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Snapping Photos Downtown? Police Are Watching

"'Cause I like to take pictures and I like the way it looks," Wilson told them. Then, he says, "They asked me what I do with my photos. I said, 'I put them on my computer and look at them.'"

The officers examined Wilson's ID, wrote down his name and, he says, told him "we're not going to do anything with this." They warned him not to take any more pictures and thanked him for not getting bent out of shape. And that was that.

Almost. Wilson, a professional musician and avid photographer, wants to know if the law forbids taking pictures of federal buildings. He was "aware of the suspect quality" of photographing the courthouse — with all heightened awareness to potential terrorist activity — but he still wonders why the police came up and talked to him. "I think I looked real Eastern to them," he says.

It's legal to photograph the exterior of a federal building when you're standing off the property, according to Rick Cox with the Federal Protective Service at the Richmond federal courthouse. "But if an officer sees someone taking pictures," he says, "they will go and ask questions."

Wilson says the officers who spoke to him were Capitol Police, but a spokeswoman for that agency says they have no record of Wilson's name.

According to the federal General Services Administration, people in or on federal property may photograph "building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors or auditoriums for news purposes." So the ubiquitous television shots of people taking the walk of shame as they leave the courthouse are fine.

The GSA owns four buildings in Richmond, including the courthouse, and leases space in 27 others. Go ahead and take all the scenic shots of office buildings you want — just don't be surprised when a police officer taps you on the shoulder. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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