Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What communicators can do to aid new policy on photographing federal buildings

Somewhere in my travel photos is one I took when the Vatican City polizia were about to eject me from St. Peter's basilica to clear it in preparation for a major ceremony honoring the Pope.  The reason? I was photographing the polizia. (It's a great shot, too. And yes, I avoided arrest.) Here in the U.S., photographing official buildings just got a little bit easier, whether you're a tourist or a pro photographer.

This lets me update one of this blog's most popular posts "No, really, officer: It's not illegal to photograph federal buildings"   about the struggles camera folk have had in doing just that.  Now there's a policy--and the form to go with it. Gizmodo reports that there's a new directive from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advising federal officials that it's legal for anyone to photograph the outside of a federal building.

Living as I do in Washington, DC, surrounded by both photographers and federal buildings, I'm frankly relieved. The directive even notes that "officers should not seize the camera or its contents, and must be cautious not to give such ‘orders' to a photographer to erase the contents of a camera, as this constitutes a seizure or detention." Nice, all-encompassing information. You can get the official document here. 

Many blogs are calling on photographers to print out the form and carry it with them. But I say communicators, particularly those in federal buildings, can get proactive here: 
  • Share the policy with your security team and front desk folks, and anyone else engaged in building maintenance and security, including relevant managers.
  • Take it a step further and talk to your building security team. Ask: What would you do if someone was photographing our building? I did this in a media training with one organization's security force, about reporters coming on premises in a crisis, and the first response was "Arrest them." We spent more time on that--I said "Imagine what the headline would be," for starters--and you may need to as well.
  • Go transparent.  Link to the policy on your press page or about page, and make it clear to visitors that photos of the building are okay. Share a copy of it with any visiting photographers or camera crews.
If you're doing more to disseminate this swell new policy, share it in the comments so we can all learn.

(Photo from Steve Clancy's Flickr photostream)

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