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There's A Train A Comin'--A Tale of Homeland Security

The Sunday column tells the story of Preety Gadhoke, a 32-year-old resident of Anne Arundel County who commutes up to Baltimore every day via the MARC train and took advantage of her morning commute to take some photographs for a class she's in at the Smithsonian. Next thing she knew, she was being detained by the police--she'd been reported by her fellow commuters as a suspicious person.

Was it because she was taking snaps of the wrought-iron lampposts at this suburban train platform? Or was it because she's dark skinned and Indian-born and was taking snaps of the wrought-iron lampposts at this suburban train platform?

Those questions are explored in today's column, and here's some additional background for you:

When New York City's transit system moved to ban photography in the subways following 9/11, riders and artists protested. They sent the MTA hundreds of pictures showing what an essential architectural resource the train system is for artists.

Here's the folly of the decision to ban photography in many transit systems: The train stations and trains are among the most widely and extensively documented public places in our country, and the transit systems themselves proudly distribute photos free, online, to anyone.

And what's not distributed by the transit systems is available in an infinite number of forms in every possible medium.

So with all those images out there in the public domain, is there any possible excuse for spending tax dollars sending the police around to try to stop tourists and artists from snapping some pix of a beautiful train station or a sleek train?

And has anyone ever figured out the basis for the post-9/11 obsession with checking photo IDs at building entrances? Is there any possible security advantage to that practice or does it persist solely to justify hiring all those security guards?

By Marc Fisher |  February 26, 2006; 9:32 AM ET
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When going into museums in DC, I shake my head in disgust at the resources wasted as the guards check the bags of mothers carrying their bags of family necessities, and their purses. You can tell they're mothers by the gaggle of trailing or clinging children. Likely terrorists? At the same time, people with bulky coats waltz in. Is George Bush's stupidity infecting the entire federal decisionmaking process?

Posted by: Peter | February 25, 2006 5:12 PM

So am I not allowed to take picures of CSX trains or stations? I've been wanting to photograph the Kensington station for months, but I don't want to get in trouble, either. I just find trains interesting, and I've always loved watching and hearing them go by.

Posted by: Confused | February 25, 2006 8:37 PM

I know I've been stopped from taking pictures of trains inside a Metro station. When asked for an explanation, the security guy said "after 9/11, you know..." and trailed off. Funny how that's used as an explanation but really is no explanation at all.

Posted by: Dan | February 25, 2006 8:41 PM

I was a little miffed when I had to show ID to get into the building for a dentist appointment.

I think it's not so much about the actual ID, it's about forcing the guards to have interaction with every person who enters the building. It seems like a good strategy for keeping out garden variety nogoodniks, but ineffectual against anyone determined and resourceful.

I'm just glad we can fly with nail files again.

Posted by: securitat | February 25, 2006 9:48 PM

For an authoritative description of the legal rights of photographers, see .

But I think the best illustration of why photography by the public of our transportation infrastructure increases safety, instead of posing a threat, is the photograph that the Post published, taken by Jim Dougherty, of the chlorine-laden tank car in front of the Capitol building. This picture was worth much more than a thousand words. It gave DC officials a very clear and undeniable awareness of a real threat, and led to action in a way that a written description of the threat never would. (Of course, whether that action will ultimately be successful is another question.)

Posted by: thm | February 25, 2006 10:50 PM

OK, the comments thing doesn't like links. Google for "photographer's right," written by attorney Bert Krages.

Posted by: thm | February 25, 2006 10:52 PM

There are hundreds of web sites to get photos of commercial transportation photos detailing every aspect of almost anything. They are either hobbyist or commercal vendors who are trying to sell a product. I have many of my photos published on different web sites.

As an Asian American (BTW, I served 21 years in the US Armed Forces), I feel she was picked on because of the shade of her skin color. In the post Pearl Harbor era, everyone out on the coast with a yellowish skin tone with long last names were looked on as spys in were rounded up for "security reasons".

Only NJ Transit has a published policy that allows rail and bus fans on their property to take pictures and to keep a watchfull eye for anything no looking right.

Will I be questioned if I stood on New York Ave MetroRail station as I'm recording the passage of Amtrak/MARC trains as well as VRE trains heading into mid-day storage? Maybe so. The bad guys seems to never targeting a facility twice.

Posted by: ex-New Yorker, but a big railbuff. | February 26, 2006 10:16 AM

Tell Preety Gadhoke and the rest of her class to download, print, and carry with them "The Photographer's Right at As a clearly identifable professional news photographer I get confronted all the time by police and private security guards. Most police understand what I am doing and only ask to see my ID. Private security guards and passing citzens need an education that it is still legal to photograph anything viewable from a public place. I suggest we have a "photo freedom day" where everyone with a camera goes out and takes pictures and video of every thing they can see.

Posted by: Peter Roof | February 26, 2006 10:22 AM

Ms Gadhoke's situation is not unusual, if you lived in any one of several totalitarian countries of the world,e.g., Cuba, China, North Korea, etc. In fact she would probably have been, not only "detained", but interogated further at the local 'police/security headquarters'.
As an immigrant, and a naturalized American citizen, I too have been questioned, but it was in the country of my birth which my family fortunately escaped from some years ago. We came here to escape tyranny and a totalitarian dictatorship.
Therefore, I am sad that what happened on September 11th, 2001 made us all 'suspects' and created an atmosphere of distrust among our fellow citizens, that compels us to 'report' on each other, which resulted in a confrontation with a police officer, in a public place. Ms Gadhoke's predicament beautifuly re-creates those familiar scenes from old movies, where the innocent citizen is asked for "....their papers".
We have in essence created what I would call 'Constitution Free Zones', i.e., a place were the Bill of Rights is suspended, and a place were our mere presence is sufficient grounds for the authorities, without any particularized suspicion, can demand from any innocent citizen "....our papers".
The Communists would smile knowingly and would, I am sure, be very gratified that we are going down this road were we must prove to a police officer that we pose no threat to the MARC system, the national transportation infrastucture, nor the Constitution, by taking pictures in a public place, including the trains that many of us use daily.
In summary, what I found most interesting was the comment made by many of these police officers/officials defending their actions. They were only doing their job, i.e., "I was only following my orders"! This, is the classic defense for those in authority doing that which is common in a dictatorship, not in a Republic of laws. Furthermore, I like to call it for what it is, the 'Nuremberg Defense'. It did not work then and it will not work now!

"the price of liberty is eternal vigilance"

Posted by: ES | February 26, 2006 10:47 AM

Apparently the blog doesn't want links, so to see an awesome picture of a train station closed to the public because of security, you'll have to go to the New York City subway nycsubway site, with an org at the end. Click on the link for abandoned stations. Then look for the pictures of the IRT City Hall station, which was created as the showpiece of the system. It has not been used for traffic for many years, but it also has been put off limits to tourists except for a few rare occasions because it is under city hall. It should be a transit museum. Unbelievable.

Posted by: Peter | February 26, 2006 1:08 PM

Apparently, links will show -- so just click on the URL above, or here:

Posted by: Peter | February 26, 2006 1:09 PM

Peter wrote:

When going into museums in DC, I shake my head in disgust at the resources wasted as the guards check the bags of mothers carrying their bags of family necessities, and their purses. You can tell they're mothers by the gaggle of trailing or clinging children. Likely terrorists?


Short answer: no.

I reached my limit with our paranoia last year, when I watched a full colonel in the Air Force, in uniform, remove his glossy shoes before boarding a commuter airline flight in Klamath Falls, Oregon. When you consider that we only have finite resourses to combat terrorism, and this is how we choose to spend them, I wonder at the waste of it all.

Posted by: Greg | February 26, 2006 3:38 PM

Come to NYC and you can have you bag searched "randomly" when using the subway. Don't want it searched just cross the street to the other entrance like I did when I saw the police van parked outside the one entrance.

Posted by: Lou | February 26, 2006 4:55 PM

Washington MARC and New York City subways aren't the only places where people taking pictures of trains have been targeted for extra scrutiny, and in several of those cases the "suspicous" people were not of-color. New Jersey Transit recently backed off from a policy of requiring anyone wishing to take pictures of its operations -- even from public, off-platform locations -- to obtain a permit. Several train buffs in Chicago, meanwhile, had a dust-up with municipal police last year that resulted in a statement from the Chicago commuter agency declaring photography to be officially allowed.

Posted by: David | February 26, 2006 7:42 PM

February 25-26, 2006 -- White House "finds" missing Cheney e-mails.

The White House turned over to CIA Leakgate Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald some 250 pages of e-mails from 2003 that it originally claimed were somehow deleted or lost. The e-mails reportedly demonstrate that Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff were squarely behind and coordinated efforts to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson and reveal the identity of his covert CIA agent wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, to the media. The e-mails are said to implicate Cheney and his key staffers in potential criminal wrongdoing involving the disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's identity and those of her Brewster Jennings & Associates covert colleagues.

The White House said it "discovered" the missing e-mails two weeks ago and turned them over to Fitzgerald. However, three and a half weeks ago, WMR was contacted by an anonymous source who claimed to have intimate knowledge of how the "EOP" (Executive Office of the President) archived older e-mail and other documents. The source said that it is EOP policy to send archival documents to an underground Federal Support Center at 5321 Riggs Road in Olney, Maryland for safekeeping.

Were missing Cheney e-mails trucked to secret White House underground facility in Maryland? Insider said yes.

WMR passed this "tip" on to those who have "back channel" communications with Fitzgerald's office with an emphasis that the anonymous source appeared to have a very good working knowledge of White House document handling and archival procedures. The anonymous source suggested that Fitzgerald and a team of FBI agents show up unannounced at the Olney facility and simply seize the e-mails in question. WMR held the information on the possible whereabouts of the missing e-mails so not to alert the White House political operatives of their existence and location.

In any event, except for some e-mails for which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is claiming executive privilege, most of the the "missing" 2003 smoking gun e-mails involving Cheney's office have been found and these may prove to be as politically damaging to the Bush White House as the Watergate tapes proved to be for Richard Nixon.

Posted by: che | February 27, 2006 3:12 AM

There are no laws to forbid photographing trains.

Since many cameras have built-in cell phones it would be difficult to enforce a ban on photographing trains from railroad station platforms. You would have to totally ban the use of cell phones anywhere in railroad stations.

Since the Odenton station is close to Ft Meade could that have been the reason why Ms. Gadhoke was reported as a suspicious person when she was photographing the wrought iron lamp posts on the Odenton station platform?

Posted by: Rudy | February 27, 2006 9:59 AM

The "excuses" for that expenditure and crackdown: 1) Those in charge (the politicians, mostly, not the actual operations staff) will be seen as derelict in their job if they aren't seen publicly to be "doing SOMEthing" about the perceived threat (whether or not said "something" is actually effective); and 2) the heightened state of paranoia that the terrorists have started and our government has intensified/lengthened (Report Suspicious Activity" on our highway message boards, anyone?) has the public atwitter at anything perceived as "abnormal"--and anyone photographing or paying attention to things the "average Joe" wouldn't pay ateention to is automatically suspect.

I'm a freelance reporter who occasionally covers rail topics for various rail publications. I have a photo from the 1960's of three suit-and-tie-and-fedora-wearing businessmen walking over the walkways of a locomotive on display in a locomotive production facility with a cartoon voice bubble over one of them saying "These disguises are great! No one would EVER guess we're railfans!" I guess today we could change the last word to "terrorists."

Posted by: Alexander | February 27, 2006 11:37 AM

It's just another case of profiling, Im use to that, but as much as it happens to me and others like me, after 9/11 I myself profile others. If you fit the description then people are going to be suspicious. If you have never "fit the description" then this might be hard for you to understand.

Posted by: J.W | February 27, 2006 3:24 PM

on 11 April 2005, i was placed in handcuffs and read my rights for attempting to take pictures at the MARC odenton train station. i was in a clearly marked state vehicle, had my state ID badge clearly displayed, and thought the platform of public transit was in deed a public place.

i was wrong and got to spend over an hour in handcuffs, got to go to the doctor for a bruised sholder and got to visit a therapist to discuss what happened (my son loves to watch trains with his daddy - i was afraid to after what i went thru).

btw, i'm a suburban white guy who grew up not too far from Odenton, went to highschool a few miles up the road, and even worked for a certain 3 letter agency.

so much for living in a free society. i think the mind police are knocking at my door...better go check

Posted by: been there done that | February 27, 2006 3:45 PM

I'm a railroader, as well as a fan, and this is just rediculous. We get to watch an indocrination video on rail security every year that rags on the fans. Most just want to take photos from a safe place along the right-of-way. A few bad apples do things like steal collectables and climb on equipment, but really, that is the exception, not the rule. The biggest problems I face in the cab of a locomotive are kids throwing rocks at trains and playing chicken, or riding ATV's along the tracks; and theives who put things on the tracks to try and force us to stop, so they can steal from the cars.

There's a real bias among some railroaders against the fans, because they think anyone who wants to stand lineside on a sunny day when they (the employees) could be out hunting, fishing, or golfing, must be wacko. It never ceases to amaze me that a middle-aged white guy with a beer gut and a camera gets harrassed along the tracks, but someone dressed in camo with a high-powered rifle gets a pass because most of my co-workers hunt.

If I were going to be a terrorist along the railroad I'd be part of something like a surveying team. They are constantly out there, we never have any advance notice of their presence, and nobody ever thinks twice about them. Most of this "heightened" security awareness stuff is just right-wing fear-mongering to get us to give up more of our rights and allow the government more control over our lives.

When I was growing up, it was the conservatives who railed against "Big Brother" and government intrusion into people's lives when the Democrats ran everything. Now that the Neo-Fascist right is in control, the snooping is just fine by them.

It's time to stand up and say, "NO MORE" to these intrusions into the very liberties that our founding documents are supposed to protect.

Posted by: a railroader | February 27, 2006 4:48 PM

MARC and passengers of MARC need to rethink this whole process. The more cameras on the ground, the better chances of discouraging malcontents and or terrorists. I can't tell you how many times my professional and oversized cameras have caused people, would be vandals and mischieveous teenagers to take flight on seeing my equipment.
Next thing you know Marc and the government will be asking us to pay for cameras along the right of way. Of course those cameras will be tened by bored and non-interested folks who wouldn't know trouble if they saw it. Wouldn't it be better to have a railfan with interest in train operations out there watching transit?

Posted by: ttrogers | February 27, 2006 5:12 PM

The issue of harassment and intimidation of railway and transit photographers is discussed in numerous articles on the Light Rail Now website, with a numnber of cases summarized. See:


Posted by: LRN | February 27, 2006 9:07 PM

The lack of a clear and consistant set of laws about terrorism, has arisen because of our authoroties bewilderment and refusal to openly (or otherwise) discuss the topic (We don't even have a clear definition of what terrorism is; the state department uses the standard of using violence against populations for political ends; but the justice department and legislture prefer to leave it broadly undefined, perhaps to prevent any restriction on using Patriot Act provisions or perhaps because a true definition could make clear that some of our government's and its allies actions could be considered terrorism) US authorities didn't anticipate the terror attacks (though planes were used as weapons to crash into structures or were part of plans uncovered to do so, repeatedly in numerous very highly publicized international incidents during World War 2, the Nixon presidency and the Clinton Presidency) Sadly authorities still don't seem to know how that type of attack could be prevented (no security measures taken, so far would pevent people carrying plastic box cutters on planes). So we've adopted a subjective policy of investigating any "suspicious" activity on an ethnicity-based sliding scale, where darker skin tones are more suspicious no matter what they do (a policy that could envision the "crimes" of driving while black, or flying while Arab and apparently photographing public areas while darker toned? )
We could have secured air planes and public places with proven security measures that work regardless of any potential assailants ethnicity. (like we secure banks: with cammeras, public & hidden monitors, silent alarms, impact resistant barriers, electronic locking mechanisms, keycard and fingerprint entry gates, easily traceable products that are difficult to counterfeit and clear, consistant, well publicized rules delineating what behavior is expected, regardless of your skin tone or apparent ethnicity) If the terrorists hate our "feedom" then maybe they're happy that we're not as free as we once were. It should be noted that those that argue for restricting civil liberties and our freedoms, invariably seek to restrict the rights of others and not their own rights (and being that many overtly appear to be very religious it's interesting that they aren't asked why they so easily dismiss the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated - they'd likely bring up that all 19 hijackers were Arab and all looked a certain way, so we know who attacked us - but the Oklahoma City bomber looked a certain way too, as did the UnaBomber, as well as the the serial killer Jeff Dalmer and the Columbine Shooters [who reportedly wrote that they'd like to either shoot up their school or fly planes into the World Trade Center] and many more - in the end it's probably more important that most didn't like the ethnicity of those involved in this attack to begin with, and now there's a semi-legitimate excuse to discriminate against them) It's unfortunate that every (non white anglo-saxon Protestant) ethnic group that came to the US has had to be discriminated against for decades and sometimes centuries before being accepted as citizens with rights equal to (or nearly equal to) their co-citizens. It's especially unfortunate today, when incidents of gross insensitivity & injustice in one part of the world can spark reactions globally.

Posted by: M S | March 3, 2006 11:18 AM

I watched this show on my PC this morning. It saddens me to see how dumb we Americans really are. Mr Fisher makes a strong case for how paranoid and racially insensitive we have become in the name of 9/11. And I especially think that the audience completely missed the point that Mr. Fisher was able to walk around and take as many pictures as he wanted without a single incident!

Posted by: Sue Luke | March 14, 2006 6:31 PM

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