Photography, “security,” and movie plot threats

8 06 2008

Star of a movie plot...

I think this guy looks like a movie star, but a dashing, heroic, charming, sweep-you-off-your-feet movie star, not a sinister, scary movie star.

But there is an interesting post on a security expert’s blog, “Schneier on Security.” Schneier writes about the War on Photography– and talks about how it is a red herring. He calls it a “movie-plot threat.” Meaning it is the kind of thing that you see in movies, but not in real life. I say, sure that too, but it is also a way that security guards, police, etc., can look like they are doing something. It is an attempt to look busy. But it is illegal.

As we photojournalists have suffered with this for years and years, it is nice to see others paying attention.

What’s interesting about the Schneier post is the large number of comments and blog reactions to this post. The comments included lots of links to incidents related to people being harassed.

Just a quick look in the comments, I spotted this story from Union Station in Washington D.C. I talked to these guys years ago and was assured that photography was permitted and that they would back off. But as you can see, photographers are still being harassed. The video is priceless, as the security guard tells the tv crew to stop shooting while the PR guy is standing there interviewing with the station.

Also from the comments, a link to a story about a settlement for a Seattle photographer arrested for taking pictures on a public street (of an arrest).

Lot’s of other comments from foreigners who say their fear of gitmo and rendition is greater than their desire to stand up for their right to take pictures in public. I can’t say I blame them.

Of course, this has been happening for years to photojournalists. We have always fought for the public’s right to take pictures because once the public loses that right, then a government entity gets to decide who is a journalist.

Anyway, it was an enlightening post for me, not because this is anything new, but to see how much this has really struck a nerve. Maybe there is hope yet for our country. Maybe there is hope now that so-called experts are realizing the absurdity of this trend.

About two years ago the law firm of Covington & Burling did an awesome legal memo for the NPPA on the Rights of Journalists on a public street. It can be found here.

Some points from the memo:

  • The Constitution protects the media’s right to freely gather news, which includes the right to make photographs in a public forum;
  • There is no federal law that would prohibit photography in public places or restrict photography of public places and/or structures;
  • Any restrictions that the government does impose would need to have supporting evidence that it was essential for public safety. The burden is on the government;
  • Government officials cannot single out news cameras for removal while continuing to allow the general public to remain in a location, particularly if the public is taking pictures;
  • When journalists are denied access, they should avoid confrontation and arrest and instead gather as much information as possible so that they can later seek relief through proper channels.

Thanks to Robert House for directing me to this article! See you in Innsbruck.

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