After getting harassed and threatened by a security guard for photographing a federal building in Madison, Wisconsin last month, Josh Zytkiewicz began demanding answers.
The Photography is Not a Crime reader began firing off letters to his sentators and a couple of congresswomen as well as to several judges.
These are the questions he asked:
First, why was I even approached? Everything I saw and photographed that day is visible from the public sidewalk that surrounds the courthouse. Is it the policy of the federal government, this particular building, or an overzealous guard to approach every photographer?
Second, why is a federal employee telling me I cannot take pictures of the building because of “security procedures”? The only federal laws that I know of that actually prohibit photography relate to classified items on military bases and facilities that have nuclear material under the control of the US Department of Energy. Even the GSA’s own rules which are posted in the lobby of the courthouse Title 41 CFR 102-74.420 doesn’t prohibit photography but requires the permission of whichever federal agency is concerned. Also 41 CFR 102-74.420 only apply to those persons “in or on Federal property”.
Third, why was I threatened at the end of our conversation? And I do consider it a threat when I’m told the police will be called because I’m doing something that someone doesn’t like. If I was breaking a law why wasn’t I held, prevented from leaving until the police arrived?
Fourth, is the Robert W. Kastenmeier United States Courthouse in Madison, Wisconsin a more sensitive and potentially threatened location than the Wisconsin Capitol building? After all I was allowed to move freely throughout the Capitol, but was stopped and questioned merely for being outside of the courthouse.
So far, he has received three responses.
The first response came from Senator Herb Kohl, who informed Zytkiewicz that although there was nothing he could do to address his concerns, he had “taken the liberty” of forwarding the letter to the Western District Court staff and asked that they respond to the letter.
The second response came from District Judge Barbara Crabb who confirmed that photographing this particular federal buildings is legal, but that “you or anyone else who takes pictures of the building can expect to be asked politely by a court security officer about what you are doing.” She also threw in that old line about how 9/11 changing everything.
The third response came from Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, who informed Zytkiewicz that she faxed a letter on his behalf to General Services Administration, which she describes as the federal “agency which establishes policy for, and provides management of, government property.”