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Department of Photo Security--Redux

Last Sunday's column told the story of a Maryland woman who was stopped by police and questioned after commuters saw her taking photographs of the wrought-iron lampposts at the Odenton train station. Preety Gadhoke's experience, and her questions about whether she was stopped because she looked like a foreigner, have sparked a debate
here on the blog and elsewhere.

Preety and I appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal with Brian Lamb this morning to discuss the events, and Channel 9 reporter Dave Statter passes along this account of his own dogged and enlightening reporting on the inconsistent, illogical and sometimes downright idiotic efforts by the homeland security apparatus to fight the scourge of innocent photography of some of the world's most-photographed buildings:

In 2004, and again in 2005, I sent two different, young, Caucasian, native-born, female interns around Washington armed with a disposable camera and a wireless microphone. Their instructions were to stand in a public place and shoot public buildings. While this was going on, I was with a photographer a half block down the street videotaping the interns actions and the reaction of various security guards and police.

I can report that the one place where she wasn't hassled was the White
House. But on sidewalks outside DOT, NASA, EPA, IRS, Washington Marine
Barracks, Ronald Reagan Building, J. Edgar Hoover Building, Justice
Department, a US Capitol Police roadblock and the FBI's Washington Field
Office she was confronted by security or police. In most cases when the TV
camera was spotted (we were out in the open), we were also confronted.

I guess we should expect that security will legally attempt to find out the
identity of anyone who is extensively photographing government buildings.
But the misinformation and outright lies that were told to this "tourist"
and to us were quite amazing. Here is a partial list:

1. It is illegal to photograph any government buildings. (EPA)
2. We arrested a man for drawing a picture of this building last week. (EPA)
3. You are not allowed to take pictures and I can confiscate your camera.
(Marine Barracks)
4. You have to have permission from our public affairs officer to photograph
this building. (NASA, Ronald Reagan Building)
5. We have a cabinet secretary in there so you can't shoot pictures of this
building. (DOT both in 2004 and 2005)
6. The GSA rules printed on the front door show it is illegal to take
pictures of this building. (At the Ronald Reagan Building, where the GSA
rules on the door, often cited throughout the city, actually say just the
7. We stop terrorists all the time who take pictures. (US Capitol Police)
8. You can't take pictures of people going into and out of this building.

Of course, there is nothing true about any of these statements. We later
contacted officials with each organization, along with the Department of
Homeland Security. Not one could cite any law or regulation that prohibits
anyone standing in a public place from taking a picture of a building or
anything else that is in public view. Each agency/organization (including
the US Marines), except one, admitted to us that their people were in error
and would do retraining. In fact, the Federal Protective Service,
responsible for guarding government buildings all over the country, tell us
they now use our stories in roll calls and training sessions for their

The one exception is the Department of Transportation on 7th Street, SW.
Officials there refuse to acknowledge the right of the public or the press
to take pictures of the building without DOT's permission. They also told me
they saw no reason to retrain their guards. Take a walk with a camera
outside the DOT building and watch what happens.

I should also tell you that representatives at all the buildings and
agencies tell us they will regularly try to legally find out who the picture
taker is, but will not otherwise interfere with the picture taking. I guess
we should expect that action, post 9/11.

Now as far as railroads are concerned, there are a lot of people whose hobby is taking pictures of
trains. Think of O. Winston Link's famous picture of the Norfolk and Western
steam engine passing behind the plane on the drive-in movie screen in West
Virginia. These people are being hassled out of a hobby. Your former Post
colleague, Don Phillips, wrote a recent column in Trains magazine about the

One problem for Ms. Gadhoke is that apparently she was on "their" property
when taking the pictures. That may have emboldened the officer to seize her
film (I have heard from a number of people that the Pentagon police do this
to the press and public who take pictures on Pentagon property without
permission, but allegedly they don't seize film when you are on public
property taking the pictures).

New Jersey Transit's chief of police is one of the railroad people taking
and encouraging a hard line approach with picture takers. NJT finally
officially backed away from the policy in January after a lot of pressure
(including the Trains magazine column). Here are some articles about NJT's
short lived photography ban that some claim is still being enforced: (this one has
a series of railroad related articles in chronological order ... check
February 13 and February 6)

A few months back I was with a Channel 9 photographer for about two hours of
videotaping AMTRAK and CSX trains at Ivy City and then along the tracks at M
Street Southeast. A heavenly assignment for two train buffs.

At Ivy City an engineer called dispatch to report us to police (I was
monitoring on the scanner). When we moved to M Street another engineer did
the same. As we left M Street a CSX police officer pulled up. It turned out
to be a guy who I had been a volunteer firefighter with 30 years ago. He
apparently came down from the Baltimore area to answer the call. I got the
impression he was the only CSX cop on duty in DC at the time (what does that
say about rail security?). My friend said as long as we were off the track
area and not on CSX property we can take all the pictures we want (his chief
must not subscribe to NJT's policy).

It's a mess out there, and the most unfortunate part of the situation is that the confusion and the contradictions only serve to undermine public confidence in our security and law enforcement agencies, while the efforts to halt photography of public places wastes valuable resources and persuades all too many Americans that our tax dollars are being diverted from security measures that might really protect us.

By Marc Fisher |  March 3, 2006; 8:53 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Marc. Marc. Marc. Normally I am on the side of the fight against injustice against any human. However, you have gone too far with this story. Let it go man. Why not report on the K street scandal or other more important local stories. This one stinks of the "liberal left" the Republicans talk so much about. Let it go man. You are making yourself look like a buffoon.

Posted by: Democratic | March 3, 2006 9:34 AM

The Pentagon reservation is posted as no photography without permission. That includes the bus platforms and parking lots.

You can take pictures without permission from public streets and parks but you'd beter bring a zoom lens because those are not close by.

Posted by: D. R. | March 3, 2006 10:01 AM

"Ask The Pilot" in Salon has a discussion of photos of airplanes/airports. Same conclusion: harrasssment, but legal justification. Good read.

Posted by: B White | March 3, 2006 10:47 AM

Marc. Marc. Marc. Please ignore Democratic's comment and continue to follow this important story. This story is important to the national discussion about how post-9/11 attitudes are needlessly eroding our civil liberties. This is contrary to the central principles of American democracy and freedom.

Democratic, you should read some of the stories about people arrested and detained for taking pictures of trains on the web sites linked in the comments to Marc's earlier blog item. (go to and scroll down to "Security and Civil Liberties.") I am not a railfan, but if I were, I would be afraid to take pictures--something within my legal rights--because of the abuse of power by government and private security forces. This is a cornerstone of fascism. If the press and the citizenry do not resist, we could be in the early stages of an authoritarian police state. No, I am not being alarmist.

Thank you Marc, Dave Satter, Brian Lamb, and all the other reporters who are giving this story the necessary attention. Thank you also Ms. Gadhoke and the other people who are standing up to the harassment. You have my most sincere admiration.

Posted by: "Democratic" Isn't | March 3, 2006 10:48 AM

Marc, I agree with your complaint completely. Last weekend, I was in downtown Charlotte, NC trying to take a picture of the top of a bank there simply because it was an interesting looking building. I was across the street and a security guard came outside and yelled to me from the bank entrance that I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the building. You think I felt good about that? Did it make any sense?
Obviously Democratic, above, doesn't care too much about photography or similar innocent acts or else he/she might find this sort of thing a bit more problematic. Oh, and I think Republicans have an interest in the abrogation of personal freedoms too.

Posted by: CA | March 3, 2006 10:52 AM

Your story about the CSX cop who came down from Baltimore speaks volumes. We seem to be more concerned with chasing phantom threats than real ones -- such as, for example, the very real threat posed by the transporting of hazardous chemicals through downtown Washington and under the Howard St tunnel in Baltimore.

When I was a kid, there was a sign on the walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps one of the most photogenic (and most photographed) places in America, that said "no picture taking." It was a relic of the days of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Taking photographs in the NY subways was also against the law. The point is that these restrictions always outlive their usefulness, and liberties lost are difficult to get back.

And, of course, the restrictions are ridiculous, doing nothing to enhance security. Does anyone believe that a real spy was done in by that sign on the Brooklyn Bridge? And today, anyone who wants can get a bird's eye view of almost every government building in Washington, including the White House, from Google Earth. It is particularly useful for identifying railroad assets that are difficult to photograph from the ground because of fencing and property-access restrictions.

Surely all those security guards who hassled you should have better things to do. And lying about what the law forbids is a flagrant abuse of authority. Is it fascism yet?

Posted by: Meridian | March 3, 2006 11:04 AM

"The one exception is the Department of Transportation on 7th Street, SW.
Officials there refuse to acknowledge the right of the public or the press
to take pictures of the building without DOT's permission. "

Hey, DOT, last time I checked the building is a government building, built by government dollars aka tax dollars which means you don't own it and I can take pictures.

We should get a couple hundred people to stand outside the building and take photos all at once just to irritate them.

Posted by: Danielle fr. Gmail | March 3, 2006 11:10 AM

One comment I wanted to make regarding those who will no doubt harp on subway photography: The rationale for subway photography prohibition is totally different from that of power-hungry authoritarians. Rather, it is based on one fact: to take a photograph in a subway in any film days required either a tripod for a time exposure or a flash. The tripod is guaranteed to trip up rushing commuters or at least block their flow; the flash will momentarily blind subway drivers, creating a safety hazard there. Over two decades, I've been stopped from tripod photography in subways in Baltimore, DC, Chicago, Philly, New York, Montreal, London, and Glasgow. Mind you, in all cases I remember, the authorities were quite polite but quite quick and firm in their explanations, and assured me that I could get a permit if I had a specific reason for a specific photograph (such as a newspaper). Today's digital cameras are getting good enough to take photos in dark subway stations without either flas or tripods, so the question may be rendered moot soon.

U.S. Capitol Police have also used another handy excuse over the years I've done photography: any tripod in the vicinity of the Capitol and surrounding buildings can theoretically be used to help a sniper aim his rifle. Of course, exactly who is going to use a high-power rifle to shoot some lowly senator/representative or intern, or even exactly which important government officials are in these buildings after dark (when tripods are needed for steady night-time photos) has never been adequately explained to me. As a result, I predict that there has been more subterfuge in the District in the name of artistic photography than there ever has been towards terrorism, civil insurrection, or even whatever the idiots protest outside the World Bank/IMF.

Posted by: Alexander D. Mitchell IV | March 3, 2006 12:03 PM

Please continue to follow this story. The idiocy of hassling photographers needs to be exposed and put to rest. As you pointed out in your Sunday column, pictures of all of these places are easily available in books, postcards and on the web. Would someone with a sketchpad face similar harrassment?

I think your most important point, that this takes officers away from doing things that actually improve security, needs to be emphasized.

Unfortunately, it seems that many people prefer inconvience masquerading as security to actual security.

Posted by: GP | March 3, 2006 12:16 PM

In 1999 @ the Pentagon (south parking lot)
I noticed a group of three 'oriental' men
taking photos of the Pentagon building. I
told one of the police officers who then
headed in the direction of the 'photographers'.I don't know the outcome of that incident. I do know that
it wasn't too long after that the Chinese
Government tried to buy an apartment build-
ing overlooking the Pentagon for Electronic
eavesdropping purposes.

The events in your article are hearsay. We
weren't present for the event or the inter-
view of Ms.Gadhoke. She may have said or done something to arouse suspicion. Or,
maybe she didn't. We don't know,We weren't
there. The actions of the police are not
idiocy, they are important steps in keeping
our people free from potential harm.

I find your(Mr.Fisher)Heading of your article more offensive than the event or
the aftermath of the event. Since your
writing is based on speculation, the leap
you have made in titling this issue an
'Excess' by the police is troubling to me.

It seems to me that Ms.Gadhoke is looking to be a 'Victim'. By the way, how did you
learn of this incident? Did you read it on a police 'Blotter',or did the 'victim' or a
'victim spokesperson call you.

Posted by: Michael Alexander | March 3, 2006 1:12 PM

I too think it's important to pay attention to these things. Soooooooo much money has gone into homeland security, and it is such a waste. As you have pointed out, the idea of flashing a photo id at a building entrance as a means of providing security is absurd. Paying people to tell other people not to take pictures of public buildings is, in addition to being an unwarranted restriction of rights, similarly wasteful.

We need to get some grown-ups in government who are, at least occasionally, willing to tell the truth and focus on things that matter. That we are spending our time and money worrying about photographs of public buildings when there is real work to be done is beyond depressing.

Posted by: THS | March 3, 2006 1:23 PM

Right on, Marc.

Here's a link to an attorney's website with a discussion of photographers'legal rights and a handy one-page summary in pdf format. Carry it along to show the uniformed ignoranti among us.

Posted by: J Lawlor | March 3, 2006 1:37 PM

I found myself in a fairly similar situation when the G8 summit came to Sea Island Georgia a few years ago. Sea island is a Hamptons like strip along the coast, with only one road in and out. The Island was locked down and trespassing would be a deathwish.

As a photojournalism student, the summit was of interest, but I had no way of being involved on the island. But luckily for me, an hour north in the historic city of Savannah, where I attended photojournalism school, the summit had its visible presence as well.

Days before the summit, tractor trailers stacked full with story tall barricades moved in along with the national guard, FBI, and a multitude of other agencies of law enforcement. Nearly all public buildings were caged in by these barricades. I had never seen anything like it.

The city at that time of year is usually bustling with students, tourists, and locals, but for a few weeks around the summit the city became a true ghost town, if you don't count the few photographers and 15,000 men carrying automatic weapons.

I decided to venture out and snap a few photos, i felt it was relevent to my photojournalistic aspirations. But after taking a few photographs of the usually beautiful historic city now in cages, I was approached by two federal police in full battle gear, they asked what i was doing, which i politely explained. I was a local photography student, and was simply documenting the arrival of the G8 summit. After checking my school ID and drivers license, they explained that I could not take anymore photographs there. I raised the point that there was another photographer also doing the same thing just accross the street. I was told that he was from the newspaper, therefore had permission.

Not wanting to push them anymore, i moved on. But only to another location, all the time on public property. In the Forrest Gump movie, Tom Hanks opens his box of chocolates on a bench in one of the many parks throughout the downtown area. It was through these same squares that I took my photographs from, all very public property. As I snapped a shot of the beautiful courthouse surrounded by black metal fences, a Federal Police SUV pulled up, out of which came two heavily armed men in black.

They began asking the same questions the others had, requesting ID and demanding to know what I was doing. I was friendly and open and honest, as I did not want to get locked up for nothing, but this time they went to far.

At after checking my ID and interrogating me, they searched though my digital images, camera bag, and finally they took two polaroid photographes of me before telling me they thought i was up to no good and I must leave or else.

I left feeling like a coward, knowing they had simply bullied me, but what could I do?

And now, do they have some file on me with the polaroids?


Posted by: Photojournalism Student | March 3, 2006 2:22 PM

This issue is not confined to urban or suburban areas, where most of these stories seem to coming from. We had a similar incident out here in Brunswick, MD (near Harper's Ferry). A railroad enthusiast (very numerous out here) was taking pictures of the Brunswick train station last year and got hassled by a MARC security guard. If this happens in a semi-rural historic railroad town, it is not suprising that it would happen closer to DC.

Posted by: Bill Turner | March 3, 2006 3:00 PM

If, in order to protect freedom we have to give up freedoms, are we really left with freedom?

Posted by: Sam Farmer | March 3, 2006 4:16 PM

The 70's in all its glory...

Posted by: R M Johnson | March 3, 2006 8:47 PM

Link to the 70's -

Posted by: R M Johnson | March 3, 2006 8:50 PM

To Michael Alexander: you're an idiot. And yes, the actions of the police are idiocy.

Posted by: JJ | March 3, 2006 9:02 PM

Saw the C-SPAN program. Thanks.
Ms. Godhoke experience is one of an increasing number of people. What she should worry about now, is that she is now in the humongous database of the government as a suspicious person. That's the reality. So every time her name shows up it will be cross referenced.
What is idiotic about our overdosing on "security" is that it is becoming so trivial that we will not know a real threat and how to prepare for it. Katrina demonstrates that.
Answering Sam Farmer's question: No we will have no freedom left (just the shell) nor do we have any security. Because we have given too much power to the powerful.

Posted by: Sheila W. | March 4, 2006 3:01 PM

Bravo, Marc! Keep following this story.

Some would argue the bigger issue here is one of individual liberties. Maybe.

I think the more alarming problem is the spotty or apparently non-existent training of the individual police officers and that's clearly a direct reflection of lousy leadership.

It's also why the media need to constantly monitor the way law enforcement works--at all levels.

Posted by: David R. Busse | March 4, 2006 5:26 PM

I think what is telling about his story, taken with the Photo Journalist Student's story, is that we all assume we have freedoms to do these and other things. But how many can say where these freedoms come from? The Constitution? Which article or ammendment? It was interesting that the photo journalist student never mentioned his rights to the officers. Did he know what they were? Did he know what part of the Constitution he thought protected his right to photograph or the right not to hand over his bag or even the rights the officers had to stop, question and search?

Some have mentioned the need to train the security personnel and I agree. But more importantly, I think the citizenry ought to also be trained in their freedoms and rights, and the limitations of them. The Post could do a lot of good by having a series of articles covering the Constitution, what freedoms we have, which we do not, which are being abused and maybe specifically which have changed under the Patriot Act. An educated citizenry is the best defense against the abuse of power.

In the early 1970s I started college. There had been demonstrations on campus and my dorm had scars where tear gas canisters hit the building. When I arrived on campus a group, not the administration, handed out a "Campus Survival Guide" to freshman. It basically spelled out what to do if confronted by the police. It explained what an "arrest" meant, what "being held" meant, and what rights you had should the police try to hold you. It explained what you were allowed to do and not to do. It also explained that police make mistakes and if you are in the right, but told you are not, to shut up so as not to be "resisting". It explained there would be time afterwards to get things straight. The manual went a long way to teaching students not only what their rights were, but what rights they did not have and how to prevent violence once in police custody and how not to make things worse. Luckily I never had a confrontation with police but I was surprised that I've seen nothing like the Guide since.

Most people only have a vague understanding of what they call their freedoms and rights. There is a need for the media to write on this topic. It might also educate security personnel as well.

Posted by: Sully | March 5, 2006 9:36 AM

Here's a second for Sully's idea re a series of articles on what our rights as citizens are---and aren't. It's a big topic for a newspaper (by which I mean to say that one could right long treatises on what the First Amendment does or doesn't guarantee), but there should be a way to take it on in the time- and space-constrained format of a newspaper.

Posted by: THS | March 5, 2006 11:11 AM

This story reminded me of a high school trip to Paris where one day we walked by the US Embassy. My friend reached up to snap a picture just like we had with every other exciting sight. The guard came over and said "Pas de photos" (no photos), and of course, she stopped. I remember thinking to myself, "oh, it makes perfect sense that we couldn't take a picture of a building that should be secure; I'm glad the guard stopped us before we did something stupid". But now that I think about it, why on earth couldn't we take a picture from a public street of a building that had been funded by our (okay, our parents' or grandparents') taxpayer dollars? That guard didn't tell us any particular reason we couldn't take pictures, he just said no and like sheeps we stopped. What on earth would have been the harm of my 16-year-old friend having a picture of the embassy in her photo album? You can see the building clearly from the street, for goodness sake.

I also like the idea of the Post running a series on our Constitutional rights. A poll I heard on NPR stated that more Americans can name all five members of the Simpson family than the five rights of the First Amendment. I could only get four. It's a shame that civics classes are no longer required in many districts, including the one I grew up in. Maybe if we had had a basic civics class instead of Advanced AP World Comparative Government So That Maybe One Day We Will Actually Find That Information on Comparing Zimbabwe and Albania's Political Processes Useful, we would have been more familiar with our rights that day in Paris. At the very least we might have questioned them.

Posted by: Laura | March 5, 2006 12:03 PM

Another puerile thread of the irony-deprived. If once, just once, I might hear the outraged pose a question as to what their responsibilities might be and how they might help instead of braying donkey-like about rights and entitlements, I'd die a happy photographer. I won't hold my breath. While Marc Fisher breathlessly types all these crimes against his right to photograph lampposts, he might have taken a brief moment to actually find out and post what the rules are and are not. That would have been marginally useful instead of another I-am-the-world tantrum. What a public service you provide Marc! I am so glad you are on guard against the evil "they"!

Of course photos are readily available of the buildings. Did you think Al-Q doesn't know that? They are noting current security patterns, ingress and egress routes and what hours the shifts change. They also send testers to see when and where they are challenged. This is terrorism 101. Do you have any Israeli friends? Ask them. You might open your uni-centered views a bit.

I also have the sneakiest of suspicions that you are of the sort who if there is another attack, will mock the same security services for not being watchful enough and that you are so purely devoid of self awareness as to ever once ask yourself why haven't there been any more attacks since these measures have been put into place? Did you think Al-Q quit trying? Really? You believe that? Wow! The idiot left hasn't.

It's called being a citizen and balancing rights with responsibilities.

And yes, for the record I have been stopped and had my ID checked numerous times. Amtrak, the Metro, near public buildings, etc. I got stopped by an Air Marshall on US Air three weeks ago. He couldn't have been nicer. We ended up speaking at length and left on very friendly terms. Whatever your self-centric view of the world, let me disabuse you of a salient fact. IT ISN'T ABOUT YOU MARC OR ANYONE ELSE. The self indulgence of your views are a sorry sign of the times.

They are doing a tough job and take no pleasure in harassment. Are you?

Clearly it is working.

Posted by: Honest Liberal | March 5, 2006 1:56 PM

Interesting situation. I haven't ridden the MARC Penn Line (the line that stops at Odenton) since starting a new job. A few years ago, the MARC commuter newspaper sponsored a photo contest - first prize being (if I remember correctly) a free monthly MARC pass. The topic - photoes of any MARC trains and/or stations. I guess that don't do that any more .......

Posted by: Bob T. | March 5, 2006 9:12 PM

To Sully: I third the suggestion of having a series of articles clearly describing what is expected and allowed by the citezenry, and the reasoning behind it. In case it helps, on the constitutional issue, it's very well established Supreme Court precedant that what the constitution does not specify, it allows and grants as rights to both the public and the government. For instance, since the constitution does not mention restrictions on traffic or trafic laws, congress is free to pass any laws about traffic, and the pubic is allowed to drive in any matter not prohibited by law. While this may seem like a much less controversial issue now, it was quite a hot topic about 120 years ago, when cars and horses both occupied the road and congress had not passed any laws with respect to traffic. It took a few decades before congress enacted a set of laws that balanced the needs of transportation, public safety, private property, commerce, law enforcement and legal appeal, to the satisfaction of most of the interests involved. The lesson from that was that congress needs to be flexible in considering all the needs of society and often does so extremely slowly. Keeping the public in the dark about official expectations, only hinders the majority of society that desperately wants to help keep our nation safe & secure, while wasting limited law enforcement resources on large-scale generalized sweeps checking and re-checking large numbers of innocent-by-standers, rather than focusing on actual threats. It can stifle commerce, confuse the public and leave law enforcement & security forces running on overtime just trying to stand still.
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 legislature 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 assailant's 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 "freedom" 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, the Olympic Park bomber, 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.
To Liberal: Discussing the lack of clear public policy is not "self-indulgent". Everyone's had to show ID's at public places and many have had friendly encounters with security officials. But there were also around 5,000 people (that we know about) that were "detained", often in solitary confinement, many were mistreated (some died from such wounds), while held without charge, notice, or due process for several months, for no crime other than their ethnicity. Once that happens to you a few times, then talk about what a wonderful experience it was for you. It would really open the public's eyes to a whole new perspective.

Posted by: M S | March 6, 2006 8:40 AM

Thankfully, comments supporting these photography restrictions are few and far between. In response to Michael Alexander, it's interesting to note that you use an anecdote (three oriental men taking photos - dangerous stuff; I thought middle eastern looking people were the problem) to justify restricting personal freedom and committing limited time and resources to security and then turn around and discount anecdotes that have been used to support not spending time and money on questionable security needs. This leads me to Honest Liberal's comments. It's interesting to posit that a well-trained and financed organization, Al-Q, would be testing our security procedures so strenuously and yet not have figured out about hidden cameras, miniature cameras, etc. Yes, I feel so much safer when hobby photographers are stopped. Finally, it doesn't matter whether security personnel like or do not like what they are doing. (What does it say if they don't like it? Shouldn't they be happy about doing an important public service like stopping dangerous photgraphy.) What matters is what authority they have, what they do with that authority and what the worth of that protection is. Securing public areas from photography does not help except in the most extreme sense. In the end, these restrictions reduce quality of life for the average citizen while wasting limited security resources. It's amazing that taking a photograph has become an act of civil disobedience.

Posted by: CA | March 6, 2006 5:35 PM

I dont think her skin color had much to do with anything, although it is very possible. But as I wrote earlier, it also happened to myself and likely thousands of others of all skin colors. I am a freckled irish american, and to this date have been stopped 5 times for taking photos of public buildings and rail scenes, while on public property. The first few times they stopped me I was a little surprised, but was treated with respect and was never threatened. They only asked to see my ID and find out what I was photographing. But once I was confronted by the Federal Police, the situation changed. As far as I knew, I was just as entitled to take photographs as the news media all around me. But the Feds, those who one would think would be the best trained in the details of the law, and the rights of the people, better informed at least than the locals, decided to deliberatly intimidate me, lie to me(told me I would be arrested for trespassing if I didnt leave, I was standing on the sidewalk!), and finally, once they realized I was not going to resist their requests(out of my own ignorance, and curiousity of how far they would go) they took two Polaroids of me, one with my glasses and hat on, and one without them. I cant help but wonder what sort of file they have, and under which justification... that I was suspiciously compliant with every request they asked of me?

Is there any way for me to ever find out where my face is now, whose watch list am I on and for what?! This is something everyone must be concerned about, no matter what you look like, and no matter what you do. Savannah, Georgia(where I have been stopped all five times) is one of the most historic and well documented cities in the country. Trollies and horse drawn carriages shuffle tourists around the city night and day, while thier cameras click away. If a "terrorist" wanted to take a picture of a building, if he was smart, all he must do is buy a ticket on the trolly- would that not make him less suspicious? Do you think the Feds would have pulled over the trolly in order to harrass a man because he took a photo of one of the many historic landmarks throughout the city? Would they have taken his photo as all the other tourists with thier cameras looked on? No, because thats bad for business, and it should be against the law.

I just want to know who has my picture and why? Was it for personal use or public? If public, then they must have some lawful reason to think that I am a threat. You know how they post images and information about criminals on TV and the internet so that people can be aware if thier neighbor is dangerous, well that is what I feel may happen to photographers. If I am a criminal for taking these photos, then go ahead, have my photo. But if not then the government has no right keeping a file on me with my photos for god knows who to get thier greasy fingers all over.

Anyone know who I can contact to check out what if any files they have on me?

Posted by: Photojournalism student | March 6, 2006 7:07 PM

To: Photojournalism student

The Privacy Act of 1974 gives an individual the right to see & copy files that the federal government maintains on them, find out who else has had access to the information, and request changes in any information that is not accurate or relevant.

Read about the Privacy Act:

Read about Privacy concerns:

Unfortunately making a Privacy Act request, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) can be a lengthy & arduous process. You may want to ask the ACLU for assistance on making a FOIA request, realeasing government files kept on ALL those that were ONLY found taking photographs in a public areas. (The ACLU would not likely help you get just your own government file, since there's an awful lot of injustice and they'd like to put their meager resources where it may do the most good. But they may take a request on behalf of ALL photography hobbyists, since the ACLU likes to take cases that may set a precedant of how justice should be administered in the future.)

Read about making a FOIA Request:

I can understand your concern about determining whether or not the government has files on you (in all likihood they do and they probably search through your's and many other's phone conversations & e-mails through broad NSA wiretaps; I hope that it [like most government files on US citizens] never adversly affect your life) Best of luck in your endeavors.

Posted by: M S | March 7, 2006 2:48 PM

I for one believe that if this, and any other conceivable infringement on freedom, will stop terrorism, then I'm for it.

Posted by: guez | March 7, 2006 5:37 PM

Funny guez... lets throw eveyone into prison. That will put an end to terrorism, and stuff.

Posted by: PJ | March 7, 2006 6:16 PM

All of us really cool progressives who post here know that Bush Lies and People Dies.

The only reason that Bush's illegal war for oil is able to continue is by the jingoistic flag waving of the corporate controlled media. The really cool progressives use the Internet to question authority and have intellectual discussion of topics that the corporate controlled media won't cover.

I am somewhat of an expert on 9/11. I know from looking at some really cool progressive Web sites that it wasn't the propaganda that the corporate controlled media would have you believe of 19 hijackers and jet airplanes.

I know of some really cool progressive sites that show how it was squib charges and holograms that destroyed the WTC. I can look at a 72 dpi image posted on a really cool progressive Web site and tell you exactly how steel is affected by burning jet fuel and the physics of an impact of 500-plus mph by a large object. That is what the Internet can do for us really cool progressives.

There's a lot more going on in the 9/11 cover-up than meets the eye. People who buy every word that the corporate-controlled media says should go buy George Orwell's 1984 and practice up; it won't be long before the hopelessly indoctrinated manage to get the clocks to thirteen here. Peace. -- Scott Laughrey

Posted by: Scott Laughrey | March 7, 2006 7:07 PM

To: guez

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. {Historical Review of Pennsylvania} -Benjamin Franklin

The point is that broad sweeps tend to keep law enforcement busy with innocent bystanders, so that terrorists are left free to sew discord. (Remember that terrorists, like criminals, are better at evading scrutiny than bystanders - so they are much less likely to be picked up by broad sweeps) Giving up "freedom" only helps terrorists (most of the most repressive regimes on the planet have had huge problems with terrorism - far bigger problems than freer nations face - think about the repressive places in the world that the most publicized terrorists came from)

Nothing is as fundamental or as valuable to human life as pursuing the inclinations of the mind, heart, and conscience. In America, long before the Revolutionary War, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and the adoption of the Constitution, pilgrims escaping religious & political persecution sought the freedom of a New World. Throughout our history, men and women have come to this nation to escape persecution and secure this precious freedom. America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, human rights invented America. The recent concerted attempts at marginalizing, vilifying and intimidating citizens out of exercising their constitutional rights, is an embarrassment and an affront to the ideals upon which this nation was founded.

Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others. - John F. Kennedy

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us. - Hermann Hesse, Demian

Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. - Chief Seattle

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. {Historical Review of Pennsylvania} -Benjamin Franklin

Posted by: M S | March 8, 2006 10:05 AM

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