you *from* doing it.

    - Robin
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:36AM (#19699705)
    I agree that many cops use a rather simple algorithm:

    if (skin_color != 'white') {
      suspicious = 1;
    } else {
      suspicious = 0;
    // Now just add:
    if ( holding_camera == true) {
      suspicious += 0.5;
    And use a uniformly distributed threshold in (0.4,0.6).
  • by GizmoToy ( 450886 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:53AM (#19699835) Homepage
    I think the key, though, is that groups of five or more people have only 10 minutes. The proposed law, as written, does not even require that pictures are being actively taken, only that the group is visibly in possession of one or more cameras. So here you have a situation where tour groups would undoubtedly require permits with the law as written, despite that being "unintended", which I think is debatable. It is clear they made no effort to ensure this does not apply to amateur photographers and tourists, and expect people to take them on their word that this will not be used against them.

    I assume NYC has laws prohibiting obstruction of sidewalks and traffic. Why not enforce those instead?
  • by nanosquid ( 1074949 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @12:11PM (#19699985)
    We already have, pre 9/11 even: []
  • MOD Parent DOWN (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tiananmen tank man ( 979067 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @12:52PM (#19700211)
    You ask, "What does this have to do with terrorism?" If you belive these new rules are for some other reason, please explain.

    You say these "permits" have been required long before 9-11 happened. I agree with you on that point, movie studios and other commercial filmers shouild require some type of permit.

    You say the old rules were very vague and the new rules much more specific with even the NYCLU admiting that. The following quote from the linked article seems to disagree with your statement. "Mr. Dunn suggested that the city deliberately kept the language vague, and that as a result police would have broad discretion in enforcing the rules." As interpeted by Mr. Dunn of the NYCLU, the new rules are vague and could "apply to a huge range of casual photography and filming, including tourists taking snapshots and people making short videos for YouTube."

    Terrorism accomplishs different goals for different groups of people. For the American Government, terrorism lets them (try to) make many new laws to rule the citizens with.

  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @01:47PM (#19700531)
    I think there might be fewer problems with bad laws if more of us had tripods like this [] one.
  • by Somnus ( 46089 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:06PM (#19700623)
    A freedom troll -- now I've seen everything.

    When the NSA stops conducting warrantless searches, I no longer have to pour my shampoo in cute little bottles to get through airport security, I can peaceably take photos at any public place, and I'm not toting a National ID with a bar code within 10 years, I'll grant you your point.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.