This is one of the biggest myths with the law of taking photographs,” explains Bert Krages, a Portland, OR-based copyright attorney who has written books on photographers' rights and techniques. “There is no general prohibition against photographing federal buildings. There are statutes that prohibit photographing areas of military and nuclear facilities. But there are no laws against photographing other federal facilities, other than the right of all property owners to restrict activities that take place on their property. A federal office building manager cannot restrict photography when the photographer is situated outside the federal property boundary.
from "The War on Photographers" found on PopPhoto.com (published July 19th, 2006)
On Sunday evening Jake and I went downtown to take some night photographs (as evidenced by my previous post) and had a little run-in with a Federal Reserve police officer. We were standing on a public sidewalk at the river-bank side of the footbridge to Brown's Island, and I set down my tripod with my camera pointing up 7th street. Within a minute or so, a Federal Reserve police car came out of the gate, circled the fountain, and stopped with his lights on.
He stepped out of the car and asked us (politely) what we were doing. We indicated, essentially, that we were amateur photographers just taking pictures. My reminder that we were on public property was met by a stone wall, and we were told that we couldn't take pictures that included the building. You know, the building that's visible around the entire city of Richmond. Jake offered to show the officer what he'd already photographed, and I did the same. When Jake asked for a reason why we couldn't take pictures, the officer (still polite) said, simply, "Ben Bernanke." Wow.
I tried to calm Jake and myself down after leaving the scene because I thought there might be some justification in what the officer said. After all, the Richmond branch of the Fed is pretty important, and you never know whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States might be on site. But this has been nagging at me since that night.
Now I feel feeble and ashamed at giving in so easily. Jake and I were basically intimidated into taking our cameras elsewhere. Our Constitutional rights were violated by an overeager security staff that didn't understand the law. Part of me wants to go back there and take pictures directly of the building from the public sidewalk, just to make a point. Maybe I can even get pictures of the officer who comes out to politely harass and terrorize me.
And the other part of me doesn't want to cause Valerie the trouble and risk losing/damaging our new camera. But the truth is that I'm sitting here in my cubicle wanting nothing more than to go to some place where I can scream in anger at the top of my lungs.
It seems a Flickr user recently wrote to the Fed and received a vindicating response.