Feds: People Can Take Photos Outside Court Houses

October 20, 2010

Photojournalists doing environmental stories have been harassed and blocked by federal police for a decade or more when they try to take pictures of federal facilities from public spaces. Now, under a court settlement, the federal government is publicly acknowledging that it is acting illegally when it does this.

Antonio Musumeci was arrested in November 2009 as he took photos from a public plaza near a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan. He was arrested under a vague federal regulation (41 CFR 102-74.420), which actually says that such photography is legal.

The federal government — the Dept. of Homeland Security and the Federal Protective Services — settled out of court, a sign that they knew they had no legal basis for the arrest. They paid damages and legal fees to Musumeci, and promised to distribute instructions to federal officers advising them that such action was illegal.