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June 05, 2008

THE WAR ON PHOTOGRAPHY: Bruce Schneier addresses a subject I've covered before -- the harassment of people for taking pictures:

Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harrassed, 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. . . .

Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don't seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

Because it's a movie-plot threat.

Read the whole thing. I've got some related thoughts on the subject here. And Schneier is absolutely right about this: "If you're harassed, it's almost certainly a law enforcement official, public or private, acting way beyond his authority. There's nothing in any post-9/11 law that restricts your right to photograph." Both overreaching security folks and grandstanding civil-liberties activists tend to blame the Patriot Act even when it doesn't apply, and for the same reasons: It's complex, poorly understood, and scary.

UPDATE: Check out this amusing video. Via Scott Kelby, who comments: "Fox 5 did a live interview at Union Station with Amtrak’s Chief Spokesman who is talking about how it’s not necessary to have a permit to shoot in Union Station, and while they’re talking, a security guard comes up and makes them stop taping, and says 'No photographs!' Priceless!"

Somebody needs to start suing these people. And publishing the names of the security guards. With their photos! I'd say that we also need legislation protecting people's right to photograph in public places, but it's not as if the actual law matters here. Maybe something awarding attorneys' fees so that the trial lawyers will send roaming teams of photographers out to test security guards' knowledge. . . .

MORE: Bill Hobbs fearlessly fights for freedom by flouting flagrantly foolish photography folderol.

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