The right to take photos on public property, including the subway, is well established under the First Amendment. But depending on the T employee who sees you snapping photos, you might get hassled. Other riders have been known to take exception to shutterbugs, too.
On Monday, the T updated its photo policy to make it clear that, under most circumstances, photography is allowed.
Persons may take photographic or video images, including but not limited to film, digital or video recordings (Images) of MBTA Property, including but not limited to stations, buses, trains, or other vehicles for their personal use. Persons must not interfere with transportation activity while taking Images.
The update comes after a period, post-September 11, when authorities cracked down on taking photos on transportation systems. The reasoning given was that terrorists might document infrastructure as a prelude to an attack.
But while the new policy generally upholds the right to take photographs, it does make some exceptions:
Images of designated Restricted Areas (e.g. an area not open to the public, an area designated for “MBTA Employees Only”, etc.), are not permitted. Any person observed taking Images on, in, or of a Restricted Area may be subject to law enforcement action as appropriate.
The entire policy is available in the PDF attached to this post. It had last been updated in 2007.
Of course, a written policy is one thing — whether the T official in front of you knows it or how he interprets it is another, as commenters in this lively thread on Universal Hub point out.
The T says it is making sure all employees understand the policy.
"A Special Order was issued to all subway and bus personnel, outlining the new provisions," said Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the MBTA, in an email. "Supervisory staff are also discussing the policy with front-line employees. In addition, it will be discussed during all training programs (for both new hires and re-certification for existing personnel)."
Pesaturo said Transit Police are including the photography policy in their training and that a memo had been sent to officers.
The T itself recently began encouraging passengers to take photos of suspicious persons or situations with the "See Something Text Something" smart phone app.
Did you take an interesting photo on the T? Add it to the "Seen and Heard on the T" Community Gallery