But I Digress… A Question of First Amendment Rights

I blurred the faces of the children. Because... paranoia

I blurred the faces of the children. Because… paranoia

Fargo, North Dakota

A photographer practicing candid street photography got some pushback from people in a public park. Seems they accused him of surreptitiously photographing children for some purpose, no doubt creepy. They called the police.

Of course, the photographer stated his reasons for the photos, and for his surreptitiousness. He was practicing candid street photography; wanting to catch people in their natural actions not affected by their knowledge of the presence of a photographer.

The person who originally called authorities saw it otherwise. The assumption was that the photographer was photographing kids in the park for some less than pure purpose. While the actions of this photographer may have appeared creepy, it was his first amendment right to do what he was doing, and people who are in public shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy. I suspect if the photographer was using a cell phone camera, nobody would have given it a second thought. But this guy was behind a structure using a quality camera with a long telephoto lens.

After the police used forensic analysis to determine there were no creepy photos of kids on the camera’s memory card, not even on the deleted photos, the Fargo Parks Department chose to ban him from all park pools for 90 days. As an aside, a search of the photographer’s car turned up a small amount of marijuana for which he was prosecuted. It would seem this is an unwarranted search and a violation of the fourth amendment. Coupled with the official’s violation of the photographer’s first amendment rights, I hope that someone with enough knowledge of the law can at the least get the ban rescinded with an appropriate apology from the park department. One could make a case for unlawful search on the marijuana charge, but the cost to defend himself from the charge may not be worth the expense compared to the ramifications of having a possession mark on his record.

Probably the most egregious statement came from a Clay County (Minnesota) sheriff’s detective who commented on a social media website. He posted, “somebody should of stomped his guts out.” If this is his method of protecting the public, it’s no wonder people are losing respect for the officers who are charged “to protect and to serve.”

Background on this incident can be found in these articles from the Fargo (North Dakota) Forum.






5 thoughts on “But I Digress… A Question of First Amendment Rights

  1. One of the reasons I’m always hesitant to photograph people is that they might feel I’m being intrusive. There has to be a balance, but finding it is obviously sometimes fraught with difficulties.


  2. I’ve been vaguely aware of this situation, but this is the first time I’ve gotten in depth knowledge. This is an outrage, and a clear violation of his rights. What a bummer. How weird, like you mention that if he was on a phone no one would pay attention, but since he had the equivalent of a camera AR15 he was carted away and his car was searched(?). WTH.

    • I suspect his surreptitious actions were partly responsible for the response, but that’s what candid street photography is all about. I’d be not happy with the park department, if I were in his place.

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