Another Photographer FBI Encounter

From a Digital Photography Review Forum:

“Well…my D300 and I were encountered by the FBI, a little earlier this morning.

I had taken my wife downtown to handle some business, and was parked on the street in wait for her. I almost always have my camera with me, and just started snapping away at a building construction going up (I was just playing around with different exposure settings). I also shot a few ‘straight ahead’ shots of the street that I was on, because there was an interesting perspective of the building lineup on the respective sides of the street. I had then put the camera away, and began perusing a magazine, when three gentlemen approached the curb side of my vehicle. One of them introduced himself, as he stuck his ID through the passenger window, and asked what my business was. He explained that I had been captured, on camera, taking pictures of their buildings. I explained that I wasn’t aware of that, and told them that I was just a serious amateur photographer who was only trying to get a better handle on exposures. They pointed out that one of the buildings I was shooting in the direction of, was their main building. It was only after he mentioned this that I was able to see – on better inspection – their FBI logo on said building. Now, this building was better than a half-block away, and their logo was almost totally obstructed by some trees….”

continue reading here.

Thanks, p0tempkin!

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  1. William Beem says:

    It looks like they successfully intimidated another photographer out of his legal rights.

  2. Lonny Eachus says:

    There is nothing preventing them from asking you questions, but they had no right to detain you or make any demands (like seeing your pictures or even, in most states, your ID). You have a legal right to shoot anything that is publicly visible. If they don’t like that, then they can put their goddamned building underground. That’s where they probably belong anyway.

    From the point of view of personal safety and security, you are usually best off politely and gently, but firmly, declining to show them anything. That holds for any branch of law enforcement that accosts you on the street.

  3. […] Another Photographer FBI Encounter | Thomas Hawk Digital Connection […]

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  5. CQT says:

    I’m reading this after reading a story about three Oakland police officers being gunned down in cold blood. I think there’s a great deal of mountain-making out of a molehill here.

    The FBI agents were police and simply investigating something that was possibly suspicious. For all they knew, the photographer was an aspiring Timothy McVeigh.

  6. Joel says:

    CQT: Law enforcement is not allowed to stop you because something is “possibly suspicious,” as you asserted. Rather, they are only allowed to act upon “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” This is all well-traveled ground in the law, ever since the decision in Terry v. Ohio, on which most law enforcement are well trained, esp. FBI. For a primer on Terry v. Ohio, see the links below. There is nothing in that decision that indicates reasonable suspicion or probable cause can arise from simply photographing a publicly visible building from a public location. This isn’t China or Iran. Info on Terry:

    Good layman’s article on Terry Stops:

    Wiki entry on Terry v. Ohio:

    Text of Terry v. Ohio

  7. dave says:

    its obvious they just had time to kill and wanted to be tough guys. Or else they would have just did a background check based on license plate, and made a file, Im pretty sure one doesn’t need to be in the FBI to figure out the guy wouldn’t snap shots of a potential target, then sit there waiting for them to come up to him. LOL what tools.. Even I can figure that one out… Bravo FBI

  8. Eric in SF says:

    Everyone talks about the law this the law that but the fact remains that in the United States you can lose your liberty, means of supporting yourself, and in the most extreme cases, your life, for standing up to the Police, local, state, or federal.

    I’m not saying you should not stand up to the Police, not at all. Standing up to the police are how things are changed. Just be fully aware of the consequences of doing so.

  9. Joel Lawson says:

    I don’t think it helps to spread fear, and let’s remember the greater consequences when people don’t stand up for their right to go about their lawful business, their right not to be searched, their right not to have their cameras or photos confiscated without a warrant, their right not to be arrested for photographing plainly visible objects from public property, and more.

  10. btezra says:

    ever since the dslr came to be & their #’s exploding in the hands of “serious amateur photographers” the number of casual occurrences like the one above have become commonplace it seems…IMHO both parties to need exercise restraint when they encounter one another, no need to give either side a reason to act out or act in such a manner that provokes the other. If you’re doing nothing wrong, on public propoerty than you should have nothing to worry about, sure, shit happens and people go over the line, but for the most part things never escalate to a state of danger for either party.

    Like what happened in the story above, if you just let the situation diffuse itself than all is good. I am not saying that all is good when it come to photography and the public domain, there are instances where the shit has hit the fan and one side or the other has caused the situation to take a turn for the worse. But, for the most part, I believe things are good, everyone just needs to understand that we live in a day and age where fear is the norm, you gotta respect what you are doing and where at all times, it’s just the way things are.

  11. Joel Lawson says:

    btzera: I agree entirely that being calm and respectful, even if a security officer or law enforcement figure is not, is the best approach. It’s always best to try and defuse the situation, and seek redress afterwards (writing a letter to the security company, police department, and/or elected officials, for example).

    But I disagree strongly with accepting the culture of fear. Aren’t the authorities the first to advise, in an emergency, to remain calm and clear headed? Likewise, the culture of fear is resulting in misplaced tactics and priorities, all of which actually make us less safe. It’s encouraging authorities to construct “security theater,” it’s causing them to misdirect their attention and resources. Real security experts know that if you’re looking out for everyone carrying a big camera, you’re not looking for the real suspicious traits or profiles. It’s akin to security guards at targeted buildings being trained to ask for an ID, instead of being trained to look for fake ID, and also for behavioral traits gleaned from solid security research.

  12. TranceMist says:

    I found the following quote from Terry v. Ohio quote interesting:

    “There is nothing in the Constitution which prevents a policeman from addressing questions to anyone on the streets. Absent special circumstances, the person approached may not be detained or frisked but may refuse to cooperate and go on his way. However, given the proper circumstances, such as those in this case, it seems to me the person may be briefly detained against his will while pertinent questions are directed to him. Of course, the person stopped is not obliged to answer, answers may not be compelled, and refusal to answer furnishes no basis for an arrest, although it may alert the officer to the need for continued observation.” (392 U.S. 1, at 34). — Byron White, Supreme Court Justice

  13. Sommerfeldt says:

    It’s funny… I’ve been in a lot of places with my camera, taking pictures of everything and everyone there… and I’ve never had an encounter like this with police or security.
    I work in security myself, and I can’t help but thinking that the photographers that have numerous such events or encounters are somehow looking for it themselves.

    On several occasions I’ve met “photographers” that either intentionally or unintentionally try to provoke some sort of reaction. That is counterproductive to absolutely every side of the matter.