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City transportation authority proposes photography ban

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City transportation authority proposes photography ban

  • Photographers protested New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposal to ban all photography, filming and videotaping — in the name of national security — in the transit system.

June 9, 2004 — Nearly 100 photographers fanned out across the New York subway system on Sunday, snapping pictures in protest of a proposal by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to curtail picture-taking on MTA New York City Transit subways, buses and the Staten Island Railway.

The transportation authority said the proposal, announced April 29, was made at the request of the New York City Police Department. The NYPD suggested this ban by reasoning that photographs could assist would-be terrorists in plotting attacks against the state’s public transportation system. The protesting photographers, both amateur and professional, rode the trains and took pictures for more than an hour to mock the idea that this kind of photography represents a national security threat.

“Photography, both still and video, is an essential form of speech and a fundamental part of the constitutional right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” said Todd Stricker, president of the National Press Photographers Association, in a May 28 press release calling for a rejection of the ban. “This proposal is one of an increasing number of efforts which curtail free press and freedom of expression in the name of security.”

Stricker said would-be criminals will always be able to compile information, due to the prevalence of hidden cameras and the many transit-related photographs already available online.

The National Press Photographers Association, based in Durham, N.C., works to protect the First Amendment freedoms of photojournalists. The association publicized the protest, organized by local New York freelance photographer Joe Anastasio, through word of mouth and an NPPA e-mail discussion list.

Under the proposed ban, photographers would have to gain the city’s approval to videotape or take pictures anywhere in the transit system. The proposal does not include an appeals process, according to the MTA, although journalists credentialed by the New York City Police Department would be exempt from the ban.

“If we allow the government to limit the general public’s ability to gather information and make pictures, it will result in the limitation of a journalist’s ability to gather information and make pictures,” said Alicia Wagner Calzada, NPPA advocacy chairperson, in an e-mail interview. “I am a self-employed photojournalist, and at times the only thing distinguishing me from the average citizen is the cost of the camera. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I cannot take pictures in a public place because I am not specifically affiliated with or on assignment for a newspaper or magazine.”

Douglas R. Sussman, director of community affairs for the MTA, outlined the purpose of the policy in an e-mail message to the photographers association.

“The world, and consequently our operating environment, has changed dramatically,” Sussman said. “These yet-to-be-approved changes to our rules, the first in almost a decade, are intended to enhance safety and security for both our customers and employees.”

According to New York State law, the MTA Board must consider public comments on the proposed rule — it is currently posted on the agency’s Web site, — during a period of 45 days. No date has yet been set for the start of the comment period. However, the board has agreed to consider all comments posted on the MTA Web site both prior to and during the official comment period.

(Proposed Revisions to NYCT Rules of Conduct) TS

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