I had a minor incident today that reminded me of something important. You need to know what the law says is legal and illegal regarding your photography.
This morning I was told that I was doing something illegal (not by law enforcement, just by a person). This was not photography related, just so you know that upfront here. I said (basically), "What are you talking about?" This person then pointed me to a blog that talked about a somewhat obscure federal law that was passed in 2011.
The blog didn't give specifics about the law, but gave opinion about the law. It was the writer's interpretation of the meaning of the law. I pointed out to the person that the blog was an opinion piece and that I'd need to research what the law actually says. The person then pointed me to the federal government's webpage regarding the law.
The federal government's webpage gave a brief synopsis of the law, but one had to dig much deeper into the site to find the actual 24-page law, which is found within CFR 16. I read all of it and some of it twice. I discovered that what I was doing was not actually illegal. The law didn't apply to me. It applied to manufacturers and distributors and some different industries, but it didn't apply to me because I'm none of those things. Individuals are not regulated by this law.
What I discovered is that the blogger was plain wrong about the law and the synopsis on the webpage wasn't detailed enough to be useful to me. The person, who claimed to be "well versed" on the law, hadn't actually read it and certainly didn't understand it.
The lesson here is that you cannot just read what someone says about laws or synopsis of laws, you must read the laws themselves. You cannot trust what others say, because they may not be right. You need to read the laws for yourself.
As a photographer the laws are a bit muddy. Sometimes it is difficult to know what is legal or illegal, and what your rights are. It can be difficult to even find the laws in the first place. Below are some links that may be helpful.
Photographer's Rights Flyer
Photographer's Guide To Privacy
ACLU articles: "Know Your Rights" and "You Have Every Right To Photograph That Cop"
Permits on Federal and California property
Photo Attorney Blog
PhotoSecrets - Law