From The Columbia Journalism Review

After military police detained two journalists last month outside a military manufacturing plant, an Army spokesman said the journalists had violated “Federal law and Army Regulations” by photographing the facility.

But which law, and which regulations? The Army didn’t say at the time—and it won’t say now.

We have a pretty good idea, though, of one federal law the government is likely to cite when it responds to a lawsuit filed by The Blade of Toledo, OH. And if the case goes to trial, it could present the first constitutional challenge to a statute that’s been on the books since the World War II era.

All of this stems from a March 28 incident at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center (JSMC) in Lima, OH, where Blade photographer Jetta Fraser reportedly took photos of the center while standing in a small roadway between the public street and the guard hut at the facility’s entrance. When she tried to leave, with Blade reporter Tyrel Linkhorn, military police detained and questioned them—and confiscated their cameras and deleted digital photos, according to a report in The Blade. Notably, the journalists have not been charged with trespassing.

The newspaper filed a federal lawsuit April 4 against various government officials alleging, among other things, that military police had interfered with the journalists’ lawful exercise of their First Amendment rights. Before and after the lawsuit was filed, Don Jarosz, deputy public affairs officer for the Army’s TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, released a statement asserting the journalists had “taken unauthorized photographs of the installation” from “within the boundaries” of the facility and noting:

JSMC Lima is a restricted Department of Defense Government-owned, Contractor-operated facility that fabricates and assembles armored combat vehicles and equipment for U.S. and Foreign Military customers. According to Federal law and Army Regulations, it is unlawful to take any photograph without first obtaining permission of the commanding officer. Signage to this effect is visible and warns that any such material found in the possession of unauthorized personnel will be confiscated.

In response to inquiries from CJR, Jarosz refused last week to say which “Federal law and Army Regulations” were applicable, adding that it is “standard Army policy not to comment on any pending litigation.” Never mind that I did not ask Jarosz to comment on pending litigation—he was asked to clarify a reference in the statement he released both before and after the lawsuit was filed.

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