Photographers have become one of the flashpoints of security guards overreacting in the name of “security.” This is a consequence of two trends. First, many of our public spaces have become privatized, such as Union Station (a public property now operated by a private entity under contract) or shopping malls (private properties that have become de facto public squares). Second, since 9/11 many police and private security guards have comically overreacted to many non-threats due to heightened paranoia.
Last year, guards employed by the private company that operates Silver Spring’s mall-like downtown blocks tried to stop photographers on Ellsworth Drive, which is technically private property. After a protest, the developer changed their policy and County Executive Leggett clarified that the street is considered public space and any photo ban is unconstitutional.
Most recently, photographer Joel Lawson (who is also president of DCCA), aka Flickr user lightboxdc, spoke up when a Union Station security guard tried to stop a tourist from photographing the building’s beautiful architecture. Fox 5 did a story, and incredibly, while interviewing an Amtrak spokesperson who said there is no Amtrak policy against photography, a Union Station guard hassled the reporter. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is fairly powerful despite not being allowed to vote in the House, and who cares a great deal about Union Station, is outraged and promising hearings.
Good for Norton, because we should clarify once and for all that in public and semi-public spaces across the nation, the pursuit of reasonable security should not lead private guards or public police officers to stop people from taking pictures of our buildings, bridges and landscapes.