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Snapping the Silver Spring Photo Ban

Dozens of photographers and people who believe in the right to take photos in public spaces spent the midsection of the Fourth not sitting at home watching America reclaim the Mustard Belt--the world title in competitive hot dog eating--but out in downtown Silver Spring, where until recently it was forbidden to take pictures on what looks like a public street.

Yesterday's protest action--a simple stroll through the retail strip built by the Peterson Companies while taking pictures--is just one step in the grassroots effort to reclaim Silver Spring's center as a public space. The land is still owned by Montgomery County, but the lease under which the downtown development operates has been interpreted to mean that the developer may regulate visitors' behavior as the owner of a shopping mall does, restricting political, religious and other forms of public expression. But the downtown street that Peterson manages is different, if only because the public perceives it as a seamless continuation of all the surrounding public streets.

While this protest certainly sent a message to Peterson and the county, it will likely take a court challenge to assert the rights of people to treat downtown Silver Spring like any other downtown. The Peterson Companies had led some protesters to believe that the developer's new, more open attitude toward photography would include a "Welcome Photographers" sign out for yesterday's demonstration, but that did not materialize.

But the developer can be sure that any attempt to further restrict photographers will be well documented on the various local photographers' sites.

By Marc Fisher |  July 5, 2007; 5:56 AM ET
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On the news last night they had on I believe the head spokesman for the company - IJ Hudson. Is this the same guy that used to be on Channel 4?

Posted by: DC | July 5, 2007 8:38 AM

Ha - I clicked through to make the exact same comment! Apparently IJ Hudson, formerly a reporter and thus professionally in favor of the first amendment, is now the spokesman for limiting people's rights. Nice! Unless there's another IJ Hudson poking around the local media scene, in which case I take it back.

Posted by: h3 | July 5, 2007 9:14 AM

What I want to see is either the Montgomery County PD either leaving that street alone, as it is now 'owned' my Peterson, or see a formal accounting of Peterson paying the MCPD a fee for their services.

Not that either of these are bound to happen.

Posted by: Jeff | July 5, 2007 9:29 AM

I felt the same way, either its a private street - and I hope they have their own fire and police department - or it isn't.

Posted by: DC | July 5, 2007 9:46 AM

Has anyone seen the web site that Peterson has up for Downtown Silver Spring?

They're putting on the "1st Annual Photo Competition" with a focus on Silver Spring. Notice the wording of the categories:

Photo Categories:

Outdoors/Lifestyle: People dining, shopping, playing in the fountain, reading a book, etc.
Architecture: Buildings, doorways, windows, etc.
Still Life: Food on a table, coffee cup, etc.
Nature: Flowers, plants, animals, etc.

Posted by: Terry Dowdy | July 5, 2007 10:48 AM

IJ may have gotten himself some screen time last night but I don't think he's doing the Peterson Company any favors. His arguments certainly are a little light on facts and long on fear & doubt. I walked up on him in the middle of a conversation yesterday where he was trying to make the case that their lease with the county gives them the right to unilaterally control the usage. He asked Wayan "Haven't you had a lease? Once you do, and pay rent, does the owner have the right to simply come and go as they please, or does that lease afford you some privacy and control?"

I chimed in and asked Wayan if his lease has ever included a condition requiring the provision of public access and use, as the Peterson Companys' does. He quickly changed the subject and stated that nobody wins when it's just lawyers arguing with each other.

You could be right that it's going to take a court case to get Peterson to acknowledge reality. However Jamie Raskin was out with us yesterday and suggested that the Montgomery council should pass a resolution explicitly stating that public use on the land used in these private-public partnership must mean the same rights and responsibilities as on any other city street.

Don of Free Our Streets.

Posted by: Don | July 5, 2007 1:22 PM

I think you came down way too hard on Peterson Companies and Montgomery County. One of the things that makes Silver Spring's "new" streets so much fun is that we don't have to put up with panhandlers, trash, and people behaving obnixiously. It would be great if all our streets were as pleasant as this one in Silver Spring. Until that is a reality, I strongly approve of any control measures put in place--even if a small minority of these measures may appear to go too far. Go write about something that really matters.

Posted by: Ed Oseroff | July 5, 2007 2:37 PM

As a shopper that enjoys the renovation of Silver Spring i'd like to make a few comments. First a factual correction to your column. There was indeed a sign out yesterday welcoming photographers. I saw no one limiting the group yesterday from speaking in public, distributing flyers and photos, or writing on the street and sidewalks in chalk. It seems to me there are two seperate issues that must be looked at individually.
One, the County made an investment in a real estate development. What should the County reasonably expect in return for it's investment? Governments making investments to jump start development happen all over the country. The economic question for the government is can we get a return on our money through the collection of real estate taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, business taxes, etc., that would not have occured if not for that investment. Whether Montgomery County made a good investment here, only time will tell.
The second issue being discussed is a Constitutional one. How does ones rights for their own freedom of expression exist in harmony with the rights of other peoples rights. If i'm walking down a public street, do I want a stranger taking pictures of me or my children with out my consent to do with as they please? What are my rights in that regard?
How can a reasonable person expect a security guard or a property manager to grasp the weight of these issues when our own Supreme Court debates them endlessly.
From your column, I understand Mr. Py got permission to take his pictures prior to this issue becoming a cause celebre.
If you got a problem with the deal made by the County, talk to your Council member.
If you have a question about your First Amendment Rights, consult a constitutional attorney.

Posted by: Bob S. | July 5, 2007 2:42 PM

Our Constitutional rights really matter to some of us, Mr. Oseroff.

--- --- --- ---

Go write about something that really matters.

Posted by: Ed Oseroff | July 5, 2007 02:37 PM

Posted by: Ed W. | July 5, 2007 3:10 PM

"If i'm walking down a public street, do I want a stranger taking pictures of me or my children with out my consent to do with as they please? What are my rights in that regard?"

Posted by: Bob S. | July 5, 2007 02:42 PM


According to the U.S. Supreme Court, if you're walking down a public street or in any other public place you have no expectation of privacy and photographers do not need permission to take your picture. Photographers may need to get your permission if they intend to make money from that photograph (there's an exception for journalists documenting a scene or activity).

Posted by: Anonymous | July 5, 2007 3:15 PM

As posted above, there is no legal expectation of privacy in public places. If you're in public, do not expect to be accorded privacy as legally construed. This includes women who breast-feed in public, whose pictures can be taken and posted on public fora, as well as any person who enjoys taking pictures of young children without their parent's permission. You may not like it, but you won't get the Court's support.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 5, 2007 3:38 PM


Posted by: jim k | July 5, 2007 6:09 PM

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