Dealing with photographers, be it amateurs or professionals – is something that most security personnel has to deal with from time to time, if they’re at all interacting with te public. It’s no secret that the technology boom of 2014 and 2015 has made that a challenge of some magnitude, and the advent of affordable drones has made it even more of a one.

Making life even harder for security professionals is the fact that most supervisors and managers have no idea what they can and can not do when they encounter cameras and the people weilding them, and will often ask you, the security officer, to do things which are not only questionable, but in many cases also illegal. Improper handling of cameras, photographers and images can open you and your employer up to both civil lawsuits and criminal charges, so treading lightly is the a best first step. Here’s a quick look at what you can and can not do, no matter what your boss says.

Speak Softly, and Carry a Big Stick

Some of you might know where that came from, and if you don’t, then google it. It’s a pretty important saying.

Contrary to the trend and norm these days, where police officers seem to be employing the “shoot first, ask questions later” m.o., the far and away best procedure in all cases is to know your rights and duties, and escalate any situation as little as possible. With that basic principle in mind, the vast majority of situations will resolve effortlessly. Also, be ready to back down when you either know you’re on unsteady ground, or someone proves you to be.

Procedure, procedure, procedure

You’ve got your order book, of course, and that’s all well and good. Be prepared to accept that it’s not infallible, however. In most civilized countries, there are a few basic rules that govern what and where photography is allowed. Those rules are generally simple and straightforward, but the exceptions to them are not. In general, you don’t need to worry about the exceptions, but be painfully aware of the general rules.

1. Photography is allowed in all public places.

In the US and other places, people (you too, buddy) have no expectation of privacy when they’re out in public. People can take pictures of you, you can take pictures of them. Them’s the rules.

2. Photography of private property is allowed.

IF the private property is visible from a public place, and the photographer is in that public place. This means that you can’t stop someone from taking pictures or video of your building or property – or you – so long as the photographer is in a public place. You can not venture into that public place and stop the photographer. You can, of course, approach and talk to them, but that interaction is completely up to them, not you. If they leave, refuse to talk to you or keep taking pictures, you’re sh!t out of luck. If you touch them, hinder or try to impede them, you’re open to criminal charges and civil lawsuits both. Tread very lightly.

3. Commercial photography is not allowed – unless…

Here’s a tricky one. Commercial photography, i.e. photos which are intended to be sold, rented, leased, licensed etc. are not allowed unless the photographer has what’s called a release. A professional photographer needs a model release to sell pictures of people, i.e. a model or subject. A photographer needs a property release to be able to sell pictures of private property. But! And there’s a big but here. If the pictures are of an event or incident which is in the public’s interest, then those bets are off. Say you’re working security at a bank, and someone stages a protest outside against those pesky bankers, then those images can be sold to news outlets without a release of either kind. The limit for an event being of public interest is very low, which is something you have to take into account.

4. You can

You can escort a photographer off private land. When doing so, keep no. 1 and 2 well in mind!
You can speak to anyone you like. Feel free to ask questions, but keep the remarks under no. 3 in mind. It’s important that you don’t overstep any lines here!
You can take pictures “in response”. Most US embassies and a lot of government installations use this. Seeing a camera pointed at them in return will in many cases both ruin the shot and/or spook the unwanted photographer. Remember, as long as they’re on public land, they have no expectation of privacy, just like you.

5. You can not …

You can not stop, hinder or detain a photographer on public lands. Ever.
You can not demand to see images, delete images or camera equipment on public or private lands. Even if the photographer is on private property, that stuff takes a court order.
You can not badger a photographer on public lands. Either with words or action. The exception here is overt observation, including filming them or photographing them.

In short, all you as a professional security officer can do about photographers, is your primary job – observe and report. Observe and report. Document what the photographer is doing, take their picture and report everything meticulously, in a well formed report. Intelligence, after all, is usually what saves the day, not badgering innocent photographers. Remember that in order to survive any security incident, you have to be sure that your point of view is the right one, and that you have the law on your side – not just your master order book.


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