Christopher Fussell likes to take pictures of trains and buses. The 29-year-old Oregonian has shot photos and video of transit systems all over the United States.
It wasn't until he came to Baltimore, he said Tuesday, that he was detained for committing photography.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland put the Maryland Transit Administration on notice Tuesday that it intends to file suit over the conduct of transit police in ordering Fussell and another photographer to stop taking pictures. The group warned that unless the agency meets a series of conditions by Sept. 1, it will take the MTA to court — where it expects to win.
"Photography is expressive activity that is protected by the First Amendment," said ACLU staff attorney David Rocah. "If you are legally present, you have a right to take photographs."
Rocah said the ACLU raised the right to take photographs in 2006 after an officer ordered one of its staff members to stop filming at a station. He said the ACLU chose then to try to resolve the issue amicably — a decision the attorney now calls an error the group will not repeat.
"Our time for friendly discussion is long since past," Rocha said. "We tried that for five years to apparently zero effect."
The MTA declined to comment on the ACLU warning, saying Tuesday that it had just received the letter. But a spokesman pointed to a policy in the agency's media guide urging people who want to photograph MTA facilities to seek permission.
The right of photographers to take pictures in public places has been a point of contention virtually since the invention of the camera. But the disputes have become more frequent — and more contentious — since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which prompted police to challenge individuals who take photos or video of public infrastructure as potential security risks.
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