Posted Thu May 15, 2008 10:05AM
Yeah I actually read the article on BoingBoing and found myself here, was slightly surprised!!
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 10:58AM
@Xil3: I was carrying a Canon 5D with a huge, white, 70-200 2.8L lens on it, complete with lens hood. I was also carrying a backpack on my back with 3 other lenses and my PowerBook in it. My friend had my Digital Rebel and a backpack with a couple of lenses in her backpack as well. Not exactly inconspicuous.
@ Everybody else: I think, a day later, what amazes me the most is not that somebody showed up at my door at all (when a pickup truck follows you onto the freeway, all kinds of stuff runs through your head) but who showed up. Those of you who know Los Angeles geography (and traffic patterns) know that whomever the higher-up was who sent agents from San Pedro to Santa Monica to question me took this VERY SERIOUSLY. That is not a short drive (~25 miles) and on what is likely the most consistently congested freeway in the country (straight up the 405). They could have sent local agents, or called in the Santa Monica Police Department to check me out, but these guys took a big chunk out of their day and went on a field trip. I hadn't even thought of this when they showed up, but these guys wanted to do more than just a google search of my name to see what I was up to.
It also may have been only a matter of time. A lot of people are frankly amazed that I haven't been arrested and/or investigated already when I tell people about the kinds of stuff I shoot. I have a dozen HD video clips I shot in the Seattle and Los Angeles airport sitting on my harddrive waiting to be uploaded to iStock (now that the FTP is fixed I probably will). Nobody at the airport gave me any trouble, but a fellow photographer I showed the clips to later assumed that it was illegal for me to shoot there.
I'm also amazed at the response. I sent an email to Thomas Hawk because I keep reading about other people in scary police/security situations, and although I read BB every day, a friend of mine suggested I shoot a message over there. I certainly wasn't (really) expecting to be blogged. I've been reading responses on all the sites all day, and the points that everybody is making are all really interesting.
At the very least, I would suggest that EVERYBODY print out this rights card and keep it in whatever bag you keep your camera in. I keep two, because I'm always meeting other photographers (and to a lesser degree) security guards who _don't_ know what the laws are and how they apply to a given situation, and it's nice to say "keep this one, I'll just print off another one". I've probably printed 20 copies of that card since I first found out about it over a year ago.
I'll post a follow-up later if I've found that this affects me detrimentally, or if I get another visit or email from somebody high-up on the totem pole. (there was certainly enough blogosphere traffic to this thread for SOMEBODY in a position of power SOMEWHERE to see this thread) In the mean time, I'm not going to do any less shooting of "homeland security challenged" infrastructure. But I am going to see who I can get in touch with to shoot the stuff from the other side of the fence in a bit more official of a capacity. (I think I'll get better photos that way too!)
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 11:24AM
Posted By lauriek:
Jeez this is getting fricking ridiculous. Do the police/FBI/govt really think terrorists are going to scope out targets with dirty great big DSLRs and big L glass? What kind of stupid arsed terrorist is going to do that, when you can get micro cameras that fit in a button. While I accept that as things stand, if you are reported to the FBI, they probably don't have much choice but to look into it, but it's completely insane.
Why not? Is there some rule book that says bad guys have to sneak around in black capes with mini-cameras instead of doing things in plain sight? Or go around yelling slogans and waving guns or knives?
IMO, it's got to be far easier to get away with taking photos for bad purposes if you act like a tourist or a regular (istock?) photographer. Easier to talk your way out or arrest too if confronted...
Probably the terrorist threat is overblown, at least within the US at this time, but a real enemy with any brains looks at how your security works and tries to fit through it inconspicuously...
It's like the passenger profiling systems. Someone analyzed that whole thing and said that an enemy group could find out someone who doesn't fit the watched-for target profile with a few simple tests, sending different types of people unarmed on some flights, and seeing which get held up for extra screening... then once you know what profile the security is watching for, you send someone who won't attract suspicion to do the real dirty work.
... besides, I'll bet that mini-camera on your lapel pin doesn't get the resolution or quality of that DSLR with a nice zoom... and you'll never get your surveillance photos accepted on istock if you use it...
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 12:05PM
Now just imagine if you 'look' foreign or are not white. I 'look' somewhat middle eastern and often during US domestic flights have people staring at me suspiciously. When shooting in even low threat situations I get hassled so I have given-up most public shooting. My favourite was when shooting an old abandoned church in a rural setting from the road. A cop car stopped and then shadowed me as I drove away.
Ummm, freedom for some!
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 12:08PM
Nice images. Crazy story.
I have an FBI story, too. Not like yours though.
When I went to check in at SFO the nice Air France clerk suddenly morphed into mysterieuse mode and excused herself with an "I'll be right back," before disappearing behind a large set of compound-caliber double doors. Ten to fifteen minutes later she emerged with a blank look on her face and I asked if there was anything the matter. "No, there's nothing wrong. I had to photocopy your passport." Uh, come again? What legitimate reason would require that you need a copy of my passport? She mumbled something. What? She mumbled again. What? "You're on the FBI list." (!!!!!) What the h*ck? Long story short, if one is a photographer who travels with any degree of frequency outside of the continental U.S. you're evidently automatically put on the/an FBI list. This is what a reliable source told me and I haven't done the follow-up footwork of my own to verify it as fact. I don't particularly see how or why my photo trips to Paris and the like would be of interest to the Feds or why a filed photocopy of my passport would come in handy, but there's a lot about my government's various rules, regulations, and policies that strike me as, well, odd. Anyway, Big Brother is watching. Now that I think about it, I've always had "special" treatment at customs in Europe where they require me to crack open my suitcase and any other bags in my possession to inspect absolutely everything. On the way home it's real cute when they even demand to see what's inside the bag that I assure them is just an uninteresting and dirty assembly of socks and underwear. Nice.
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 12:48PM
Posted By Fertnig:
Now just imagine if you 'look' foreign or are not white.I 'look' somewhat middle eastern and often during US domestic flights have people staring at me suspiciously. When shooting in even low threat situations I get hassled so I have given-up most public shooting. My favourite was when shooting an old abandoned church in a rural setting from the road. A cop car stopped and then shadowed me as I drove away.
Ummm, freedom for some!
That sucks. I'm sorry you and others have go through that. some people are just ignorant and nasty.
(Edited on 2008-05-15 12:49:35 by jwilkinson)
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 12:57PM
How many terrorists/tourists have they actually busted? you know ... real crime etc. ???
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 1:05PM
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 1:29PM
I've been stranded in the airport before with both the laptop and the GL2, and thought about doing timelapse footage of security checkpoints, but boy, I'd hate to alert suspicion and have to detour to .... I don't know.... spin the wheel : Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Uzbekistan.
I did shoot at O'Hare the other day, but I wasn't flying and acted like a tourist. I was surprised no one said anything, but I didn't have a tripod, so had a little lower profile than normal shooting mode.
I wonder how much video the FBI thinks you need of something to blow it up.
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 2:26PM
I was told it was a "Tier 1 facility" and asked to delete my photos or risk being reported to the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard. Of course, I immediately went home and posted my photos on Flickr - fortunately I never heard from any federal authorities, who hopefully have better things to do.
I think my reaction to that would have been "Here's my card. I wouldn't want you to get my name wrong. Have a nice day."
...then turn back to the camera.
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 2:31PM
Posted By halbergman:
Has anybody else had a confrontation like this? I've definitely had other confrontations with private security, but this is the first time FBI antiterrorism agents have come to my door.
I hope this doesn't delay my passport application...
(Edited on 2008-05-14 14:31:34 by halbergman)
Similar thing happened to me in LA. I stopped to shoot an oil refinery, on public place. Had wrong lens, switched lenses, raised my camera and at a glimpse was surrounded by four guards that didn´t look very friendly. Shooting any images was out of question, or maybe this could turn out to some kind of "Prison Break" session
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 2:53PM
I think we have an istock screenplay idea here...
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 3:06PM
Hasn't anybody noticed this? The kicker to the story is that police agree you have a legal right to take photos in public and that anybody stopping you is overstepping the line.
What is their solution? That you apply for a "police permit" to do something that no permit is required for.
What does that mean? It means that now the guards who are exceeding their rights can demand a permit you don't need.
And the next logical step from that? Why, anybody unable to produce a permit is not an innocent photographer but a terrorist suspect.
So with their helpful attitude, the police manage to make it compulsory to carry a document that is not a legal requirement. Next step: ban photography for anybody without a "police permit", after all, legit photographers already carry permits, don't they? You will, next time you go to the dock. So there is no reason to object to it being made illegal to take photos without one.
It's a big, broad, slippery, slope out there, people.
And if you think I'm being paranoid, ask yourself this: Why would the FBI would offer to issue permits that have no legal standing in the first place? Ask them for a permit to breathe, or a permit to carry a flashlight around at night, or a fishing rod during the day and see how far you get. They are willing to provide permits because they want photographers to submit to being forced to carry permits.
(Edited on 2008-05-15 17:58:13 by PaulCowan)
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 3:31PM
On Digg now also...
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 3:31PM
I couldn't agree with you more. This is exactly what I was thinking when they suggested I get a permit.
Will I get one? If it requires more than a modicum of effort or paperwork, no. But, I'll probably shoot the detective a polite email letting him know I'll be in the area, so if he gets any calls from panicked security guards freaking out, he can save himself a trip to my front door.
I'm SURE I'm on some kind of list. I don't know if it's a "he's harmless, if we get a call about him again we can ignore it" list, which I wouldn't particularly mind being on if that were the case, but somehow my gut tells me it's probably more along the lines of "exhibits suspicious behavior, and is the long-haired, bearded-type" or something. I have long hair and a beard too.
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 3:44PM
Some people read this wrong, I think. We can photograph private property from a public place unless there is a clear sign not to do it or someone (guard) lets you know that it is not allowed, at which point you stop doing it. Also, make sure you are actually on a public property. Being on the street doesn't necessarily mean that it is public. It may be private but open for a public, just like malls and skyscrapers with surrounding areas in most downtown places.
As far as FBI goes, if it is a matter of national security common law can be overwritten on a spot.
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 3:58PM
Actually, that's not accurate.
If you're on public property, and what you're shooting is visible from public property, nobody can ask you not to take photos. Period.
There is one exception to this rule, and it covers what's known as "Reasonable expectation of privacy". You can't shoot somebody in their own home with a telephoto lens, and you can't shoot people in a bathroom or hospital, even if they're publicly funded.
You can also shoot anything from private property as long as there is public access to that area. Courtyards for skyscrapers and malls are a good example. There is no "reasonable expectation of privacy" there. Still, security can't prevent you from taking photographs there, they can only ask you to leave. If you DON'T leave, it's trespassing and you can be arrested.
Other than when a "reasonable expectation of privacy" comes into play (and that also covers things like IP theft and corporate espionage, but those are entirely different sets of laws), photography is completely legal pretty much anywhere.
Now, selling what you shoot for stock is a completely different set of laws. That covers selling the photos, not taking them.
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 5:57PM
Posted By slobo:
As far as FBI goes, if it is a matter of national security common law can be overwritten on a spot.
I know nothing about US law (I'm British). All I can say is that if some jerk shouting "national security" means that your rights, established under laws that extend back 1,000 years (through the English system, ultimately) suddenly evaporate, then something is very very badly wrong with your system.
If we think the "police permit" through a little bit further, it becomes apparent that having one does not even help the police to fight terrorism, it actually makes things EASIER for terrorists.
Why? Because before the legally-irrelevant "permit" can be issued, the FBI will HAVE to carry out a full background check on every applicant, otherwise the permit will be a licence for terrorism (think about it - a permit makes you above suspicion).
So if 100 istock photographers head off to the docks, and dock security report 10 of them as suspicious, the police do 10 checks. If all of them apply for a "permit" the FBI do 100 checks ... ten times the workload. It doesn't help security and it doesn't help the FBI - unless the only aim is to build up a list of photographers in some internal file. All it does is divert resources away from finding real terrorists.
The FBI would actually do better to rely on dock security to report people who REALLY look as if they are taking an interest in vulnerable installations, rather than running checks on everybody planning to go anywhere near the place with a camera.
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 6:33PM
Posted Thu May 15, 2008 9:53PM
Are you selling these tees?