Let’s Go Over This Again… Photography Is Not A Crime!

It seems that Homeland Security has embarked on another of those “if you see something, say something” campaigns, something that has become far too popular among police agencies at all levels.

And, this being 2018, they tweeted each of the of the “warning signs”, including this gem.

Tweet from Homeland Security regarding photography as a threat

So what’s “unusual” when it comes to photography? Many people view anyone carrying a DSLR as suspicious. Even though my six-year old Rebel makes a pretty poor spy camera.

How do you determine “prolonged interest”? A good photographer will often look for different perspectives on a good subject and wait for different light, taking multiple shots along the way. Is that considered a “covert manner”?

One of the worst parts of the campaign is the infographic featuring all the “warning signs”. Homeland Security is placing photography on the same level with activities like theft, making threats, cyberattack, and collecting weapons.

Unfortunately, attempting to restrict the right to photograph in public spaces, always in the name of security, never seems to go away, especially in the DC area. Despite court rulings, Congressional hearings on the matter, and the fact that absolutely no link has ever been established between people taking pictures and terrorist acts. Even Stephen Colbert (no, the other one) found the whole idea amusing.

But you don’t think taking pictures with a smartphone exempts you from being considered “suspicious”, do you? Now would be a good time to review your rights as a photographer, regardless of your equipment.

Attorney Bert Krages has created The Photographer’s Right, a pdf summary based on information from the ACLU. He’s also written a book on the subject that also goes into the legal rights and responsibilities if you plan to sell your images.

If you want to dive deeper into the subject without paying, the ACLU themselves have an extensive online collection of articles and posts on the subject.

Of course, this information applies to the United States. I haven’t found a lot of good resources for other countries, although many western nations provide similar rights for the art of photography. Wikimedia Commons does offer a general chart about laws regarding taking and using pictures of people in many countries. The Wikipedia article on Photography and the law, covering the UK, Canada, and other countries, is also useful.

And, as you might expect, there is a great deal of controversy and uncertainty around taking pictures of law enforcement activities. Be extra cautious when practicing journalistic photography.

The Right Person For the Job

The Department of Homeland Security needed someone to be the deputy undersecretary of the department’s National Protections Program Directorate.

That’s government HR speak for the person in charge of making sure the government’s computers are secure and protected from cyber attacks and all kinds of malware.

So, who did they decide was the right person for the job?

Reitinger comes to DHS from his job as chief trustworthy infrastructure strategist for Microsoft, a job that required him in part to help develop and implement strategies for enhancing the security of critical infrastructures.

In other words, DHS picked someone who was responsible for making “trustworthy” the operating systems and software many people in the security industry feel are largely at fault for providing the many holes allowing all those cyber attacks and malware to do their thing.

We call that irony, kids. :-)

At least his qualifications are an improvement over the last person who held the job, continuing a major theme of the Obama administration.

And, if you think about it, if anyone knows where the bugs are buried, it would probably be Mr. Reitinger.

Following The China Model

The FBI is developing new rules under which their agents could investigate anyone for any reason. Period.

Congressional staff members got a glimpse of some of the details in closed briefings this month, and four Democratic senators told Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey in a letter on Wednesday that they were troubled by what they heard.

The senators said the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps “without any basis for suspicion.” The plan “might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities,” the letter said.

I wonder if the FBI might open an investigation on someone who blogs about policies that permit the government to slice and dice the constitution at will.

Nah! That kind of stuff only happens in countries we don’t like.

False Sense of Security

If you’re traveling in or out of the United States, you may want to leave your laptop at home.

It seems that our Department of Homeland Security can take your computer to an “off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing”.

On top of that, they also can “share copies of the laptop’s contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons”.

However, you may want to also leave home every other carrier of information you own since this stupidity doesn’t stop with laptops.

The policies cover “any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form,” including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover “all papers and other written documentation,” including books, pamphlets and “written materials commonly referred to as ‘pocket trash’ or ‘pocket litter.’ “

Again, DHS agents have been told they can do this “without any suspicion of wrongdoing”.

There, I feel more secure. Don’t you?

Smile for the Cameras

Over the past decade, the UK has spent billions of pounds to install and monitor closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras on tens of thousand of street corners around the country.

It’s a system that many homeland security fanatics hold up as an example of what should be done here in the US to reduce crime and fight terrorism.

Except that the technology has not been especially effective since “only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images” and it’s not seen as much of a deterrent.

Use of CCTV images for court evidence has so far been very poor, according to Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, the officer in charge of the Metropolitan police unit. “CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure,” Neville told the Security Document World Conference in London. “Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It’s been an utter fiasco: only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. There’s no fear of CCTV. Why don’t people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working.”

However, the police want to press on and put even more money into the system. They want to build a database of images caught on camera and use software that can automatically scan the pictures for details.

That’s fine for the bad guys, of course, but what about the rest of us caught on camera who are not guilty of anything.

Asked about the development of a CCTV database, the office of the UK’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “CCTV can play an important role in helping to prevent and detect crime. However we would expect adequate safeguards to be put in place to ensure the images are only used for crime detection purposes, stored securely and that access to images is restricted to authorised individuals. We would have concerns if CCTV images of individuals going about their daily lives were retained as part of the initiative.”

And we know that would never happen, right?

I’m going to be in London for a week this summer. Considering their campaign asking people to report “odd looking photographers”, I wonder how many pictures of CCTV cameras I can take before I get picked up. :-)