It took four months but the United States Department of Transportation finally responded to a query from the ACLU asking it to clarify its policy on the act of photographing its buildings.
Turns out, there is no such policy forbidding the photography of DOT buildings in Washington DC.
The response from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation acted as if it were only an isolated incident in which a security guard was misinformed about the policies regarding photography. It offered an apology for that particular security guard.
But the truth is, there has been a pattern over several years of DOT security guards forbidding photographers from taking pictures of its buildings.
Much of it has been documented by photographer Erin McCann, who provided Photography is Not a Crime with the response from the US DOT, which also included a 2004 “special security bulletin” from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding the photography of federal buildings.
The bulletin makes it clear that there are no restrictions of taking pictures of federal buildings from the outside, especially if you are not standing on federal property.
The bulletin also states that it is permissible to photograph “building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors or auditoriums for news purposes.”
This, of course, brings up the old debate about who is a journalist and who is not a journalist or what is newsworthy and what is not newsworthy.
As there is no federal law defining what makes a journalist, so this pretty much makes it acceptable for anybody to take pictures of these areas.
The bulletin also states that it is permissible to take pictures inside federal buildings as long as permission is obtained; verbal permission for non-commercial photography and written permission for commercial photography.
The bulletin also encourages security guards to harass approach photographers and conduct “field interviews” to determine that they are plotting to blow up the building with their cameras.
So perhaps Luis Martinez can now remove the foot from his mouth.