If this blog interests you, chances are you follow other news sources that have covered attempts by police and other government officials (including, of course, TSA screeners) to crack down on citizens that use their cell phone cameras to record the activity of those government officials. Carlos Miller, a Miami-based photographer and activist, formed Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC) after being detained (now on several occasions) for an even less confrontational reason: capturing photos and video of buildings and transportation hubs. PINAC covers stories of people being denied their First Amendment rights at an astounding frequency: the front page of PINAC has 8 stories from the last 12 days alone.
Carlos’ most recent personal interaction was on Miami’s Metrorail system, where he was pushed down an escalator and arrested by security for no more than taking pictures from the platform while he waited for his train — and this wasn’t even the first time the same security company — “50 State” — arrested him for the same reason!
Being a Miami resident myself, I contacted county officials to express that I no longer felt safe on the county’s public transit as a result of the abuse of this security contracor. (I also contacted state officials to request a review of 50 State’s license to act as a security firm and the individual guards’ licenses to open carry a firearm as a security officer.) After significant back-and-forth and many ignored messages that required follow-up, the last message I received was from Eric Muntan, Chief of the Office of Safety and Security of Miami-Dade Transit:
First and foremost, MDT fully acknowledges that members of the public can take photographs in the common areas of public facilities. Areas within the public view are open to photography, as long as the activities do not present a safety concern for transit operations.
At the conclusion of its investigation of this incident, MDT took numerous administrative actions to effectively address areas which needed enhancements, to include, but not limited to, immediate refresher training for all MDT-contracted security officers regarding the proper interpretation of commercial photography and an individual’s right to photograph common areas of our facilities.
However, given the threats against mass transit systems, both domestic and abroad, and in order to protect the safety of its transit system, its customers and its employees, MDT reserves the right to question individuals taking photographic images at our stations.
However, that stance may not actually be lawful. The police have great leeway to ask questions of nearly anyone (so long as those people are not obligated to answer and are “free to go”). However, they still can’t do so in an arbitrary or capricious manner: they need a reason — however flimsy — to do so. Virtually any reason will do, except a reason that rests upon violating someone’s rights. And, if the county is admitting that it your right to take pictures (which it is), it would seem to me that they would need a reason beyond the mere taking of pictures.
It is nice that Miami is taking at least some steps (retraining, for example) to remedy the problem, but in the end, the problem won’t go away until the mindset is changed: holding a camera should not subject you to any government contact in and of itself.