Feds: People can snap photos outside courthouses

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2010 7:20 PM
Feds: People can snap photos outside courthouses

Federal officers who patrol the perimeters of federal courthouses across the country will be reminded that members of the public can shoot pictures and videos in public spaces outside the buildings, according to the terms of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a photographer who was arrested.

The settlement announced Monday was a victory for the First Amendment, the New York Civil Liberties Union said.

The deal calls for written notices to be distributed to Federal Protective Service officers to remind them that no general security regulations prohibit photography outside the buildings.

Federal buildings including courthouses have faced a steady stream of security enhancements as the threat of terrorism has increased over the past 17 years.

The settlement left room for officers to tighten security when necessary. The deal specified that officers can approach any individual taking photographs and ask the purpose for the pictures or the identity of the individual shooting them.

The settlement also said officers are able to take "lawful steps to ascertain whether unlawful activity, or reconnaissance for the purpose of a terrorist or unlawful act, is being undertaken."

The deal calls for the Federal Protective Service to pay $1,500 to Antonio Musumeci, a photographer who was arrested last year as he videotaped a political protest in a public plaza outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan. Another $3,350 must be paid to cover his legal fees. Charges against the Edgewater, N.J., resident were later dropped.

Musumeci, a software developer for an investment bank who uses photography to record political speeches and to document police misconduct, was also threatened with arrest on two subsequent occasions after he tried to record protests at the courthouse.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said the settlement "secures the public's First Amendment right to use cameras in public spaces without being harassed."

In his lawsuit, Musumeci said a federal officer confiscated the memory card from Musumeci's camera for evidence, citing a regulation that purportedly regulated noncommercial photography in outdoor spaces such as sidewalks and plazas. The lawsuit said that when Musumeci questioned if notice of the regulation was required, he was told no notice was necessary and he was learning "the hard way."

The settlement called for Musumeci to get his memory card back as soon as federal prosecutors finish using it as possible evidence in an ongoing criminal matter.