We Are Change reporters protested recent announcements from the New York Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting that New York would restrict public filming and photography without holding a city permit and a $1 million liability insurance policy. Police say they intend to enforce the filming policy beginning August 2, 2007.
Some of the voices at the demonstration cited an attempt to make the use of cameras more difficult in an air of "unprecedented confrontation" of politicians and other public officials.
Others simply held signs stating "Freedom Needs No Permit" while videographers vehemently refused to be camera shy on the streets of New York simply due to a seemingly unconstitutional city policy.
The move to impose restrictions on video cameras and other public filming comes at a time in history when consumer video technology is widely available and affordable, while the Internet provides unlimited potential for distribution and independent reporting.
Such a democratized media atmosphere allows for great personal freedom to the journalist, filmmaker, individual or demonstrator and has also imposed unwanted avenues of accountability upon police, politicians and other public figures who may be uncomfortable at an apparent answer to the paradoxical adage 'who watches the watchers?'
Although the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting recently clarified that it is only codifying existing permit rules, it is clear that a tool has been established for use by the city and the NYPD to selectively enforce permit rules [see rules in PDF form] aimed at silencing, dispersing or arresting dissident filmmakers, activists or anyone else potentially irritating authorities.
The policy establishes a dangerous precedent that could threaten free speech nationwide if it is allowed to succeed, potentially prompting other localities to adopt similar policies.
As one voice in the protest video put it:
There have been numerous incidents nationwide of police and others being caught on video engaging in illegal activities and/or other compromising actions-- one potential motive for restricting the use of cameras by ordinary citizens.
Additionally, there have been incidents where police have threatened camera crews with arrest during peaceful demonstrations or even stolen or broken camera equipment. These new rules would give police a seemingly legitimate pretext for breaking up protests or seizing technology-- putting free speech in New York in clear jeopardy.
Citizens with video cameras are empowered not only by the First Amendment, which guards, among other things, the right to free speech and that of a free press, but also by the fourth amendment, where no reasonable expectation of privacy exists in public places, roadways and other locales.
Public streets certainly offer no privacy in the modern day-- cameras record nearly every action in a twenty-four hour cycle. But the rise of technology proves a double edge-- where the same right falls to the individual to film and the laws of consumerism make video technology widely available and affordable.
Imposing limits on such basic freedoms should not stand.
Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting
Office of Mayor Bloomberg
Contact key members of the Bloomberg Administration (NYC Agency Heads and Top Administration Officials)
New York Bureau (212) 617-2300
This report includes information reported and compiled by Steve Watson.
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