The Photographer’s Right is a PDF document that is loosely based on the ACLU Bust Card. You may make copies and carry them in your wallet, pocket, or camera bag to give you quick access to information about your rights and obligations concerning confrontations over photography. You may distribute the guide to others, provided that such distribution is not done for commercial gain and credit is given to the author.
Photographers are stopped, harassed, and even intimidated into handing over their personal property simply because they are taking photographs of subjects that make other people uncomfortable. Examples have included photographing industrial plants, bridges, buildings, trains, and bus stations. For the most part, attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the supposed dangers that unrestricted photography presents to society.
Ironically, unrestricted photography by private citizens has played an integral role in protecting the freedom, security, and wellbeing of all Americans. Photography in the United States has an established history of contributing to improvements in civil rights, curbing abusive child labor practices, and providing important information to crime investigators. Photography has not contributed to a decline in public safety or economic vitality in the United States. When people think back on the acts of domestic terrorism that have occurred over the last forty years, none have depended on or even involved photography. Restrictions on photography would not have prevented any of these acts. Furthermore, the prevalence of camera phones has resulted in the prevention of crimes and the apprehension of criminals.
As the document states, there are not very many legal restrictions on what can be photographed when in public view. Most attempts at restricting photography are done by lowerlevel security and law enforcement officials acting way beyond their authority. Note that neither the Patriot Act nor the Homeland Security Act have any provisions that restrict photography. Similarly, some businesses have a history of abusing the rights of photographers under the guise of protecting their trade secrets. These claims are almost always meritless because entities are required to keep trade secrets from public view if they want to protect them.
More information about photography law in the United States can be found in the Legal Handbook for Photographers.
I am occasionally asked about documents similar to The Photographer’s Right that cover the laws of other countries that relate to photography. The ones I know about are listed to the right. Note that I do not claim any particular expertise regarding the laws in other countries and cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information provided by these sources.