Despite having detained two photographers on separate occasions for photographing trains this year, the Maryland Transit Administration has acknowledged that photographing trains is not illegal.
The acknowledgment, of course, came after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a lawsuit against the agency.
But as we’ve learned from my Metrorail experience, just because the top dog says its legal – or even the actual transit agency policy states that it’s legal – doesn’t necessarily mean the idiots guarding the rails are going to accept that.
So hopefully Baltimore photographers will put these guards to the test this summer.
The two photographers who were detained were Christopher Fussell and Olev Taremae.
Fussell shot the two included videos of his interaction with police. The cops first state that Homeland Security forbids the photographing of trains, which is bullshit.
The cops then claim that Fussell is violating the state’s wiretapping law by recording them, which is also bullshit. A judge already determined that police do not have an expectation of privacy in public.
Like in my Metrorail experience, MTA officials do not seem to know the difference between commercial and non-commercial photography.
Wells pointed to a posted policy on the MTA website that states: “A permit is not required for noncommercial, personal-use filming or photography by the general public that does not interfere with transit operations or safety.”
However, the day before, an MTA spokesman seemed unaware of the policy and pointed a reporter to language on its website emphasizing a need to seek a permit before taking pictures at or of MTA property.
Commercial photography is generally used for advertising. Non-commercial can describe photojournalism, hobbyists, railfans and tourists taking snapshots.
The ACLU gave the MTA until September to come up with a more concrete policy regarding the photographing of trains.
The ACLU told MTA Transit Police Chief John E. Gavrilis in Tuesday’s letter that it would file a lawsuit over his officers’ actions in the two incidents if the agency did not make amends to the two men and issue a new policy upholding the rights of photographers. The group gave the MTA until Sept. 1 to make those changes or face legal action.
Wells said his agency would settle its issues with the ACLU without any need for litigation. He said the agency has no policy preventing individuals from taking pictures of MTA equipment or shooting photos or video while on publicly accessible MTA property.
“We’re going to work with the ACLU on any of their concerns,” he said. “In no way are we battling the ACLU on this. We are in complete agreement with them on this.”