Understanding Washington State's Laws on Public Photography

So I went down a fascinating rabbit hole over the weekend and it raised up a good question.

Exceptions and Considerations for Public Photography in Washington State

Can you legally take videos and photos of any public property in Washington?

I've been following these videos where self-proclaimed First Amendment auditors go into a public place and start filming.

The next thing you know, police or security are called and the person is asked to stop filming even though it's a public place.

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Of course, the situation gets hostile because the auditor refuses to show ID unless they are being detained for a crime which generally they don't get charged with a crime because they aren't doing anything illegal.

So what are your rights in Washington State?

According to rowleylegal.com:

Washington State and federal law is quite clear that you have a First Amendment right to photograph anything in plain view in a public space including law enforcement officers, public officials, state and federal buildings.  Law enforcement officers can not confiscate, demand to view, or delete digital photos.  However, you cannot obstruct their law enforcement activities while taking photos.

As you can see, you are allowed to photograph and film in public legally without harassment from police and security as long as you stay within the guidelines.

If you show up at a fire or traffic stop, as long as you stay back within a certain distance, freedom of the press is protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

According to Wikipedia and the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, in 2020, approximately 300 journalists were assaulted in the U.S. (primarily by law enforcement) and at least 110 were arrested or criminally charged concerning their reporting.

So while the general rule allows for photography and videography in public spaces, there are notable exceptions and specific considerations in Washington State.

For instance, you cannot take photos or videos in places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as restrooms, private homes, or changing rooms.

Additionally, commercial use of photographs or videos may require permissions or model releases, particularly if the subjects are recognizable.

There is a lot to sift through but generally speaking, you are allowed to legally film and take pictures in public places in the State of Washington.

You can read more about the law here.

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