Subway Photography Ban

June 3, 2004

Last month, the MTA proposed rules which would prohibit photography in the subway without a permit.

The proposal would amend §1050.9(c) of the MTA Rules of Conduct, which currently reads:

Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment.

The proposed rule:

No photograph, film or video recording shall be made or taken on or in any conveyance or facility by any person, except members of the press holding valid press identification cards issued by the New York City Police Department or by others duly authorized in writing to engage in such activity by the authority. 

The New York Times reports: Subway Officials Seek Ban on Picture-Taking

The proposed ban on photography, filming and videotaping drew immediate objections from the New York Public Interest Research Group Straphangers Campaign. "We think it's a mistake to turn the subways into a scary underground where you can't take pictures," said Gene Russianoff, a staff lawyer. "We respect the need for security in the transit system but believe that there are important values in having photographers document life and conditions on the subways and buses."

Mayor Bloomberg fears that a ban would be too restrictive: Bloomberg Blasts Subway Photo Ban: "Transit officials' proposed ban on cameras in subways to prevent terrorism was overzealous and would affect mostly tourists, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.", not suprisingly, opposes the ban and takes a quick ride on the slippery slope:

An interesting unanswered question is: "Why prevent only NEW photography?" Is this a prelude to even more bans, this time on web sites? includes over 11,000 photos of the subway lines, past and present, and over 17,000 more of transit systems worldwide. Should these be considered historical documents or a source of information to terrorists? Webmasters and contributors could even be labeled terrorist facilitators. Even the Library of Congress has close up, detailed photos of key structures and bridges, "soft targets". Will there be attempts to censor the Library of Congress? Permitting a ban on NEW photography is another step toward removal of ALL of these websites, in the name of "security".

Even though the regulations have yet to be approved, some police officers are already acting to enforce such a ban: Police Waste No Time in Disallowing Subway Photos. Threatened by Undercover NYPD at Stillwell Ave.

I had wanted to write up a nice, concise First Amendment analysis, but since I haven't even gotten as far as taking Chemerinsky off of my coffee table, that's not happening anytime soon. So, I will just say that such a ban is a bad idea and not the least speech-restrictive means for increasing the level of security on the subway.

On Saturday, June 6, at 1 PM, photographers will protest the ban. Meet up at the info booth on the main floor of Grand Central.

In the Village Voice, Matt Haber discusses the potential impact of the photography ban with photobloggers: Forbidden Photos, Anyone?

Posted by Andrew Raff at June 3, 2004 04:51 PM
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If you've ever been hassled by the police for taking pictures, be sure to come post about it at our site. We're compiling all the stories about police abuse of photographers' rights in one central place.

Posted by: David Mays on September 22, 2004 07:42 PM