The Connecticut Airport Authority has affirmed the public’s right to take photos and video of aircraft at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks after the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut contacted the authority about plane spotters’ complaints of harassment.

Members of the Connecticut Plane Spotters have been legally photographing aircraft around Bradley for decades, engaging in a constitutionally protected pursuit that is allowed and even encouraged at many other airports around the country. In recent years, however, police and airport workers at Bradley have increasingly interfered with that fundamental right, sometimes ordering photographers to stop taking pictures or to leave places where they are legally permitted to be.

Members of the Connecticut Plane Spotters met with airport officials and state police, but neither agreed to assure their right to take photographs and video. So they called the ACLU of Connecticut.

In July 29, 2014, ACLU of Connecticut Staff Attorney David McGuire wrote to the airport’s director of operations, asking for copies of the airport’s policy on photography and an explanation of the legal grounds on which the policy is based. He also reminded the authority that the right to photograph is protected by the constitutions of the United States and Connecticut, and may be restricted only in very narrow circumstances.

On Sept. 2, 2014, Paul Pernerewski, general counsel to the Connecticut Airport Authority, responded with a letter affirming the right to record at the airport. “Please be advised that the CAA does not prohibit photography in any area open to the public at Bradley, including within the terminal,” he wrote. His letter also described parking enforcement and trespassing prohibitions that the ACLU of Connecticut and Connecticut Plane Spotters do not challenge.

“There is a constitutional right, under the First Amendment, to take pictures and record video in places where the public is permitted to be,” McGuire said. “We commend the Connecticut Airport Authority for recognizing this right and we expect the plane spotters will be allowed to resume their hobby without interference.”

“Aviation photographers are often unfairly treated as ‘suspicious persons,’ but it's important for authorities to realize that when we're present at the airport, they have an extra set of eyes and ears at hand watching for truly suspicious activities,” said John Jauchler, a member of the Connecticut Plane Spotters. “The same holds true for other public places where photographers have been singled out.”

“The ACLU of Connecticut has been instrumental in clarifying the official CAA policy on photography, despite earlier statements by airport and law enforcement officials that seemingly prohibited our style of photography in virtually all areas of airport property. For that, we're grateful,” Jauchler said.

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