The Right to Bear Cameras

Photography is Not a Crime Tonight Flickr pals Ropeboy, Aqui-Ali, Ranjit and I all went down to Oakland’s warehouse district to shoot. No sooner had we begun than we were stopped and confronted by Sheriffs. They required each of us to turn over our IDs and then proceeded to detain us for about 20 minutes. Admitedly there is a small power plant and trains down in the district but ask yourself this, should carrying a camera result in this kind of harrasment? Should the police be able to randomly stop you and run your ID for warrants or a background check merely for being in the wrong place with a camera? There is a chill in the air in this country right now but I’m not sure that taking it out on the rights of photographers is the correct answer. We were committing no crime and peacefully assembling for the purpose of our passion, photography and it’s pursuit in a group that we call Flickr.

This particular cop asked that I not take his photograph. I took this shot anyway when he wasn’t paying attention. As I understand it, freedom of the press involves the ability to photograph law enforcement and what some might view as an abuse of power.

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99 Comments

  1. Doran says:

    IANAL, but I doubt this is supposed to happen. Though, you might be required to submit now and then only allowed to complain later. So much for that whole innocent until proven to be Voldemort thing.

    Did you get any names? The EFF has whole bunches of info regarding this stuff. Check them out.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Tom, I’m sure you really meant to write:

    “Tonight, another chapter in the ongoing fight to protect out way life. America’s finest were once again called upon; this time, in the warehouse district of Oakland, California, where they encountered a meandering group of four males, equipped with image capturing devices. Cautiously aware of their proximity to both rail lines and a power plant, officers approached to investigate the group’s intentions and identities. Fortunately for all, the situation lasted little more than half an hour. As the four explained to law enforcement, they were simply photography hobbyists, attempting to take snapshots for display on internet web pages. After initially challenging the police for their willful intrusion on “the rights of photographers”, the internet hobbyists quickly disbanded after being informed of their own willful intrusion on the rights of Oakland property owners.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    pfff. terrorists are everywhere… there’s one hiding under my desk…. in the closet…

  4. Swanksalot says:

    What a crock. I thought Oakland was a so-called liberal town? What’s the issue anyway? Photographers are now suspects before they do anything criminal?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Relax…you’ll be happy they interrupted your little hobby the next time a whole bunch of innocent people are blown to bits.

    Living in SF must do something to your mind to make you completely paranoid about cops, gov’t.

    I’d unsubscribe if I didn’t like your pictures as much as I do…

  6. The Big Kahuna says:

    I’d be rather suspicious too if three ethnic looking fellas came snooping around with cameras.

  7. I’m pretty sure the 20 minutes you’re referring to started at the time he first made contact with you and asked for your id, correct?

    I’m also willing to be you weren’t detained, nor sited with anykind of warning that said “carrying a camera”. Most likely he was finding out why you were in a suspicious area at night.

    As for him asking you not to take his picture, you violated his personal civil rights not to be photographed. Yes, police officers have their own rights too and are entitled to the same protections you are.

    Next time, try chilling before you freak out. You weren’t cited were you? No harm done? Not a big thing. He was doing his job and checking on suspicious activity.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The right of the people (that’s you) to be secure in their persons (you again), houses, papers (your ID), and effects (your camera), against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…

    Looks like a pretty clear case of civil rights violation to me. But then, I’m not a lawyer. Perhaps the fourth ammendment does not mean what I think it means in the Bay Area.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Who are these disturbing freaks who automatically take the side of the police? I get the frightening sense that such people would cheer the imposition of martial law across America if it helped to keep streets and neighborhoods “clean.”

  10. Anonymous says:

    sounds like its time arrange a little FLICKR photo party again…get a few hundred people down there with cameras and see if they come down on you with truncheons and tear gas…and to those who think all this over-copping is good, look how all the extra security on the london metro prevented it from happening again two weeks later…

  11. Anonymous says:

    In public we don’t have “personal civil rights” not to be photographed.

    And those of you who think the police should stop and warrant check every photographer — do you really believe their are terrorists everywhere?

    The Oklahoma City bombers weren’t “ethnic” and didn’t need photographs.

    The Unabomber didn’t need photographs.

    There has been no proof that the first World Trade Center bombers or the 9/11 bombers needed photographs.

    Having the police check photographers is just an attempt by the fascist leaning persons in our society to consolidate their power during a period of fear.

    domoni
    http://templeofme.com

  12. E says:

    This makes me just want to shoot more in more public places.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “Next time, try chilling before you freak out. You weren’t cited were you? No harm done? Not a big thing. He was doing his job and checking on suspicious activity.”

    This is the same logic people apply to defend racial profiling. You were a bit suspicious, weren’t you, being of a different race or dressing differently? You were only detained or searched, you shouldn’t be worried if you have nothing to hide.

    It’s the same problem with picture-taking. You should not be delayed so police can (illegally) try to control what information you legally acquire. Making photography illegal is ridiculous and acting like photography is illegal is just as problematic.

  14. ATTENTION: WHOEVER YOU ARE CALLED “Anonymous” SAID THE FOLLOWING:

    “Relax…you’ll be happy they interrupted your little hobby the next time a whole bunch of innocent people are blown to bits.

    Living in SF must do something to your mind to make you completely paranoid about cops, gov’t.

    I’d unsubscribe if I didn’t like your pictures as much as I do…”

    THIS BLOG IS BEING MONITORED BY THE SACRAMENTO OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION. WE WILL BE TAKING STEPS TO IDENTIFY ALL INTERNET ‘ANONYMOUS’ USERS IN ORDER TO ENSURE THE SAFETY AND SECURITY OF THE CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

    YOU MUST HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE IF YOU ARE CHOOSING TO REMAIN ‘ANONYMOUS’.

  15. Cornelius says:


    There has been no proof that the first World Trade Center bombers or the 9/11 bombers needed photographs.

    Your logic isn’t germaine to the discussion. It doesn’t matter if others needed or didn’t need photographs. What matters is that taking photographs of a vital economic area, particularly at night, is a suspicious activity. And it’s suspicious precisely because someone can examine these photos in order to to exploit a weakness or cause damage.

    To deny this, or start throwing that overused and misunderstood word ‘facist’ makes you look like an idiot, imo.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Suspicious activity equals the right for the police to investigate. It has nothing to do with terrorists. Some places are more likely to contain criminal activity. 20 minutes is not an unreasonable amount of time to be checked by the police. Be happy that there are still proactive police in the area. A lazy cop would have let you go, and then may have acted in a different manner when he was given the call via radio.

  17. Waterboy says:

    I don’t think this has anything to do with terrorism, counter-terrorism, the government making people afraid, etc. like the author implies. The cop was doing his job, and he would have been doing his job had this happened before 9/11. A bunch of guys were wandering around somebody else’s property at dusk with cameras, he thought that seemed kinda weird, so he checked it out. He found out what they were doing, ran their ID’s to make sure they weren’t wanted for some real crime (which has been standard procedure for cops for as long as I can remember), then he gave back the ID and let them go about their business. Cop did his job, and you guys are reading too much into this.

  18. Anonymous says:

    It really is the beginning of the 4th reich. People think it’s no big deal, but these rights were fought for and millions died for this right. If you look back at history and nazi Germany, you will see that it began with small little things like what wew are experiencing now and grew into a dictatorship with no individual rights.
    Remeber, those who forget the past as destined to repeat it.
    I fear for our children and future generations.

  19. Anonymous says:

    ” millions died for this right”

    Which right is that, exactly? Walking around private property with a camera late at night? You mean that one? I would have been suspicious, too. Put yourself in the position of the cop and honestly think about what you would have done. What if the person was wearing a long, heavy coat when it was hot out? What if they were carrying a large duffle bag?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Stupid hippies need the most attention.

  21. Blake Richards says:

    Though I agree that several comments have blown this incident way out of proportion, e.g. this is the beginning of a fascist state, etc., I also think that the cops actions were not 100% kosher. If the officer had merely stopped the individuals to ask them what they were doing and get a good look at them, fine. But, demanding ID and running background checks is an infringement of rights. Why? Let’s say these individuals DID have a criminal background, we can assume that the officer proably would have detained them for a lot longer and maybe even taken their cameras or taken them in. This essentially means anyone with a criminal record doesn’t get to engage in nighttime photography. I don’t know what the laws are in California, but I do know that here in Toronto cops are not allowed to demand ID on the spot, yet they do it all the time, and that is NOT cool. Simple rule: everyone should obey both the letter and the SPIRIT of the law, even cops. And though terrorists might exploit the law, the rule of law is the most important foundation of a democratic society, period, end of story.

  22. Doran says:

    The funny this is how the goal of terrorists is to disrupt the American way of life. You know, that whole freedom thing. Now give me your papers!

  23. eric says:

    1. It was not private property. He said it was the warehouse district, which I’m assuming is public property.

    2. It is not illegal to take pictures at night.

    3. Good question, what if they were carrying a large duffel bag or not dressed “normal”? What if they looked like a hippy or a black man or a middle eastern man, or not wearing a tie or not washed or queer looking or had spiked green hair or had a shirt on that said ‘I hate jesus’ or were eating a falafel or carrying a microphone or a camera? Are they now a suspect?

    Oh sorry, I guess we should give the police the right to strip search and detain whatever person they choose on whatever premise they choose and just thank our lucky stars if we only get detained a half hour and not arrested.

  24. Anonymous says:

    you wish you were strip searched by a cop, you titmouse

  25. Anonymous says:

    who said anything about a strip search? see, you people can’t discuss this without hyperbole. i’m sorry you can’t carry your camera at night down by the docks without getting stopped by a cop… where i’m from there was a period in the late 90s where just being of color and walking around was probable cause to get stopped. stop whining and relating this to terrorism. weren’t you people ever teenagers? cops are dicks. get over it.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Being near the railway tracks is the most likely reason you were stopped. It used to be if your feet were on gravel near the tracks you got in trouble – otherwise nothing. But since the London bombings anyone with a camera near anything transportation related can expect to be stopped and checked. I gave up aviation photography after all the times I was stopped and checked and even threated with arrest while on public property.

  27. Glenn says:

    “As for him asking you not to take his picture, you violated his personal civil rights not to be photographed.”

    Rubbish. Unless the circumstances are exceptional (funerals, disaster sites etc) it shouldn’t be a problem to take anyone’s photo if they are in a public place.

  28. Random says:

    “i’m from there was a period in the late 90s where just being of color and walking around was probable cause to get stopped.”

    I’m fairy sure most of us were around 6-10 years ago, too. And, no, being a different color than white was NOT probable cause, but people were stopped anyway. It’s the same kind of abuse of authority that is being discussed here. Just because it doesn’t inconvenience you as much doesn’t make it any less of a problem. It’s the duty of every citizen to fight oppression at every turn. A good citizen should sleep with one eye open, as they say.

    “stop whining and relating this to terrorism.”
    Pardon us if our decrying the death of civil liberty and freedom at the hands of those sworn to protect is too whiny. The reason for all the mentioning of terrorism is because most of the chill that’s setting in is coming from legislation in response to a percieved terrorist threat.

  29. Fred says:

    “As for him asking you not to take his picture, you violated his personal civil rights not to be photographed. Yes, police officers have their own rights too and are entitled to the same protections you are.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this, but one isn’t breaking the law by taking a picture of someone in public without their permission. Aside from some rare cases involving celebrities and their socalled ‘publicity rights’, there is virtually no precedent for establishing that taking photos of unconsenting people in public is illegal. That is, if they’re in public, which I assume this cop is, then you have every right to take a picture of them. Its insulting to the notion of civil rights to consider that this issue has anything to do with it. If anything, it should be a civil right to document our public spaces with photography.

    Check out The Photographer’s Rights PDF
    for more information about the rights of photographers.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Huh. Cops don’t usually get *that* bored. Security officers on the other hand:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelrighi/sets/463905/

    I also know a guy who took a picture of his daughter outside the building she where she works in downtown Pittsburgh. Building security was right there as soon as he had the camera up. They didn’t stop him from taking the pics since they knew his daughter, but they said the jewelry stores inside the building don’t appreciate people casing the place.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps if you told the officer you were paparazzi and merely stalking a celebrity he would have ignored you?

  32. Anonymous says:

    “A good citizen should sleep with one eye open, as they say.”

    Well a reasonable citizen should also accept that the police are going to flex their muscles from time to time.

    I was stopped in my car once for slowing down at a green light (because the intersection was notorious for red light runners). The cop told me he stopped me because braking at red lights is a sign of a possibly intoxicated driver. Did I pitch a fit about not being able to drive on public streets without harrassment? No. I took it for what it was–a cop doing his job. Possibly a bored cop, but that’s overthinking it.

    FWIW, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to explain myself DOZENS of times to police officers over the course of my 24 years. I’ve found EVERY time that if you simply cooperate in a polite and civilized manner, they’ll leave you alone.

    If you choose to make a scene of it, or secretly photograph the officer against his wishes (which is just foolish) then you’re asking for trouble. There are appropriate channels to report the wrongdoings of police, but there are also inappropriate times with which to exercise this option. This is one of them.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Quoting Cornelius:

    Your logic isn’t germaine to the discussion. It doesn’t matter if others needed or didn’t need photographs. What matters is that taking photographs of a vital economic area, particularly at night, is a suspicious activity. And it’s suspicious precisely because someone can examine these photos in order to to exploit a weakness or cause damage.

    Whether the privacy intrusion caused by the officer represents an unreasonable search and seizure is absolutely germaine to the discussion, and requires weighing the public benefit of making the stop against the public nuisance caused by making the stop. “Unreasonable” and “suspicious” are both slippery words, and whose meanings change as the attitudes of society change, and by pointing out that the most sucessful attacks in recent history didn’t require photographs for planning, the public benefit of stopping photographers is called into question.

    TERRY v. OHIO is the case for which “terry stops” are named, and has this to say:

    … The police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion… Anything less would invite intrusions upon constitutionally guaranteed rights based on nothing more substantial than inarticulate hunches, a result this Court has consistently refused to sanction.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to infer that people walking around with cameras are terrorists, regardless of the time of day. I would also say that “inarticulate hunch” is an excellent description of the rationale behind this stop. By sanctioning such poorly reasoned stops we invite police officers to abuse the considerable power of the terry stop.

    Some important links for this discussion…
    Expertlaw.com on police stops

    The Wikipedia article on terry stops has a link to the Terry v. Ohio decision.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Don’t confuse the issue with that overcoat on a hot summer day reference. How many people have kept up on that London shooting story and realize witness reports and CC tapes indicate the guy was actually behaving normally, and wearing a light denim jacket, typical for the season in London that day?

    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u;=/afp/20050818/wl_uk_afp/britainattacksbrazil_050818080032

    http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1847582005

  35. Anonymous says:

    I read(reed) about people with cameras being hassled by ‘the man’ a lot lately. My suggestion to avoid being hassled by ‘the man’, yet STILL be able to take pics in public would be to simply act more AMERICAN about it. See we have the right to bear arms damn it. SOO, just attach a camera to the front of your gun. Then point your gun at what ever you want to take a picture of.

  36. Anonymous says:

    1. It was not private property. He said it was the warehouse district, which I’m assuming is public property.

    Why would you assume that? Warehouses are owned by companies and even government property is a lot of times off limits.

    Oh sorry, I guess we should give the police the right to strip search and detain whatever person they choose on whatever premise they choose and just thank our lucky stars if we only get detained a half hour and not arrested.

    And it’s exactly this sort of over the top reasoning, which completely lacks in logic and nuance that leads people to not take you seriously.

    4 Arab looking guys( they sound Indian tho )guys, walking around a warehouse district at night, with cameras is cause for suspicion. And it’s cause for suspicion because this fits the statistical profile of a terrorist. That’s politically incorrect, but statistical fact. If the Michigan Militia starts conducting a worldwide bombing campaign to spread the … i don’t know … music of Toby Keith, then I would fully expect the police to look funny at white males. But that isn’t happening, is it?

  37. Cornelius says:

    Whether the privacy intrusion caused by the officer represents an unreasonable search and seizure is absolutely germaine to the discussion,

    The poster didn’t address privacy intrusion. Here merely made an illogical statement, which I was pointing out.


    “Unreasonable” and “suspicious” are both slippery words, and whose meanings change as the attitudes of society change,

    And that point is very much germaine. 20 years ago, 4 dark skinned men taking photographs of an economically vital area wouldn’t have been cause for suspicion, but now it is. Why is that?

    and by pointing out that the most sucessful attacks in recent history didn’t require photographs for planning, the public benefit of stopping photographers is called into question.

    The most successful attacks in recent history certainly didn’t require photos( plane into trade center, blowing up a train ), but to then conclude that no attacks would require photo’s( ie surveillance) such as power plants, warehouses, places of high security, is absurd. So yes, the benefit of stopping photographers should be called into question if they are photographing an animal at the zoo, but not places of vital importance.

    That’s just silly and ideological.

  38. Anonymous says:

    > Anonymous said…

    > I’d unsubscribe if I didn’t like
    > your pictures as much as I do…

    Oh the delicious irony. You love his pictures. But you don’t see the point in getting upset over The Man‘s interference of his taking such wonderful pictures.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Had you been a terrorist scouting a powerplant, or building and the police seen you and NOT stopped you, can you imagine that uproar of the American public?

    People would be complaining left, right and center about the incompetence of said officers.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Another story of arrogant Americans crying about your “oppressive” government.

    Growing up in China, owning a camera was inconceivable to most. And then risk losing that camera or much more because I want question a government official when they asking me why I am taking photos on somebody else property??

    Such situation would never happen anyway because we have no free time to waste on such trips. You make enough money to live and you have your free time for photo hobby, still you have problem with government action.

    Americans so arrogant about “rights” you don’t understand you have your rights already, that is why the police officers didn’t beat you or take you away to jail cell. Your rights protect you from that and that is something many parts of the world dont have! You get mad because you just have to show ID card to officer and explain you want to take photos, and you are free again! What can be next, ask police to move out of your photo shot? Enjoy the rights you have, not get mad because you want everything to be your right!

  41. Anonymous says:

    You liberal bloggers all need to find some income producing jobs and leave actual political debate to the pros.
    Before we know it, you’ll be trying to convince the public that bloggers and journalists are one and the same!

    Sincerly,
    Bill Mohr

  42. Brian G. says:

    you’re all talking about “if you were a terrorist” or “if they stoped a terrorist” or “If they didn’t stop a terrorist”

    what terrorists?
    when is the last time a terrorist was cought on US soil?

    i’m tired of terrorism being used as an excuse for loss of rights.

  43. Anonymous says:

    For crying out loud people. The problem, as I see it, is not the “stop” or the “questioning” but the ID check and background/warrant check.

    It is reasonable for the cops to stop and inquire what the people are doing.

    It is not reasonable to do impromptu ID background checks.

    The cop should ahve stopped them, asked what they were doing, asked them a few pointed quiestions to check for suspicious behavior, and then made a note of the encounter and made his way…

    And why does a “warehouse district” have to be private property? Almost every warehouse area we have in Portland, OR is full of public streets. Were the photographers climbing fences or sitting in doorways? Or were they on the public streets and sidewalks?

    I have been in the same boat before. Questioned because of my camera.

    Documenting our world is not only a right, it is a responsibility.

    And to the comment from the person who is at least pretending to be from China – I have several chinese friends who have always owned cameras. One from Xi’an, and one from Tianjin – both have more camers than I, and are huge hobby photographers. China is not as repressive as most Americans believe. Sure, it is repressive – make no doubt about that. But not near as bad as you made out… In fact, I know a chinese family who owns their own cotton farm, and has never really ben “harrassed” like you describe.

    Americans have freedoms because it is a part of our society. It is what our society was SPECIFICALLY created for. It is the reason why we are here. If we give up or freedoms, there is nothing left to protect!

  44. Anonymous says:

    Wow, what a lively debate. We have some “this is all part of the establishment’s agenda to eat away at our civil rights,” “we should question suspicious people,” “don’t take cops’ pictures, they have rights too,” and Godwin’s Law already!

    Reality check here. I’m a civil libertarian myself, but recognize that this poor bubba has a damned hard job to do himself. The info has gone out from the top down: If you see something suspicious, check it out. Especially involving transportation, power stations, etc. This guy saw four guys with cameras… maybe they were tourists, maybe hobbyists, maybe something more sinister… but it sounds like he stopped, had a friendly chat, and sent people on their way. Certainly it is a sad day that people taking pictures in public places need to be detained, questioned and identified, but that is what this guy is being paid to do, and his butt is on report if he’s letting people go by without at least askign what’s going on. I’ve been stopped three times without cause (when I was a few years younger and driving a clunker) because teh cops were “fishing.” You know looking for drunks, drugs, warrants, etc. It sucks. But cops are there to protect us from the bad guys, and most of them make an honest effort out of it. If you don’t take the time to check things out every once in a while, you’re going to miss some bad guys, and the bad guys are gonna do bad things to good people. That’s reality. Ideologically we can all continue our hippies vs. neocons, fascism versus liberal anarchy all day long; I’ll sit hear and drink my diet soda and enjoy the folly. 🙂

  45. Anonymous says:

    yeah i know some people in vancouver who say it rarely snows there. so it must never snow in canada.

  46. Stan Harris says:

    Looks to me like police were doing their job, checking out what appeared to them to be suspicious activity. Yeah, yeah, what appears suspicious to one person may not appear suspicious to another and so on…well, to me police officers are persons, and as such must be allowed reasonable latitude in investigating their suspicions, in order to have any hope of doing their onerous duty of protecting the public. I accept (and so, apparently, did the officers)that you were innocent of any illegal intent. It also appears to me that you suffered no harm, except to your precious sensibilities. Get over it.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Cornelius, by your logic, Google should be shut down and placed under investigation. After all, you don’t need satellite imagery to get where you’re going, and providing satellite imagery could be aiding terrorist–they could use satelliate images to plot attacks, right?

    You would give up clearly established rights (to be in public, with a camera, and take pictures in public) in order to thwart *possible* terrorists (yeah, in Oakland, um, Oakland wouldn’t be high on my list of possible targets).

    I sure am glad *you* didn’t draft the Bill of Rights.

  48. Anonymous says:

    “yeah, in Oakland, um, Oakland wouldn’t be high on my list of possible targets”

    yes, yes. Bali and Sharm-al-Sheikh, oh and downtown Oklahoma City.. yes, those are prime terrorist targets.

    i sure am glad *you* aren’t in any position of authority

  49. Blake Richards says:

    I’m really glad that someone else pointed out that THE PROBLEM WAS THE ID CHECK, not the stop. I posted such a comment earlier, and it really is the most reasonable conclusion. It’s easy folks: cops are allowed to investigate suspicious activity, they are not allowed to demand ID and run background checks on any individual they deem to be suspicious. This entire debate is spiraling into neocon and liberal extremes, despite the fact that there is a very sane middle ground. Cops must do their job, and they must obey the law!

  50. Anonymous says:

    “cornelius”

    “And it’s suspicious precisely because someone can examine these photos in order to to exploit a weakness or cause damage.”

    Then stop the tours of all such facilities. Remove from the world all films that have used real facilities as a backdrop. Raid the libraries and burn the chemistry books. Make it against the law to buy small wooden boxes.

    All “could” be used to construct or plan attacks against humans and property.

    Jesus, where would you stop?

    Why not focus our resources on matters that can help? Checking warrants on people on public property taking photos is a waste of time. Time the offer could have used elsewhere.

    As for the cop…he may or may not have been following orders from about. Then again he could be using his society granted duty to exploit his own delusions of power.

    If you don’t know a cop who has a hard-on for certain “types” you don’t know any cops.

    Corny, if you really believe that a person who has facist tendencies doesn’t love a scared society then you haven’t studied history.

  51. Anonymous says:

    What matters is that taking photographs of a vital economic area, particularly at night, is a suspicious activity.

    Did you sprinkle crack on your corn flakes this morning?

    At night buildings are lit up differently than during the day (duh). That lighting can make for some really cool photos, especially of really big buildings. Some of the coolest photos of the twin towers were night shots. Check out the rest of Thomas’s blog (or did you just get here via some knee-jerk reactionary headline?), and you’ll see plenty of artistic night photos.

    Taking photos at night is not a suspicious activity. “Being of middle eastern descent” is not a suspicious activity. Hell, its not even an activity.

    And taking photos while being middle eastern should not be a suspicious action.

    And to whoever said…

    Relax…you’ll be happy they interrupted your little hobby the next time a whole bunch of innocent people are blown to bits.

    Actually next time a bunch of innocents are blown to bits, I’ll remember this post and wish the police were out their doing their jobs, rather than harrassing easy targets.

    Unofficial policies for harrassing innocents does not make me feel safer.

    And for the Big Kahuna, who graced us with this brilliance:

    I’d be rather suspicious too if three ethnic looking fellas came snooping around with cameras.

    You’re just a racist asshole, dude. Get over it.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Interesting.

    I was there (aqui-ali). This is my take:

    I was well treated, the sheriff’s were polite and I felt no harrassment. We even chatted away and he asked about photography in a way that was indicative of his curiousity of our hobby. He did his job.

    Fair enough.

    The way I see it that it is also our obligation as citizens to also question this process of being checked upon. To act as a counter-balance. Authority should never be absolute, and we are entitled to not accept this type of behaviour at face value, since we are law-abidding citizens doing nothing wrong on PUBLIC property (it was on the street, we never trespassed private property).

    We are doing our job by expressing our distaste.

    Balance=counterbalance.

  53. So upsetting…

    I drove by you guys shooting last night and wondered what was going on… You were by the railroad tracks off of Embarcadero, right? I rode up on my scooter to see what was going on, but soon turned around when I saw the cops there.

    I have noticed a sudden increase of police on the streets lately in Oakland. While they may pose a threat to certain freedoms we consider inherent- I must confess that I have felt better since seeing a greater amount of the police force out-and-about in Oakland. Maybe people in SF think they are just a hassle- but I can tell you that I feel safer out here in Oakland when I see a cop. Earlier this year, my roommate got held up at gunpoint down in Jack London Square. We haven’t been able to really walk around at night for a while now. Due to the increase in police force though I feel safer at night and have resumed taking walks later in the day. In addition, the police have caught 9 (so far) of the people responsible for terrorizing the Lake Merritt community. This crime ring was related to the people who held up my roommate earlier this year.

  54. Anonymous says:

    loyd@dailything.com said…

    “As for him asking you not to take his picture, you violated his personal civil rights not to be photographed. Yes, police officers have their own rights too and are entitled to the same protections you are.”

    No, Loyd, you’re wrong: “he activities of the police, like those of other public officials, are subject to public scrutiny…Videotaping is a legitimate means of gathering information for public dissemination and can often provide cogent evidence, as it did in this case. In sum, there can be no doubt that the free speech clause of the Constitution protected Robinson as he videotaped the defendants on October 23, 2002….Moreover, to the extent that the troopers were restraining Robinson from making any future videotapes and from publicizing or publishing what he had filmed, the defendants’ conduct clearly amounted to an unlawful prior restraint upon his protected speech…”

    Read the whole opinion here.

  55. W. Miller says:

    Myself and a few other folks take documentary photos of Cold War communications infrastructure… Wanna talk about making people paranoid? Try setting up two tripods, a 20D, an istD, and toting around a big ol’ Sony 3ccd videocam near some nuclear era Ma Bell sites some time…

    The funny thing is though, we’ve only been confronted once in quite a few years. We have been contacted by AT&T; though and they were real decent about the whole thing, asking only that we didn’t divulge the physical locations of a few sites…

    So, coming from what really appears to be suspicious activity to a few folks standing around some warehouses, my vote is that the officer was being a bit extreme.

  56. Anonymous says:

    This has been a topic of discussion in the Portland flickR group, and one of our lot has a very handy card, made up by a lawyer in town, that clearly spells our your rights to not be detained by the po-po.

    -sillydog

  57. Anonymous says:

    This has been a topic of discussion in the Portland flickR group, and one of our lot has a very handy card, made up by a lawyer in town, that clearly spells our your rights to not be detained by the po-po.

    -sillydog

  58. Anonymous says:

    Someone said:

    Americans so arrogant about “rights” you don’t understand you have your rights already, that is why the police officers didn’t beat you or take you away to jail cell. Your rights protect you from that and that is something many parts of the world dont have!

    Letting crap like this illegal ID check slide is moving in the wrong direction. I agree that the rights we have in America are fantastic, and I’m glad to have them. So glad, in fact, that I don’t like it when Police or the President or whoever tries to take them away from me.

    This is America. The rules of other countries don’t apply here (just as our rules don’t apply elsewhere). We *should* be proud (but not arrogant) of our rights, and we should get upset when people in positions of “authority” abuse their power and trample our rights.

  59. blabbermouth says:

    Something tells me the OPD should have something more important to do than stop photographers from taking photos UNLESS they are unlawfully ON private property.
    This actually annoys, but doesn’t suprise me. I think they should be breaking up a gun fight somewhere with the reputation Oakland has.

  60. Joe Decker says:

    The card that one of the previous posters metnioned (which provides an overview of legal rights for photographers) can be found here
    as a PDF, it’s quite handy.

  61. Anonymous says:

    A reality check: The Oakland ‘warehouse district’ is somewhat of a misnomer, as it is mostly lofts (and construction) down there now – hardly a ‘suspicious’ area. It’s an area where Mayor Brown _wants_ lots of foot traffic.
    If you’re walking on the sidewalk there, you are less than 10 ft from the rail tracks.

  62. jayson says:

    lets think about some of the terorist comments above…If you were a terorist that was known to the authorities would you be stupid enough to be out taking photos??? If your NOT known to them then they would release you…so checking for warrents is just pointless

  63. Illegal Photographer says:

    The first thing I thought when them tearrorists smashed them planes into the New York was, OMFG, we gotta do something about thems people that take photographs. Let’s jail them and takes away thems civil liberties. Anybodys knows thems just tearrorists in disguys. Its cowman knowledge that Iraqiz funds and harbors tearrorsist photographers. Fuck, we gotta get thems before they gets us.

    Oh yeahs, I also hearz that lawyerz are alo tearrorists too. Letz mebbe start the roundup with them too….

  64. deeped says:

    A li’l question to the commentators who mean that individuals have a human right not to be photographed. Then the girl who took a campic of a pervert in the tub did something wrong? Nice. And the judge have put down the foot and saying that officials aren’t supposed to be under the right not to be pictured. Sorry – you’re dead wrong.

  65. miles says:

    Wow, what a lot of anonymous comments.

    “Relax…you’ll be happy they interrupted your little hobby the next time a whole bunch of innocent people are blown to bits.”

    Oh please, like there’s any relationship between hassling amateur photographers persuing their hobby legally and a ‘bunch of people being blown to bits’.

    There’s absolutely nothing about this that does anything to prevent terrorism, all it does is create unnecessary friction and suspicion on both sides. I’m sure the police have much better things to be doing, terrorists aren’t going to be so obvious as to walk around in a group with a bunch of cameras, the only thing suspicious about that is whether they’re up after their bedtime or not.

  66. abb3w says:

    I’d agree, I’m not comfortable with this degree of intrusion. The cops should get a little more subtlety.

    “Afternoon, sir. Mind if I ask what you’re doing?”
    “I’m a pro-am photographer. This area has some interesting light and shadow effects at this time of day, so I’m taking a few photographs.”
    “Cool. How did you get into photography? …”

    Most law abiding citizens don’t mind stopping to talk for a few minutes about what they’re doing… especially hobbyists with their hobbies. (Wasn’t it in Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”? People like to talk about themselves.)

    Five or ten minutes spent might get a better idea of what the person is up to. Even if you don’t know squat about photography, a reasonably intelligent person can tell if the person is completely blowing smoke, or whether they have a clue, if they talk for a few minutes about the subject. Furthermore, the cop might (accidently?) learn something in the process, making it easier for him if he has to deal with any other amateurs he comes across, and easier to identify someone who really is out to cause mayhem. Of course, he might also learn that the person runs a photography blog which (a) might be possible to have dispatch peek into to see if the story holds up WITHOUT resorting to an intrusive ID check, and (b) which has commented on civil liberties before, alerting the cop of a risk of pointlessly raising political ire. =)

    As others have pointed out, he also seems ignorant of that nice federal case from Pensylvania (Robinson v. Fetterman) that just got Boinged, which essentially held that documenting an officer’s performance of his duties, if not interfering in such duties, is protected free speech. Or perhaps he’s just not too bright.

    If an individual seems particularly uncomfortable at five or ten minutes chatting about their hobby, then a routine background check might be in order. But “papers, please” should not be an automatic first response.

  67. Tom says:

    I too was stopped by the police in the UK around 1am when I went out to take photographs (which then went onto DA).. They drove past, drove past again and then asked what I was doing and where I lived etc..

    Cameras are bad things mmmkay 😀

  68. Anonymous says:

    “…might be possible to have dispatch peek into to see if the story holds up WITHOUT resorting to an intrusive ID check…”

    Yeah, because most PDs have staff on-hand to do a little blog-surfin’, a little Googlin’.

    Holy damn, you people please stop saying idiotic things.

  69. Scott K says:

    The day after I read this story, I was approached by an LAPD officer after taking a few pictures at the Port of Los Angeles. The Port Police arrived as well. Both officers who spoke to me were polite and respectful and allowed me to go on my way, but I was asked for and did provide my identification and contact information. After talking for several minutes, they both realised I was merely a hobbyist and what I was doing was innocent of any ill intent. They never asked to review my photographs or look at my camera.

    I suppose I was taking pictures of a sensitive subject, but at the time I didn’t think much of it. My subject was a set of train tracks leading to a bridge, with a canal of dark water next to it. Benign stuff, but the tracks and canal run right next to an oil refinery. A small part of the refinery is in the images, in the background. The area I photographed is in full public view and I took the photos from a bridge overlooking the tracks.

    Today, August 30th, I was contacted by telephone by an LAPD detective. I must admit, this step was unexpected! While I have nothing to hide, it’s still seems like overkill. I was told a background check has already been done and that I checked out okay with them, but the detective did request that I email him the pictures I took.

    Some interesting questions were asked as well, things regarding having affiliations with groups who wish to harm the United States. Also, I was asked if in the event I saw something suspicious, if I would report it.

    While I understand the need for added security, it is also disheartening to know that if I intend on photographing any kind of infrastructure, I will very likely be investigated again.

    Scott K

  70. Anonymous says:

    I was taking pictures of police who showed up in my neighborhood in Salem, Oregon over three months ago. I got jaked up (arrested) and the cops had to fabricate their reports to make it sound like I did something. Get this: They actually arrested me for WIRETAPPING!

    READ MORE HERE:

    http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/06/320577.shtml

  71. tdmorgan says:

    I was taking pictures of police who showed up in my neighborhood in Salem, Oregon over three months ago. I got jaked up (arrested) and the cops had to fabricate their reports to make it sound like I did something. Get this: They actually arrested me for WIRETAPPING!

    READ MORE HERE:

    http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/06/320577.shtml

  72. Anonymous says:

    I need more intresting pictures and some more info. well, not more but less and intresting info.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  73. Anonymous says:

    I just got a bad grade on a law school exam, but I’ll keep going because I might make a difference. There is no reason to stop and detain a person taking pictures at night when there are so many other dangerous criminal activities taking place. The guy with the camra isn’t the problem, go answer a call or read the constitution or something.

  74. Anonymous says:

    I THINK IT IS STUPID FOR PEOPLE TO THINK THEY CAN DO WHAT EVER THEY WANT EXSPECILY POLICE THEY THINK JUST CAUSE THEY HAVE AUTHORTY THEY OWN THE WHOLE WORLD WELL THEY SUCK AND IF THEY CANT PROTECT US INSTED THEY NEED TO GET A LIFE AND PORTECT PEOPLE INSTED OF HARASSING THEM. AND THAT IS THE DAY COPS WILL BE LIKED MORE.

  75. Anonymous says:

    Okay….the police (ALL police) are supposed to be the tools of the people to be used to protect the RIGHTS with which we are provided. I can understand if a cop may not want his picture taken, but he’s in PUBLIC service…should the PUBLIC not be allowed to check up on it’s “employees”? I find it quite frightening that we live in a time when a person who has a copy of the US Constitution and choses to stand by the “Supreme Law” is considered a “domestic terrorist”. I can understand not taking pix of UNDERCOVER agents/police…that is a simple matter of safety….both for the people AND for the officer and his/her family. However, any regular uniformed officer walking a beat in Anywhere, USA SHOULD expect that people want to check up on him. Think about it….we have people’s guns being “illegally” confiscated in LA after a major natural disaster, people being arrested just for taking pictures of the police…..where will it all end? Will we, as Americans lose the very freedoms that we have come to take for granted just b/c of some political “slight of hand”?

  76. Anonymous says:

    I just went for a ride in a cop cruiser not an hour ago for taking pictures of highways. I’m underage (I’m a student) which complicated matters further but they took all my info and detained me for about 30 minutes. I had been taking pictures from the sidewalk and apparently people called the police. He stopped me because I had climbed up next to the highway on a dirt mound to get a better angle but detained me for having a camera and photographing infrastructure (that is what he told me, I did not hear one word of warning about the safety of being next to the highway, only a lecture about 9/11 and homeland security).

  77. Anonymous says:

    BTW, two police cruisers showed up and I had JUST arrived at the top of the mound next to the highway, I never even got my shot. They were out looking for me and happened upon me. They set out because I was photographing overpasses from the SIDEWALK.

  78. Anonymous says:

    Last bit; I live in Hartford, CT (not a major city) and I was no where near downtown or an economic or power center or anything like that.

  79. Anonymous says:

    Oakland inspired the Black Panthers. I doubt it’s ever been liberal. It’s all about control and pacification.

    After all, the rich people of Oakland have their own city and police department, called Piedmont.

  80. Anonymous says:

    Today, Sept. 6th, I was walking on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ. Taking photos of store fronts that were not occupied.

    Among other things, it is a good way to see what type of business was unable to survive the summer.

    After about 3 hours (including a stop for lunch) of walking up and down the boardwalk taking photos I was stopped by two police officers.

    They explained that they had a complaint about “someone talking photos of girls on the boardwalk.”

    They questioned me about the photographs, asked me to produce some ID, which I did, and asked to see the photos on my camera.

    I asked if it was illegal to take photos of public buildings, or people for that matter, from a public place.

    They said “No” but you know there are girls in sexy bikinis walking on this boardwalk. Their parents would not be happy to see photos of them on the internet.

    “We have to be on the watch for pedophiles, you know.”

    I suggested to the officer that since school had already started, any “girls” would be in school.

    And the time for parents to worry about their “girls” being seen in sexy bikinis is before they leave the house.

  81. Anonymous says:

    Today, Thursday, Sept. 6th, I was walking on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ. Taking photos of store fronts that were not occupied.

    Among other things, it is a good way to see what type of business was unable to survive the summer.

    After about 3 hours (including a stop for lunch) of walking up and down the boardwalk taking photos I was stopped by two police officers.

    They explained that they had a complaint about “someone talking photos of girls on the boardwalk.”

    They questioned me about the photographs, asked me to produce some ID, which I did, and asked to see the photos on my camera.

    I asked if it was illegal to take photos of public buildings, or people for that matter, from a public place.

    They said “No” but you know there are girls in sexy bikinis walking on this boardwalk. Their parents would not be happy to see photos of them on the internet.

    “We have to be on the watch for pedophiles, you know.”

    I suggested to the officer that since school had already started, any “girls” would be in school.

    And the time for parents to worry about their “girls” being seen in sexy bikinis is before they leave the house.

  82. James says:

    Wow, this makes me glad that I live in NYC…No police harassment at all as most people are tourists or artists=]

  83. Anonymous says:

    As much as i hate to pull the race card;

    I can only imagine the end result if you were a “group” (I wont use the term GANG) of black males…

  84. Jane Lee Bright says:

    Dam, sounds like our freedoms are slowly being diminished by the very people sworn to protect them

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    Two things:
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