New York City Transit Authority Board to Ban Photography

January 8, 2005 | Mark Goldstein | Global | Comment |

Dave Bushnell has sent me a disturbing email this morning, to let everyone know that the New York City Transit Authority Board may today impose a ban on all photography on its system (bus and subway). This has been threatened before early in 2004, but now it looks as though the ban will go ahead after all.

Over to Dave:

“An article in the New York Times this morning brought to light the fact that the New York City Transit Authority Board is about to approve a sweeping ban on photography in the New York City Transit system as a supposed anti-terrorism measure. Adoption of this rule would mean that the transit police would have the authority to arrest anyone using a camera on a bus or subway including tourists, artists, and journalists. This was the straw that broke my particular back in my tolerance for broad, anti-intellectual, unenforceable, publicity-driven measures that significantly hasten our march towards a full-out police state while quietly failing to provide the safety they promise.”

“I’m not a professional photographer, but I do take photography as a hobby seriously, and in the best of scenarios this measure would require me to get a series of permits, through an as-yet undefined process, in order to take a single picture in the subway or face arrest. I’ve decided that if I can’t find a way to fight the big battles, then the least I can do is fight a small one that has some broader meaning in the issues I care about and, if you can, I’m asking for your help.

The Transit Board is required to have a 45-day comment period prior to any rules change and, unfortunately, today’s Times article came out just one day before this particular comment period expires on Saturday, January 8th. Fortunately, the MTA has an e-mail comments submission process that will get to them in time.

I’ve attached a link to the New York Times article below so you can see what is at stake artistically, and a link to a press release from the American Society of Media Photographers so you can see the chilling effect it will have on the ability of the press to freely report the news. The last link is the Transit Board’s comments form. I’d like to sincerely ask you to urge your readers to visit that form and submit a comment in opposition. As you probably know, these things are generally a matter of volume, not length, so a simple, polite, statement of opposition is enough to make a difference so this shouldn’t take much time at all. I’ve attached the comment I submitted below, but there’s no need to vent on my scale.

Again, thanks very much for taking a moment to read this. If you feel you can, please urge you’re readers to submit a comment and forward this e-mail to other caring people. I think that if we fight these small battles when we can, the big battles might take care of themselves.

Thank you!
—Dave Bushnell”

Today’s New York Times Article

ASMP Press Release

The New York City Transit Board Comments Submission Form

To the Board—

I have never written a letter like this before, but an article in the New York Times prompted me to call your office and find out how to comment on your proposal to ban photography in the New York Transit System.

Please understand, I believe strongly in taking measures to ensure our safety, and I have even placed a call to 911 to have a suspicious package investigated as we are being requested to do, but this proposal will so broadly restrict my rights for no appreciable increase in safety that it is a significant step backwards.

Actual terrorists have a broad array of widely available tools available to them to circumvent this ban and still take pictures. Anywhere on the Internet and in many consumer catalogs are available pinhole digital cameras with crystal-clear photography and video capabilities for under $100. So with this ban you would ask us to pay a huge price for a safety benefit you cannot deliver—it’s putting a big lock on a screen door.

As you can probably guess, I am a photographer. I’m not a journalist, just someone who gets tremendous satisfaction from his hobby. I don’t take candids of people who don’t know I’m taking pictures, and I respect people’s privacy, but the subway is a wonderful environment for photography and a consistent source of great work for me. You would take all that away.

I keep a list of ideas for pictures I’d like to take in the future, many ideas on that list right now are things like light falling through the overhead grates at the 103rd Street 1 line station, or unique views of the sculptures at 14th Street. You would simply have me throw those away? Move outside? Submit to a permit process to pursue my hobby?

I appreciate the fact that someone learned that terrorists were taking pictures of US facilities and proposed this idea, but please don’t let our fear prevent you from realizing the considerable unintended consequences of your actions. Please don’t just act for the sake of acting. I urge you to disapprove this rules change.

Thank you.

—David Bushnell