Surprise! Today we have a special bonus post!
Last night my neighbor and I took advantage of an absolutely stunning evening to do something I’ve wanted to do ever since I moved to Palmyra. We walked the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge into Pennsylvania.
Because we both share photography as a hobby we took our cameras. The Sun was dipping low and we knew the light would be excellent to Capture the Delaware. We marched about two-thirds across the bridge, taking photos the whole time, and then marched back. The pictures are the most unique angles I’ve ever taken from my camera, including some very nice captures of the Philly Skyline in the distance.
Then our moment of “fun” started.
You may have heard it passed around internet circles that the Patriot act forbids the photography of public infrastructure. I had heard the rule myself, and did some research before determining to take the trip earlier in the Summer. There is no such rule, though this does not prohibit some over-zealous officers from trying to enforce the misconception1. I wasn’t expecting any trouble on our excursion and, in the end, we didn’t have any.
That didn’t stop us from being told by two bridge officers, “Guys, I think it’s silly, but Homeland Security says, ‘No pictures of the bridge,’” as we made our way back down into New Jersey.
Now let me be very clear. This officer had probably gotten a 9/11 call from someone 2 and followed standard procedure. He smiled, was relaxed, and genuinely friendly. He didn’t even freak out when I told him, “Actually, no, I don’t have any ID on me 3.” This didn’t stop him from being incorrect about “what Homeland Security says,” but he had no desire to lengthen our encounter any more than I felt like being questioned. The officer’s partner ran my friend’s ID, we chatted, and we parted. I wish I would have gotten his name, because I would have happily bought the guy a cup of coffee some time in the future.
Now, as I wanted to go back with my 55-300mm lens, I did go back and ask him, “Officer, are we allowed to take pictures of the River, then?” He looked at me for a moment and said, “Let’s just say ‘no pictures from the bridge.’ I mean if no one sees you and calls, no one is going to bother you. But if someone calls I do have to check up on it.” Again, legally, this response has no ground to stand on. His answer to me really was more like, “Can you do me a favor?” He was a nice man who had been passed some incorrect information. In return, I just smiled and said, “OK, see you later.” I still do want to get back with my other lens, so I may call DHS and figure out the actual laws, and then go down to the bridge office and notify them of what my intentions are. They may not like it, or tell me not to for public safety reasons 4, but at least I wouldn’t be prevented by the incorrect assertion, “Homeland Security says you can’t 5.”
In case you were interested, here’s my Flickr album from the night.
- Take the time to listen to that podcast, really. ↩
- “If you see something, report it!” Welcome to the police state. ↩
- At the time my ID was residing somewhere in Central PA, as my wife had driven off with it due to my own error. ↩
- And, actually it is rather tight on the span, so I’d find that reasonable. ↩
- To be fair, DHS would “prefer” people not photograph these things. In the same way I prefer people order chocolate ice cream when we go out. But there is no law against it. ↩