ACLU Weighs in After Photojournalists Told to Delete Photos in Washington D.C.

ACLU Weighs in After Photojournalists Told to Delete Photos in Washington D.C.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has weighed in after several reports came from prominent news outlets that Capitol Police were blocking reporters and telling photojournalists not only to stop taking pictures, but to delete the photos.

Though it's written in the first amendment and has been reaffirmed by courts multiple times, reporters from the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and more tweeted from the Senate Gallery of being barred from access to healthcare protestors. Furthermore, when police arrested protestors, they allegedly told the reporters and photojournalists that it was a "crime scene" and thus, could not be documented, then demanded that any photos taken be deleted. Capitol Police claim that the Sergeant at Arms put out the command to delete footage due to photography being forbidden on the third floor of the Senate Wing; nonetheless, even if photography is not allowed, it is illegal to demand any images be deleted. 

The ACLU was quick to respond, asking that any reporter who thought they had their rights violated contact them and noting that police cannot delete photos without a warrant under any circumstances. The ACLU also reiterated that people "lawfully present" in public spaces have the right to photograph that space and anything happening in it. They have not yet mentioned if they plan to take further action after this incident. 

[via Common Dreams]

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37 Comments

Mokhtar Chahine's picture

When they say "People have the right" they mean "Citizens Only" ? Or Also tourists have the right ?

Robert Nurse's picture

Then the demand for "papers" would ensue to make sure a "citizen" is taking photos vs "foreigner". Either way, your images would be confiscated.

If photography is forbidden on the third wing, and people were on the third wing taking photos...

Jacques Cornell's picture

Then they can be asked to stop taking photos and to leave. They cannot legally be forced to erase whatever photos they have already made.

You missed a step. That step is that they should not have been taking photos in the first place. So, they broke the rules. I have been into the gallery many times. It is a well known rule. I believe that it is even posted. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

While your instinct to cringe before any form of powrer is shared by a large part of humanity, there is a difference between a rule and a law. The police are not supposed to act as thugs enforcing mere rules made by anybody; if a rule is violated that is a matter for a civil suit at most - in which the rule may well be found to be unreasonable. For the police to ignore this and use force to apply a mere rule is entirely unconstitutional.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I didn't miss a thing. Read my post again. If photography is "not allowed", a person can be asked to stop taking photos and to leave. They cannot legally be forced to erase whatever photos they have already made.

Double Post

Reginald Walton's picture

I can't imagine the cops went up to each journalist and made them delete their photos. I would have swapped cards in a heartbeat and none would have been the wiser. Or if they had a smartphone, just upload those pics to the cloud or back to my producers.

Robert Nurse's picture

That is, until you're on the floor twitching from being tazored. But, then again, the shock might have damaged the card anyway. So, in the end, no images.

the solution is the EyeFi cloud ( SD wifi card ) real time upload on cellphone or laptop

Robert Cooper's picture

If taking photos is illegal, and you are told to delete the images, aren't you destroying evidence, which is also illegal?

Anonymous's picture

Sorry but that sounds stupid unless you're kidding.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Do you have anything to contribute?

Anonymous's picture

An opinion? Disagreeing with you doesn't make my opinions any less valid. They could be stupid but not invalid. Logic can be invalid, opinions can't. And, just out of curiosity, how is "Good point." a contribution? :-/

Jacques Cornell's picture

"That sounds stupid" is not a contribution. It's an insult.

Anonymous's picture

Calling a comment "stupid" is not an insult. Calling a person "stupid" is. JMO

Jacques Cornell's picture

Well, then, your comment is stupid. And obnoxious. And useless. No hard feelings, right?

Anonymous's picture

No hard feelings. :-)

Anonymous's picture

I'm not sure how the first amendment applies to this situation and, especially, to taking/keeping photos. I don't believe 'freedom...of the press' means they can do anything, or go anywhere, they like. I always thought it meant the freedom to report news without government intervention. NOT the ability to report anything they want and certainly not to break any laws in the process.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Access may be denied, but images cannot be erased. It's really quite simple.

Anonymous's picture

It sounds simple and I agree it would be difficult to enforce but, if the images were acquired illegally, are you legally allowed to keep them? Kinda like downloaded copyrighted material!? Is there some law or legal precedence?

The issue here is "Images acquired Illegally." Even if there is a sign that says "no photography" it is not illegal to photograph. It is just against the rules. This means that the property can ask you to leave. If you stay, you are now trespassing which is what can get you arrested. You can not get arrested (legally) for taking photos in a place your allowed to be.

ALSO, because the second the photograph is taken you own the copyright to the image, if the photo is forcefully deleted, it can be considered theft or destruction of property.

Finally, the only time images could be "acquired illegally" and taken is if they have a warrant. For example, Man takes picture through blinds with a long lens while on private property... Cop stops man for being peeping tom... the officer can not force him to delete photos. The officer can arrest the man, take him to court, and a judge can order the photos deleted (with a warrant).

Anonymous's picture

Well, that certainly sounds legal but not right. Anyway, I understand your point. I just think people should follow the rules, even if they're not the law.

Jacques Cornell's picture

That is not the question under discussion here.

Anonymous's picture

I wasn't aware there was a specific question under discussion. Nowhere in the article is one asked. But I'm sure, being the arbiter of such things, it's your role to guide these conversations. :-/

Jacques Cornell's picture

Dude, read the article. It's not about whether we should all follow rules. It's about whether authorities can erase a photographer's images.

Anonymous's picture

Okay. I read it again with an emphasis on your comment.

First: where is the law stating they can't demand you delete the photos? I can easily believe they can't force you to delete them but, demand you delete them? Is there a law that says I can't demand you get off my lawn? I doubt it. But I'm sure I can't force you to do so.

Second: the only source, stated in the article, for any such law is a reference to a statement by the ACLU who, also in the article, state that if you're legally somewhere, you can photograph anything that happens there. I'm absolutely certain that's not true. One can be legally in a dressing room but you have no right to photograph other individuals in various states of undress.

I'm not trying to be a jerk (of course it requires no effort for me :-) ) but I think it's easy to overlook the details in a story and, in this story, I don't see the authorities as having done anything wrong. Of course, there could be circumstances, not related here, to change that. And, finally, I reserve the right to comment on anything as seems appropriate to me. :-)

Jacques Cornell's picture

First: "where is the law stating they can't demand you delete the photos?"
It's the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Second: the legal right to photograph applies to public places.

Finally, even if you don't have the right to make photographs in non-public places, nobody has the right to confiscate your property if you do, and your photos are your property.

There is no controversy about any of this - it is all settled law. Law enforcement does not have the right to destroy your photos. Period.

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