When Christopher Fussell traveled from Oregon to the Northeast recently, he decided to document the trip via photos and video. He's somewhat of a photography enthusiast, so it's not surprising. Innocent enough, it would seem.
But while at a train station in Baltimore, transit police detained him for nearly an hour and told him it was illegal for him to take pictures of the transit system without prior authorization, even citing the Patriot Acts as justification for their position. And Fussel captured it all on video.
In the lengthy exchange, the officers can be heard stumbling through legal reasoning while trying to tell Fussell he can't photograph and he can't record them without their permission. Fussell, however, stands his ground:
“It is my understanding that I am free to take pictures as long as it’s not for commercial purposes but for personal use,” Fussell said in the video.
“Not on state property, not without proper authorization,” an officer said.
Fussell: “From who?”
Officer: “Nobody’s allowed to take pictures.”
The exchange, which was made more difficult because Fussell is hearing impaired, is posted in two parts on YouTube:
According to Fussell's video description:
MTA Police finally gave back my farecard and ordered me to "cease and desist," but continued to surround and bother me until I boarded the next Penn Station train. They followed me to Penn Station and got Amtrak Police involved. I felt at that point I had no choice but to give Amtrak Police my ID so they could conduct a warrant check. If the MTA Police hadn't followed me, Amtrak Police most likely would have not conducted this security check based on my experiences at various Amtrak stations between Washington DC and Boston. The Amtrak Police Officer was truthful about the fact that there was no prohibition against taking pictures of trains or train stations, so his honesty is what also compelled me to give my ID. He was, in my opinion, dragged into this fiasco because of MTA Police.
Fussell's videos were posted to YouTube on May 11. Since then, the Baltimore MTA has admitted the the officers were in error. WJZ reports:
The MTA admits the officers were in error.
“They can most certainly take photos of our system,” Ralign Wells, the MTA Administrator, said.
In addition to being wrong about MTA and state policy, the officer incorrectly cites the Patriot Act.
The MTA acknowledges that additional training is in order.
“We’ll look at our training processes, we’ll look at whether any administrative situations need to occur with those officers,” Wells said
“This is not South Africa under apartheid and in this country, police do not have the right to walk up to you and demand you produce identification to them,” David Rocah of the ACLU told the station.