The Federal Protective Service has agreed under a legal settlement with photographer Antonio Musumeci to send written instructions to all its officers and employees stating that individuals have a “general right to photograph the exterior of federal courthouses from publicly accessible spaces.”
Musumeci won a lawsuit against FPS, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, after his arrest last November for taking photos in front of a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan.
The settlement agreement also extends to photography outside other federal buildings, stating “there are currently no general security regulations prohibiting exterior photography from publicly accessible spaces, absent a written local regulation, rule or order.” The agreement was negotiated with the New York Civil Liberties Union and certified in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. It could clarify security rules that photographers have long complained are unevenly and arbitrarily enforced.
Musumeci, who works with the radio show Free Talk Live, was videotaping a demonstration on the sidewalk in front of the Daniel Moynihan US Courthouse in New York City on November 9 when he claims an officer from the FPStook his camera and issued him a ticket. He continued recording the encounter with another camera but, according to the lawsuit he filed against the Department of Homeland Security in April, the officer retained his memory card.
Homeland Security has agreed to pay Musumeci $3350, including court costs and attorney’s fees. The agency will also return his memory card.
Michael Keegan, chief of public and legislative affairs for the Federal Protective Service,, said in a statement that the settlement "clarifies that protecting public safety is fully compatible with the need to grant public access to federal facilities, including photography of the exterior of federal buildings.”While the case clarifies the limits of federal statute, photographers who want to take photos of federal buildings may still find themselves treated like a terrorist. Local and municipal laws regarding photography in public places still apply. Also, the settlement states that law enforcement officers are not prohibited from questioning photographers to find out “the purpose of taking the photographs or the identity of the individual,” or from “taking lawful steps to ascertain whether unlawful activity or reconnaissance for the purpose of a terrorist or unlawful act is being undertaken.
A copy of the settlement can be found here.