Congress Weighs in on Photographers’ Rights

Photo courtesy of Sanjay Suchak

It was six months in the making, but photographers now finally know that it’s perfectly legal to shoot in DC’s Union Station.

The Congressional Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management held a hearing today on Union Station, in part to address the issue of its improper and inconsistent enforcement of photography rules. 

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who chaired the hearing, called the situation “pathetic,” noting an incident last spring where a Union Station security officer tried to shut down an interview that the local Fox station was conducting with an Amtrak spokesperson.

Representatives from Amtrak and the company that manages Union Station, Jones Lang LaSalle, testified that it’s legal to take photos in the station and the high turnover of security staff was to blame for the inconsistencies.

Erin McCann, local photographer and member of DC Photo Rights, testified that she’s just looking for some answers. She’s been getting the runaround from management and security guards for six months, getting conflicting information from just about everyone. She said:

I’ve never been clear on why, exactly, a camera is considered threatening. In the aftermath of the 2005 transit bombings in London, for instance, officials appealed to the public for snapshots taken before and after the attacks in their search for clues. An open photography policy can be a security team’s best friend. It also liberates security employees from the task of investigating people like me as I take photographs in the most obvious way possible. With a 10-inch lens on my camera, there is no disguising what I am doing.

Rep. Norton asked for an outline of the station’s new photography policy that is mindful of first amendment rights and a plan to re-train security staff, within 30 and 60 days, respectively.

Read and watch Fox 5’s report here.

Read Erin McCann’s testimony here.

See Erin McCann’s photos of the hearing here.

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