"This is a civil rights action to vindicate the constitutional right of New Yorkers and other to take photographs or video in outdoor areas that are open to the public and that are near federal courthouses, office buildings, and other federal property."
On 22 March, as first revealed by the New York Times, Antonio Musumeci, backed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, sued the United States Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Protective Service, which is part of the DHS, Clifford Barnes, an inspector with the Federal Protective Service, as well as an unidentified federal agent "who participated in Musumeci's arrest."
Musumeci was arrested in November 2009 while videotaping a political protest in a public plaza outside of the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan. He was charged with violating a "vague federal regulation that restricts photography and that appears to be inconsistently enforced," court papers read.
The plaintiff argues that federal law-enforcement officials improperly use the regulation to arrest and harass law-abiding photographers.
Musumeci, a 29-year-old member of the Manhattan Libertarian Party, was filming Julian Heicklen, a libertarian activist who was distributing pamphlets outside of a federal courthouse, when he was arrested alongside Heicklen. The two arresting officers, Barnes and the unidentified federal agent, confiscated Musumeci's memory card for evidence, the court papers read.
"Musumeci asked why he had been arrested. Inspector Barnes showed him a copy of a federal regulation, stating that it governed photography on federal property," according to the plaintiff, who was released 20 minutes later with a ticket for violating the photography regulation. The photography charge against Musumeci was laterdismissed.
But that wasn't the end of the story. On 16 November 2009, Musumeci returned to the plaza to witness Heicklen's continued actions. "This time, however, Musumeci stood outside the plaza, on an adjacent sidewalk, in an attempt to avoid arrest." When federal enforcement officers arrived to arrest Heicklen, Musumeci, as well as another photographer, were threaten with arrest if they didn't stop filming and taking images. In another incident, a federal agent photographed Musumeci.
The New York Civil Liberties Union argues that the regulation is not being enforced similarly across the country, citing the examples of a Philadelphia courthouse and of the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC, both of which allow photography on its grounds. It also argues that the regulation specifies that it must be posted for the public to see on federal property. In Musumeci's case, the regulation was not displayed.
The New York Civil Liberties Union says that, consequently, the "defendants' actions violated Musumeci's rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution." It asks the court to issue a judgment that the regulation "cannot constitutionally be enforced to restrict non-commercial photography in outdoor public areas where pedestrians have an unrestricted right of access, such as plazas, sidewalks and parks."
In the UK, photographers have been the victims of similar restrictions with police officers and security guards claiming that photography in public places of federal and private buildings can be curtailed.
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