Schneier on Security: The War on Photography

Schneier on Security: The War on Photography: Bruce Schneier, writing for the Guardian, has penned an article entitled “The War on Photography.” In Schneier’s article he points out the that harassing photographers in the name of national security is simply nonsense.

From Schneier:

“Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

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.”

Schneier goes on to point out that with 50 billion photos taken in the US every year that even if terrorists did enjoy the hobby of photography, that the likelihood of anyone taking a photo of anything being an actual terrorist is infinitesimal.

Personally I think that most of the time when police, security guards, etc. try to obstruct and harass photographers they are simply over-stepping their authority. Small-minded individuals who like to assert their personal power over other human beings because they feel that they can and they get off on it.

This is why I generally insist on my rights to shoot in public places when challenged. I’m polite in my resistance, but cops and rent a cops, generally speaking, don’t like someone standing up to them — so sometimes altercations take place. Hopefully though these altercations as examples to authority figures. The cases that I like to see most are when police departments or security agencies are sued or are forced to shell out money when they harass photographers.

Unfortunately most photographers don’t resist when an authority figure objects to their work. Most people simply do what they are told and move on. I believe that when people do this it reinforces the behavior and encourages an authority figure to harass the next photographer who comes along.

There are almost no instances where you cannot legally shoot anything you want in public. Stand up for your rights. Photography is not a crime.

Thanks, BoingBoing!

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  1. TranceMist says:

    Excellent post, from both of you.

    The one thing I still don’t have a clear view on is the purported “ban” on photography of Federal government buildings such as courthouses (for example). I haven’t been able to find anything recent on this.

    Do you have any pointers?

  2. Recent, no. But back in 2004 a guy got hassled shooting a Federal courthouse in Portland, and Oregonian writer Margie Boule followed a trail of misinformation and outright lies all the way up to the regional director of the Federal Protective Service, who confirmed that there was no such law.

    The original article went behind a paywall some time ago–I’m not even sure it’s still there–but the relevant bits were quoted in a Photopermit discussion of the incident.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ten years ago (well before 9/11) I was visiting Boston for the first time. I had cheapo consumer-grade video camera, and was shooting some video of the streets, buildings, etc. While so in the process, an armored car pulled up, dropping off or picking up whatever these guys drop off or pick up, from a nearby bank.

    The security guard came straight toward me and very threateningly “convinced” me to shut off my video camera. Even though I was there first and they pulled up into my field of view, and not the other way around. But I was scared enough that I complied.

    Are you saying that it was well within my rights not to comply?

    Boy howdy, was he threatening, though!

  4. Here’s some good legal info (10 commandments, as it were) about photography in public. http://www.photoadvantage.net/content/photography-the-law-know-your-rights

    Also, Fox news in DC ran this story http://www.myfoxdc.com/myfox/pages/Home/Detail;jsessionid=C5EB861DC520F425C08BB9C1199CDDE5?contentId=6664418&version;=2&locale;=EN-US&layoutCode;=VSTY&pageId;=1.1.1&sflg;=1

    Sorry about the long links, I dont know how to tag them… none the less, I think it’s ludicrous how people (security guards in this case) get so reactionary about bad information.

    Did you know that Bin Laden is not actually on the FBI most wanted list because of 9/11? Authorities cant even prove well enough it was his doing.