ACLU signing petition

The ACLU worker on the left told photojournalist Francis Vachon that it was illegal to photograph her in public without her consent.

Canadian photojournalist Francis Vachon was in Massachusetts earlier this month on assignment for a travel website when he came across a pair of ACLU workers asking people to sign some kind of petition in downtown Pittsfield.

Vachon lifted his camera and snapped a photo, only for the woman in the above picture to inform him that he was breaking the law.

But Vachon, having been a regular Photography is Not a Crime reader for years, knew better as he explained on his blog:

I tell her that I am in a public place and I can do whatever I want, but then she tells me with a straight face that in Massachusetts, a law prohibit you to take a photo without first having a consent. I don’t know if she really believed that or if she was lying to me, but either way it was really weird coming from a member of the The American Civil Liberties Union.

There is no such law in Massachusetts nor anywhere in the United States for that matter.

However, Massachusetts does have a unique eavesdropping/wiretapping law that forbids you from secretly audio recording another person in public, even if they have no expectation of privacy, but even that law has not been prosecuted in some cases.

In an email to Photography is Not a Crime, Vachon explained that the laws on public photography are the same in Canada as they are in the United States, but that Quebec has some restrictions about how you use that photo.

In Quebec, you can take a photo of anything and anyone in public space, but you need permission to PUBLISH IT if the 3 following conditions are met
– They are the main subject of your photo (they don’t just walk by accident in your landscape photo)
– They are recognizable
– It’s not newsworthy
It’s called “Droit à l’image” (could be roughly translated to Right to your selfness)

The incident with the ACLU petitioner took place on October 1, but the sheer irony of it left him shaking his head where he had to write about it on his blog today.

“It was kinda surreal to have the champion of liberties trying to stop me from taking photos using a nonexistent law,” he wrote in an email.

Perhaps she joined the ACLU after the civil liberties organization published its Know Your Rights: Photographers webpage along with the video below.