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All Dressed Up And Nothing to do Except Arrest Photographers

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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April 24, 2012

Police around the country continue to violate individuals’ right to photography. A photographer named Carlos Miller maintains a web site in which he chronicles this problem. Now, Miller himself has obtained information about his own arrest for photography, which took place during the eviction of Miami Occupy protesters in January. Using an open-records request, he found that officials at the Miami-Dade Police Homeland Security Bureau, aka Fusion Center, had exchanged numerous e-mails over a period of months, in which they discuss their monitoring of Miller and his activities.

The Miami Fusion Center is supposed to be protecting the public. Its stated mission is “to ensure the effective dissemination of criminal intelligence information… to enhance our ability to secure the homeland, while protecting the privacy of our citizens.” (emphasis added)

Instead of focusing on criminals, or anything else that would “secure the homeland,” the fusion center officials, according to Miller’s account (based on the documents he received), spent time tracking the activities of a reporter who was monitoring them, and arresting him (on videotape) for no clear reason.

The right to photography is legally very well established, so much so that the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that not only were Boston police wrong in arresting a man, Simon Glik, for videotaping them, but that the officers were not even entitled to “qualified immunity” from Glik’s resulting lawsuit, because his constitutional right to videotape the police in public was “clearly established” under the law when it was violated.

In addition to resisting public monitoring of their official activities, many police are influenced by fatuous guidance over “suspicious activity reporting.” As Miller notes, the Miami fusion center, true to form, lists “inappropriate photographs or videos” and “surveillance” as “signs of terrorism.”

Unfortunately, the behavior described by Miller also fits right in with a pattern we have seen around the nation. Police units are set up supposedly to fight terrorism, but terrorism being (fortunately) extremely rare, they are all dressed up with nowhere to go, and all these resources end up being targeted against ordinary Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.