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All out of focus over TSA posters

By Ed O'Keefe

Photographers, have no fear: You're won't be featured on government anti-terror posters for much longer, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

TSA poster
A TSA poster panned by photographers. (Image courtesy of

Photographers and the people who love them took note last week of posters that appear to depict a hooded photographer as a potential threat to a small airport.

"Don't let our planes get into the wrong hands," the poster says.

Cue the critics:

"Yep, that's right, gang, it's time for another round of Security Theater Will Not Actually Make You Safer, starring the TSA and a bunch of scary, scary people armed with cameras," wrote the WeLoveDC blog.

"And people wonder why photographers are so sensitive these days," wrote Carlos Miller, a Miami multimedia journalist who also authors the Photography is Not a Crime blog.

"The poster generated so much controversy because it confirmed what many photographers have been feeling for years; that the government views them as potential terrorists," Miller said in a separate e-mail. "We've had countless incidents where government officials, whether they are TSA workers or local police officers, have told photographers that photography is illegal because of terrorism reasons when there is no law in the books that support this."

But the posters are part of a "vigilance program" called GA Secure, a campaign designed to encourage small airports and small plane pilots to keep an eye out for suspicious activity. The poster in question is one of several in use, said TSA spokesman Nick Kimball. (But he couldn't provide other examples.)

"Photographers are prime candidates, or folks who could use vigilance programs," Kimball said. "They're very observant of their surroundings and potentially suspicious activities and could use these programs to report that kind of activity."

But why use a suspicious-looking photo of a hooded photographer on the posters?

"The images used just illustrate general aviation environments," Kimball said.

The posters will be replaced in the coming year by a new Department of Homeland Security vigilance campaign called, "If you see something, say something," Kimball said. The new campaign will not include pictures of photographers.

"It's great that they are phasing out the poster but the real change begins when they start educating their workers that photography is not illegal," Miller said.

Thoughts? The comments section awaits you.

By Ed O'Keefe  | September 15, 2010; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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what idiots

anybody who wanted to take a "threatening" photo would do it quickly or from a car

did they catch the dc sniper by watching for a guy setting up a rifle on a tripod?

oh well, I guess it's stimulus for the scary poster makers

Posted by: jiji1 | September 15, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

There's a key question missing from the discourse: "Have cameras been used to plot terrorist attacks?" None of the terrorists -behind 9/11, the '93 WTC attack, or the Oklahoma City bombing- used photography to plot their actions. This according to the federal government's own documentation.

The government, however, continues to perpetuate the belief that cameras are an obvious component of any terrorist's plans. Why is that? What does a photograph give a terrorist?

As we've all witnessed, attacks using massive amounts of explosives, or jet fuel, don't require much accuracy... just park the truck, or crash the jetliner - no accuracy required. So photographs don't provide any additional accuracy.

Having worked as a photographer for a NYC newspaper for several years (now freelance), I can tell you that my colleagues and I have been detained and questioned countless times by police, security guards, FBI - all for legal photography in public places.

When the only fact leading officers and agents to suspect an individual of terrorism is photography in a public place, something's way, way out of whack.

I would wager that, within our borders, many many more photographers have been detained on suspicion of terrorism, by police and government agents, than actual terrorists.

This unchecked suspicion of photographers needs to end. Security theater indeed.

Posted by: tellyan | September 16, 2010 2:39 AM | Report abuse

And here I thought Obama was going to fix all this .gov nonsense. Silly me.

You haven't lived until you have sat in an interrogation room and watched one of these mouthbreathers paw over a lens that cost more than he will make that month.

"Just tell me again why youz wantz dez pitchers...?"

Posted by: c519114 | September 16, 2010 4:57 AM | Report abuse

I guess when you come right down to it, a teenagers acne medicine and a disabled 80-year old lady's shoes are much more dangerous than a photographer. I had to lean on my cane in the Minneapolis Airport while they inspected my shoes. In the Lambert Airport, the young man put me in a wheelchair and acted as if he were my grandson. Guess Missouri TSA has more red blood than TSA in Minnesota. Perhaps it's because of the cold weather.

Posted by: GrannyAnnie | September 16, 2010 7:02 AM | Report abuse

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