When “Photography Forbidden” Really Isn’t (March 28th, 2007)

Earlier today, I spent a very unproductive hour at a local Social Security Administration office. On the way in, I noticed an interesting sign with the following language:

WARNING
Title 41, United States Code, Section 102-74.420

PHOTOGRAPHY PROHIBITED

Federal law prohibits pictures taking in or on Federal property without the verbal or expressed written consent of an authorized official of the occupying agency. This includes building perimeters, entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors or auditoriums.

Kind of scary? Except that the sign is false. First of all, section 102, Title 41 of the US Code talks about a completely unrelated matter – something involving Congress. The real place of look is Code of Federal Regulations, not US Code. That’s mistake #1.

Second, if one actually checks out the language in the regulation it is significantly different:

§ 102-74.420 What is the policy concerning photographs for news, advertising or commercial purposes?

Except where security regulations, rules, orders, or directives apply or a Federal court order or rule prohibits it, persons entering in or on Federal property may take photographs of—

(a) Space occupied by a tenant agency for non-commercial purposes only with the permission of the occupying agency concerned;

(b) Space occupied by a tenant agency for commercial purposes only with written permission of an authorized official of the occupying agency concerned; and

(c) Building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors, or auditoriums for news purposes.

Compare with the language above which says that everything is forbidden without written permission, while in reality non-commercial use is permitted with verbal permission and for news (and I guess blogging), the lobbies, etc. are permissible without any permission.

Additionally, a different regulation states explicetly that the notice posted must contain the language of the regulation, not something made up.

So, in conclusion here is a picture I took of the outside of the building as permitted by part (c) above:
Social Security Administration Office in Owings Mills, MD

P.S. I did not take a picture of the sign itself because I wasn’t sure if the security personell might go after me.

UPDATE: The ACLU has a good guide on this here.

UPDATE #2: I sent a letter to the GSA and got a response promising to fix the signs. Not sure if they did.

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