Proposed NYC Subway Photo Ban Is Dead; Photo Ban In Hempstead, Long Island, Is Rescinded

A New York City Transit proposal last year to make a rule change that would prohibit photography and videotaping in subways and bus systems, which was strongly opposed by the NPPA and many other photography, press, civil rights, and free speech groups, is now dead, and a 12-year-old ban on photography on public beaches and parks in the Town of Hempstead, Long Island, has been overturned.

After a long period of public comment, the Metropolitan Transit Authority did not vote on the measure to ban photography on New York City buses and in the subways. An upcoming hearing on the proposal was scheduled, but now that the measure has been dropped the hearing is moot.

“In the wake of the public comments period, after consulting with the New York Police Department, which had originally requested the rule change, MTA NYC Transit will not go forward with the institution of a photo ban,” Transit Authority spokesperson Charles Seaton told The New York Daily News on May 22. In the same story The News also quotes NYPD deputy commissioner Paul Browne who says, “We are not pressing for a ban. Our officers will continue to investigate, and intercede if necessary, if the activity – photo-related or not – is suspicious.”

“This is truly a victory for photojournalism, and we must continue our efforts on issues like these to protect our freedoms and First Amendment rights,” NPPA president Bob Gould said in response to the news. “Thanks to Todd Maisel and everyone else who worked to oppose this proposal for their persistence in this matter.”

Last summer, NPPA member photojournalists took part in a protest in the subway by shooting photographs of each other alongside members of the New York Public Interest Group and The Straphangers Campaign inside one of the subway stations. NPPA’s Region 2, which includes New York City and is led by director Harry Diorio and associate director Maisel, had planned to hold a press conference with other organizations who opposed the photography ban in front of the MTA headquarters before any vote could be taken, but that’s no longer necessary now.

“We want to thank Kurt Wimmer and Amy Levine of the law firm Covington and Burling for the enormous amount of work that they did on our behalf,” said NPPA vice president and chairperson of the organization’s Advocacy Committee Alicia Wagner Calzada. “They filed an extensive legal brief to the MTA on behalf of the NPPA, which clearly laid out all of our legal arguments for why the ban was unconstitutional.”

“NPPA pursued this proposed subway ban from many angles with public statements, legal comments, a call to members to submit their own comments, a public protest, news articles, cooperative efforts with other groups, and plans to be there in person for the vote,” Calzada wrote to the Board. “It may seem like a lot of effort for one city, but we really believed that this case would be looked at throughout the nation and that other cities would follow the lead of what happened in New York City.”

Maisel wrote, “Also coming to our aid was the New York Press Photographers Association, the National Press Club, the New York Civil Liberties Union, ASMP and PPA. We also thank the many camera clubs throughout New York State who pledged their support and sent letters to the MTA condemning the ban. We thank the thousands of opponents of the ban for signing our petitions, sending letters, and commenting during the MTA 90-day public comment period that was dubiously launched during the holidays to minimize reaction. The MTA, however, found that despite the holidays, they received thousands of angry comments against the ban. It also resulted in Mayor Mike Bloomberg condemning the proposal and the New York City Police Department disavowing the plan.”

“NPPA Region 2 director Diorio said this victory will help in efforts against other censorship proposals,” Maisel told the NPPA Board of Directors, “including one that has already been started in the Town of Hempstead Long Island, NY, where officials there, despite not having a law, had banned photography in public parks and on beaches.”

Maisel reported to the Board, "After taking blistering criticism from the NPPA, the Town of Hempstead rescinded a ban on photography at their public beaches and parks that had been made policy by their Parks Department more than 12 years ago. Hepstead Town Supervisor Kate Murry acted quickly to correct the unconstitutional policy that was originally created because some residents were concerned about unauthorized photography of their children. Town officials now realize the ban was not supportable by law, and they could not make a ban on photography in public places where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy."

The story of Hempstead's ban came to light last week, Maisel said, when Joseph Senzatimore, 59, of Bellmore, NY, a member of the Wantagh Camera Club in Long Island, was taking his Nikon and tripod out of his car at Lido Beach, a public park, when he was stopped by park employees. He was told photography on the beach was illegal and could end in arrest. Maisel said Senzatimore contacted attorney Bill Balletti, a long-time friend of photographers in the city, which "set off a flurry of calls to NPPA." New York Daily News reporter Richard Weir did a story about Senzatimore and the photography ban, and "the ball was in motion," Maisel said.

Region 2's leaders and photographers started calling Hempstead authorites requesting written copies of the law and demanding the rule be rescinded. Soon Murray ordered the Parks Department to rescind the ban, giving photographers complete access to public areas.

"NPPA thanks the New York Daily News for putting a story together that brought the illegal ban to the public's attention," Maisel wrote to the Board, "and thanks Region 2 and NPPA vice president Alicia Wagner Calzado for her research that revealed there was no law in Hempstead codes to back up the ban."

Related story