Who will watch the watchers? In a world of ubiquitous, hand-held digital cameras, that's not an abstract philosophical question. Police everywhere are cracking down on citizens using cameras to capture breaking news and law enforcement in action. In 2009, police arrested blogger and freelance photographer Antonio Musumeci on the steps of a New York federal courthouse.
His alleged crime? Unauthorized photography on federal property. Police cuffed and arrested Musumeci, ultimately issuing him a citation. With the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, he forced a settlement in which the federal government agreed to issue a memo acknowledging that it is totally legal to film or photograph on federal property. Although the legal right to film on federal property now seems to be firmly established, many other questions about public photography still remain and place journalists and citizens in harm's way. Can you record a police encounter? Can you film on city or state property? What are a photographer's rights in so-called public spaces?
These questions will remain unanswered until a case reaches the Supreme Court, says UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, founder of the popular law blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Until then, it's up to people to know their rights and test the limits of free speech, even at the risk of harassment and arrest. Who will watch the watchers? All of us, it turns out, but only if we're willing to fight for our rights.