Protest the Photo Bans!


Yes, if a ban on subway photography as proposed by the MTA is enacted.

Look for the latest news in RED!!!

The current rule, if not always properly enforced, is that amateur photography without lights and ancillary equipment, is permitted under New York State Compilation Codes, Rules and Regulations section 1050.9(c). However, on May 20th, 2004, New York City Transit proposed a ban on amateur photography and videotaping, citing "security concerns".

The previously proposed changes to the Rules of Conduct regarding the photo ban have reappeared and are published in the November 24th edition of the NY State Register. This means the 45 day comment period has begun. No hearings are scheduled.

The text of the notification is as follows: light recent national and international events that have underscored the need for heightened security measures throughout the transit system, a reinstatement of a prohibition that existed until the early 1990's against photography, filming, and video recording in transit facilities and on transit conveyances without prior authorization except for members of the press.... Consideration was given to restricting photography, etc. of sensitive areas only. However it was felt that a less restrictive approach would not yield the necessary security enhancements and given the nature of the activities in question enforcement of a rule which required law enforcement personnel to make a judgement of the precise subject matter being photographed would be highly problematic. -- NYS Register, November 24, 2004, pp. 15-16.

Text of the new rule: 1050.9.c. No photograph, film or video recording shall be made or taken on or in any conveyance or facility by any person, except members of the press holding valid press identification cards issued by the New York City Police Department or by others duly authorized in writing to engage in such activity by the authority. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

The 45 day comment period closes January 8th. Submit comments to David Goldenberg, New York City Transit Authority, 130 Livingston Street, Room 1207, Brooklyn NY 11201, 718-694-5454.

In the New York Times on May 21, 2004 NYCT spokesman Charles F. Seaton was quick to point out that press card holders are exempt, and "commercial enterprises" with "legitimate needs" would be allowed to take pictures with permission obtained in advance. But that's the same as the CURRENT policy for press and commercial enterprises. Given that the MTA charges for commercial photo and film shoots, they want to make it clear that they are not going to sacrifice a revenue stream in the name of enhanced security. We can all see what that means: "Individuals don't have big business to support them. We can hassle them with impunity!"

A secondary reason for such a ban which is mentioned frequently is that they are trying to prevent documentation of real security risks, shoddy working conditions, safety hazards, lazy workers, and other more serious rules violations. This may be a minor side effect but one must consider possible hidden agendas.

The madness doesn't just extend to New York City. New Jersey Transit has also enacted such a ban, even so far as having police detain and question people taking photos of NJT trains from PUBLIC STREETS. No trespassing was involved, no laws were broken. This has affected regular users of this very web site. Was their camera taken? No. Were they arrested? No. Charged? No. So, no harm no foul right? Well, if you consider being taken into custody, deprived due process and Miranda rights, interviewed by local terrorism agents, "all right". One person's story is here. Another story is here.

Speaking of due process rights violations, how is such a ban going to be enforced? It is impossible to detect every single camera without a physical search -- small camera phones aren't even near to what is on the cutting edge commercially. If you're a bad guy, won't you have such a camera, which no one will notice anyway? Only honest people will be stopped.

An interesting unanswered question is: "Why prevent only NEW photography?" Is this a prelude to even more bans, this time on web sites? includes over 11,000 photos of the subway lines, past and present, and over 17,000 more of transit systems worldwide. Should these be considered historical documents or a source of information to terrorists? Webmasters and contributors could even be labeled terrorist facilitators. Even the Library of Congress has close up, detailed photos of key structures and bridges, "soft targets". Will the government aim to censor the Library of Congress? It doesn't even have to be the government. Any legal action by MTA lawyers to "encourage" rail fan web sites to shut down in the name of security will cost a fortune to defend against. Short of support from an organization like the ACLU, many sites will fold. Permitting a ban on NEW photography is another step toward removal of ALL of these websites, in the name of "security". There is no reason to believe that banning photography will ensure that no future terrorist attacks will occur. If photography is banned, the terrorist will find a new method to plan his or her attack. If it is the terrorist's goal to carry out an attack, he or she will find a way to meet that goal if there is a photography ban or not. Other, more effective and worthwhile measures should be taken instead to combat terrorism. This ban will do nothing and in some ways, is a win for the terrorists, for the fear they have created is now inhibiting Americans' ability to take photographs in public places and exercise our freedoms.

Special events like the New York Transit Museum and the NYCT Subdivision C nostalgia train excursions for charity are at risk. Of course, not all riders of such trains are photographers, but these trips often include scheduled "photo stops", run-by's, yard visits, and other things specifically aimed at allowing photographers good views. The thought is, why go if photography will all of a sudden be illegal?

On Monday, May 31, 2004, the MTA posted the proposed rule changes in full on their website. They can be read here. The website includes a copy of the staff summary that went to the MTA Board and the actual changes in the text of the Rules of Conduct.

Who's come out against the ban?

  • Mayor Bloomberg. 1010-WINS radio reports he "blasted" the proposed ban, but quoted him as saying merely "...if there are some tourists and they want to take pictures of each other on the subway train -- come on, get real." Not much of a blast, but at least he's publically against the ban.
  • The New York Civil Liberties Union. As quoted in the New York Daily News, May 22nd. "Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the photo ban 'grossly excessive.' 'There is no reason a tourist taking a snapshot in a subway car should be interrogated by the police or face the prospect of being taken into custody,' he added."
  • New York Newsday. Editorial on May 22nd: "Security issues didn't stop NYC Transit from shuttering some of its subway token booths last year and removing the clerks who help keep an eye on the the system. But now officials, claiming security reasons, want to restrict photography on subways and buses. However admirable their concern for public safety, the proposal would serve no purpose other than to deprive locals and tourists of the chance to capture an irreplaceable New York City experience.... preventing [terrorists] from photographing or filming subway images won't keep them from plying their trade."

What can you do?

The New York Transit Museum, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress and other such organizations have the means and need to SPEAK OUT, now. But what, then, can individual railfans do to support the cause?

  • Sign the petition. If you have not done so, please sign this petition. It has been signed by railfans and transit advocates including Gene Russianoff of the Straphanger's Campaign. If you have yet to sign the petition or already have, please inform other message boards, transit or non-transit related, about the petition. Tell non-transit fans that allowing this proposed ban to become law will set a precedent for the enacment of other bans that could affect them.

  • Submit Comments to the Public Hearing Process. The previously proposed changes to the Rules of Conduct regarding the photo ban have reappeared and are published in the November 24th edition of the NY State Register. This means the 45 day comment period has begun. No hearings are scheduled. The 45 day comment period closes January 8th. Submit comments to David Goldenberg, New York City Transit Authority, 130 Livingston Street, Room 1207, Brooklyn NY 11201, 718-694-5454.

    Other people you may wish to write to:

    • The MTA Board: Address comments to the board members by writing to "Name, Title" at 347 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10017.
      • Peter S. Kalikow, Chairman
      • David S. Mack, Vice Chairman
      • Edward B. Dunn, Vice Chairman
      • Andrew Albert
      • John H. Banks III
      • James F. Blair
      • Nancy Shevell Blakeman
      • Anthony J. Bottalico
      • Michael J. Canino
      • Barry Feinstein
      • Lawrence W. Gamache
      • James H. Harding Jr.
      • Susan Kupferman
      • Mark D. Lebow
      • James L. McGovern
      • Mark Page
      • Ernest J. Salerno
      • Andrew M. Saul
      • James L. Sedore Jr.
      • James S. Simpson
      • Edward A. Vrooman
      • Ed Watt
      • Alfred E. Werner

    • MTA Management: Same address as above.
      • Christopher P. Boylan, Deputy Executive Director/Corporate and Community Affairs
      • Catherine A. Rinaldi, Deputy Executive Director/General Counsel
      • William A. Morange, Deputy Executive Director/Director of Security
      • Katherine N. Lapp, Executive Director
      • Thomas J. Savage, Chief Operating Officer
      • Lawrence G. Reuter, President, MTA New York City Transit

    • Office of the Inspector General: "The Inspector General's office monitors the activities of the MTA and seeks to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, safety, and quality of its agencies' operations." (OIG Website)

      Matthew D. Sansverie
      Inspector General

      James Bono, Deputy Inspector General
      Intergovernmental and Public Affairs Unit

      Office of the Inspector General
      Metropolitan Transportation Authority
      111 West 40th Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

    • New York Civil Liberties Union
      Donna Lieberman, Executive Director
      125 Broad Street
      17th Floor
      New York, NY 10004

    • Don't forget elected officials, Borough Presidents, etc. More to come...

    Let these people know your feelings about the proposed ban. Remember to be polite. Written communication in the form of a "business" letter is much more meaningful than a dashed-off email "rant". Take the time and do it right.

  • Continue to photograph legally. Even if transit employees or police tell you otherwise, photography is still legal on the New York City subway, WMATA, CTA, and many other subway systems around the nation and world. Others require that you obtain a permit. Only a select few, such as PATH, actually prohibit all amauter photography, but do check the policy of the transit system you plan to photograph in advance. You are still responsible if you violate any laws and did not check to see if you would be violating them in advance, regardless of what this website says. This website is not an official website for any transit authority, anywhere. If you are confronted, use common sense and politely explain that the ban is only a proposal and not official at this time. If the employee/officer refuses to yield, ask them for their name/badge number/other identification and report them to the proper authorities. They are almost always required by law to give that information to you.

The most up to date news will often be found at the SubChat Message Board. This space will be updated with the most important news as it occurs. The date this page was last updated appears at the bottom of the page.

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This page was derived from the home page of New York City Subway Resources.

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