File this under more irrational reactionary police action against photographers. One of my Flickr friends, Hal Bergman, emailed me today to tell me about a recent run in he had with the FBI after photographing the Port of Los Angeles.
According to Bergman, he and a buddy were taking photos at the Port of Los Angeles when they were confronted by a security guard who told them that they could not take photographs of a Valero plant even from the public street. You can see some of the shots that they got that day on Flickr here.
Bergman didn’t push the issue at the time and left his shoot. After leaving his shoot he was followed by a man in a pick up truck for a while.
Fast forward to this morning when Bergman says two men with badges show up at his door:
“So, I go to talk to them. The first one informs me he needs to ask me some questions about what I was doing in the port complex two weeks ago. The other one demands to see my driver’s license. I politely decline, and he informs me that he already has all the information on it (I look, and sure enough, there is a photo of me on his clipboard along with god knows what else). He makes a crack about “wow, you’re younger than you look in this photo” when he comments on my birthdate (gee, thanks). I decide to give him my ID.
We exchange cards. I give him my business card that says “Photographer” as well as my iStock card (for legitimacy), and he gives me his card that says “Detective, FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force”. Yikes.”
Personally it troubles me that the FBI would think that their best use of time would be to harass photographers out shooting industrial stuff. It would also seem that at a minimum the FBI used DMV records to track down Bergman and pulled his personal information for the crime of photography. Stuff like this worries me and makes me wonder if the FBI now isn’t keeping some sort of file on Bergman that could impact him in other ways down the road.
I had a similar run in a few years back when Sheriffs in Oakland stopped me and a few friends while we were shooting in an industrial area of Oakland and demanded our drivers licenses and ran what I felt were illegal background checks on us.
Photographers who are documenting the American landscape should not be subjected to this kind of harassment.
Photography is not a crime.