Discretionary law

No smoking, no snapping in NYC:

Some tourists, amateur photographers, even would-be filmmakers hoping to make it big on YouTube could soon be forced to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance before taking pictures or filming on city property, including sidewalks.

New rules being considered by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance. The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment.

Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers. Nevertheless, the New York Civil Liberties Union says the proposed rules, as strictly interpreted, could have that effect. The group also warns that the rules set the stage for selective and perhaps discriminatory enforcement by police.

As you probably know, I don’t much care whether New York continues to provide the backdrop for hilarious television comedies about the idiosyncratic lives of twenty-somethings exchanging theoretically witty one-liners or disappears in smoke and fire. And it’s debatable which group is more annoying, tourists with cameras around their necks or would-be photographic artists intent on inflicting their vision on an unsuspecting humanity.

But I find this law interesting for the way that it specifically articulates what is an increasingly common practice of ensuring that everyone is in technical violation of the law, then arbitrarily enforcing said law at the discretion of the representative of the legal authority.

I’ve always been skeptical of the legitimacy of most so-called law – “I’m a rebel, so I rebel” – but it’s becoming increasingly hard for even the most genuinely law-abiding citizens to pretend that it is anything but a charade in which we all pretend to believe.

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