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NYCLU Calls On City To Abandon New Proposal Requiring Permits For Casual Photography

A proposed regulation that would require large numbers of casual photographers and film makers to obtain City permits should be abandoned, the New York Civil Liberties Union said in formal comments filed today. The New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcast is holding a hearing today on the new rules.

Until recently, New York City had no written rules governing the issuance of photography and film permits. After the NYCLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the MOFTB permit practices, including its requirement that all photographers and film makers obtain permits and have proof of $1 million of insurance, the City agreed to adopt written rules and to narrow its permit scheme.

The new proposed rules, which the City quietly published the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, are a considerable improvement over the prior scheme because they generally exempt from the permit requirement those using hand-held cameras, exempt photography or filming at protests and demonstrations, and eliminate onerous insurance requirements. Nonetheless, the new rules still would require City-issued permits and proof of insurance for any person using only a handheld camera in any public area if in a group of two or more and using the camera for more than thirty minutes. This requirement would sweep into the MOFTB permit scheme large numbers of people, particularly tourists, who congregate in public places throughout New York City — like Times Square, Rockefeller Center, or Ground Zero — and casually photograph or videotape.

“This requirement makes no sense, violates the First Amendment right to photograph in public places, and opens the door to selective and discriminatory enforcement,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

“We see absolutely no reason why a family visiting Ground Zero or standing in line outside the Empire State Building for half an hour should be required to obtain a permit from New York City to snap casual photographs or to use a camcorder,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who submitted the NYCLU’s comments.

A second provision to which the NYCLU objects would require small groups using a single tripod for more than ten minutes to obtain a permit.

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