By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Exposing the T’s ludicrous photo ban

Now that the MBTA has fired a trolley driver because a passenger photographed him letting two kids take the wheel, do you suppose the T will reconsider its no-longer-official prohibition on allowing people to take pictures?

Marie Szaniszlo reports in the Boston Herald today that the unidentified Green Line driver was photographed while his young son and nephew were playing with the controls. The photos were taken by Michael Critz, who posted them on Craigslist. “I don’t take any joy in the firing of the driver,” Critz is quoted as saying.

No mention in the Herald story of the photo ban, but it’s well-known to local photographers. In 2006, I gave a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award to the T for its ridiculous policy, which is supposedly aimed at thwarting terrorists.

The practice is inconsistently employed, does nothing to address surreptitious or long distance photographs of the same sites, and restricts the rights of law-abiding persons,” wrote John Reinstein, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Jonathan Albano, a prominent First Amendment lawyer, in a letter to the T several years ago. Reinstein and Albano further argued that the ban violates both the federal and state constitutions.

Not only did the T not overturn its censorious policy [sort of; see below], but it continues to enforce it. Only yesterday, Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub linked to some T photos taken by Carolyn Serrano, who writes on her Flickr page:

I actually got in trouble taking this photo! I was leaning against the pole to brace myself as I took this shot (imagine, no flash in a dim setting…that’s a couple secs that I needed to stay absolutely still which is super hard for me!) and on the speakers they were making announcements about how photos were not allowed. I disregarded it, thinking no way were they talking about me. But they kept on re-iterating it and stopped only when I put my camera away!

The MBTA is our property, paid for with our tax dollars and fare money. Despite no-photo policy, there are 7,391 photos on Flickr tagged with “mbta” right now. So not only is the policy a violation of the First Amendment, but it’s not working. It’s time for T general manager Dan Grabauskas repeal this misguided assault on our free-speech rights.

Update: Adam Gaffin tells Media Nation that the T actually softened its policy (PDF) more than a year ago, but that employees still haven’t gotten the message. “Naturally, nobody at the top seems to have communicated this with employees, who continue to harass people,” Gaffin says.

Photo (cc) by Brian Talbot and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Adam Gaffin

    This is really more of yet another example of one hand at the T not knowing what the other is doing.The T has long allowed photography with a permit (which became a lot harder to get after the DNC). Last year, the MBTA actually revised its photo policy to allow photography without a permit, within reasonable limits (no flash, no tripods). You can see the new official policey here.Naturally, nobody at the top seems to have communicated this with employees, who continue to harass people.

  2. Tunder

    Ironically, I’m a professional photographer but my comment is not related. Does this have anything to do with recent MBTA/train crashes due to drivers on cellphones and/or texting?

  3. LFNeilson

    I’m so glad it’s a just ban on ludicrous photos and not ludicrous postings, such as this. Could we expect anything better out of Toonerville?zzzzzz

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