Terrorism and Photography

It’s logical, right? Someone plotting a terrorist act would first take plenty of pictures in the process.

So, authorities are completely justified to be suspicious of photographers, right?

Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

The writer goes on to explain more about why harassing people taking pictures in public spaces is a waste of time and money.

As well as how and why we should push back when security people try to exceed their authority.

This is worth fighting. Search “photographer rights” on Google and download one of the several wallet documents that can help you if you get harassed; I found one for the UK, US, and Australia. Don’t cede your right to photograph in public. Don’t propagate the terrorist photographer story. Remind them that prohibiting photography was something we used to ridicule about the USSR. Eventually sanity will be restored, but it may take a while.

Sanity? Now that’s something we could use a lot more of in all these discussions about security.

Picturing The Photography Ban

I don’t watch a lot of local news but fortunately, this story is online so all can view the stupidity that seems to be a growing part of living in the DC area.

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past few years about people being harassed for taking pictures in public places around the District, the latest wave centered on Union Station.

Last week a reporter from the local Fox affiliate did a story on the topic which included filming segments inside the Station itself.

However, the true irony here is that while they were interviewing a representative from Amtrak (it is a train station, after all), a security guard tried to stop them saying that there was a “no photography” policy in the building.

Union Station

Of course, he couldn’t define the policy and the reporter wasn’t able to find it on the company web site or get an official copy from the company that manages the site.

They also showed video of several tourists snapping away without being harrassed, something I’ve observed every time I’ve been there.

The Fox story ended with a note about the District Congressional representative (give that lady a vote, already!) proposing some kind of legislation on the matter.

I’m not sure a new law is required but someone certainly needs to explain to all the paranoid security people in this area that photography does not equal terrorism.

If you’re interested in more on this issue, the very active DC Photo Rights group in flickr is a good place to start.

Blocking the Camera

Andy tells an interesting but scary story of almost being arrested for taking pictures in Washington DC’s Union Station.

Although his camera was somewhat unusual (Gigapan is a new device to capture a 360 panorama), the rotating group of security people really couldn’t give him a solid reason for harassing him.

Throughout the conversation, which I should point out was conducted in a cordial, but firm tone, we received mixed messages from the security guards. One told us the problem was that we were using a tripod, while another insisted it was because we had “that thing” on top of our tripod. They then changed the story again, and said that journalists couldn’t take pictures without permission from management, and that Union Station is a private space run by a private company, not a public space. They never gave us an answer as to why we were first allowed to take photos in the first location, but could not do the same here.

I’ve taken pictures in that space (which was renovated in part with public money) using my “professional” SLR and watched many tourists with all sorts of cameras doing the same. Never seen a guard object.

But I’m also not surprised that anything that sticks out like this sets people off around this town. They become even more agitated when people try to stand up for their rights.

Our society seems to have become very paranoid when it comes to photography of any kind.

Go read Andy’s tale, scan some of the more than 100 comments on the post, and take a peek at the pictures he managed to get.

No Pictures?

I don’t know what it is about a site like Strictly No Photography that appeals to my warped little mind.

Maybe it’s just the rebellious attitude to the banning of ordinary people taking pictures of places and things often paid for with public money.

Flickr also has a group dedicated to the same mission called You can’t take pictures here but this site is a little more in your face about the issue.

Considering how decent cameras are being shrunk to amazingly small sizes these days, the whole idea of blocking photography, not to mention video, is becoming a hopeless cause.

But really there’s always been a way to get the shot if you really wanted to.

As evidence, I have ten to fifteen minutes of video taken during a tour of Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s residence in Scotland, at a time when video cameras were shoulder mounted. I just forgot the camera was running as I carried it around.

You believe that, don’t you? :-)

[Link by way of the Mental Floss blog.]

You Can’t Take Pictures In Public

Photography Banned in Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland

That headline reads like a report from the Onion Radio News. Unfortunately, it’s all true.

“This past Tuesday I went to downtown Silver Spring, had lunch, and then took out my camera and standing on Ellsworth Avenue, I began taking shots of the buildings with the blue sky and clouds as a backdrop. Almost immediately, a security guard approached and told me ‘there was no picture taking allowed in Downtown Silver Spring.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I am on a city street, in a public place — taking pictures is a right that I have protected by the first amendment.’ The guard told me to report to the management office.

“There, Stacy Horan informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including Ellsworth Avenue is private property, not a public place, and subject to the rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to ‘protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a story in which they could write bad things about us.’ And she told me that many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don’t what their ‘concepts’ to be photographed for security reasons.”

It appears that this street, Ellswoth Avenue, in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland is, in fact, a private street.

The complete story turns out to be more complex and even more stupid.

So, where does it end? Here in the DC area, people have become downright paranoid of cameras

It’s quite likely we’ll see even more claims of legal rights to restrict photography in public spaces where no law exists, often in the name of “homeland security”.

To try and slow down this obsession with limiting individual freedoms, Chip Py, the victim in this story, and a friend have formed a flickr group called DC Photo Rights.

Others who share the outrage over this stupidity are planning a protest on the streets of Silver Spring beginning at noon on July 4th.

I don’t live anywhere near Silver Spring (I’m on the complete opposite side of the District) but I’m tempted to join them.