If you thought insane no-photography policies were taken care of after last summer’s Union Station debacle, think again. On Sunday, around 6:30 pm, I stopped on M Street SE to photograph two of the transportation-inspired public art installations that surround the US DOT headquarters. I was taking a photograph of an installation of vintage bicycles when a security guard some distance away yelled in my general direction. I couldn’t understand what he said, so I pointed at myself to see if he was speaking to me but he made no further motion. I continued photographing until he approached me.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
“I’m photographing the bicycles,” I replied. He continued walking, and I rode down to the next installation — three vintage gas pumps — and began taking photos of them.
“You can’t do that here,” he told me. I asked him why not. “It’s the rules, for security,” he said. I asked him what rule prevented me from taking photographs of public art, but he said that he could not tell me the rule. I asked if he worked for DOT or a subcontractor hired for security. “I can’t tell you that,” he replied again. I asked for his name, which he also refused to tell me.
“So you can’t tell me the rule, your name, or who you work for?” I asked him.
“Nope,” he replied. Luckily, at that point I was already done taking photographs, so I wished him a good evening and continued my ride.
I would raise this issue with the head of security at US DOT headquarters, but the guard refused to provide any information about who he works for. Unfortunately, this is just another example of overzealous and misinformed security enforcement that clamps down on the exercise of First Amendment rights. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ recent seizure of audio recordings from WAMU reporter David Schultz has put unreasonable First Amendment restrictions in the news lately. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you may want to take a look at some information on the legal rights of photographers (via Jaime Fearer). If you are interested in national coverage of photographers’ rights, be sure to visit Photography is Not a Crime, the website of Carlos Miller, who was arrested after taking photographs of Miami police.