The right to bear cameras?
August 26, 2005 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Oakland police detaining photographers? A month after being stopped for taking photos of another building in San Francisco, blogger Thomas Hawk & some friends were detained for 20 minutes by an Oakland police officer for taking photos in the downtown warehouse district. Among the topics of debate in the post's comments: was racial profiling an issue? is/should there even be a right to take the officer in question's photo? are SF residents more paranoid than the rest of us? is detaining a group of photographers a good use of police time? will commenters ever learn to spell "fascist" properly? and much more...
posted by bitter-girl.com (38 comments total)

 
You're damn right you get to take the officer in question's photo.

Cop probably profiled. But if they didn't arrest them, it's just dumb cops thinking terrorists are going out in groups to photograph their next target. ::rolls eyes::

But it seems some cops need to get it through their head that photographing on public property almost never a crime. (The only exceptions, I think, are up-skirt and peeping-tom crap).

This is not as big a deal as some make it out to be, though, since there seems to have been none of the usual "don't take any more pictures, or I'll confiscate your camera" crap (which is completely illegal, by the way. A cop can never take your camera, unless he is arresting you, in which case they take all of your stuff). Of course, IANAL, nor do I want to be.
posted by teece at 9:43 PM on August 26, 2005


What the hell is going on in this country?

Is this simply a case of information overflow -- stories most of us wouldn't have seen or that wouldn't have made it past the local level before the arrival of "instant news, everywhere, all the time" -- or are we really seeing the beginnings of something terrible?
posted by wakko at 9:46 PM on August 26, 2005


It's a rare cop who hasn't let his position go to his head and begun thinking he's in a position of control and authority over average citizens, rather than being their servant.
"Protect and serve"? They think of it more as keeping everyone in line. After all, everyone is a potential criminal, and thus, their enemy.
posted by nightchrome at 10:01 PM on August 26, 2005


On the plus side, there's this case (noted on Boing-Boing) where the police were fined $41,000 for violating a man's right to videotape them.
posted by numlok at 10:16 PM on August 26, 2005


Near where I live in Cleveland, a police officer tried to confiscate a citizen's digital camera this May for...wait for it...taking a photo of his police cruiser stuck in the mud after the cop made an illegal U-turn. And I quote:
The victim John Bell says Officer Devore threatened him. The lawsuit claims the officer said he’ll give Bell until the count of three to hand over the camera or he’ll make his life “a living hell.”
Nice. These sorts of things worry me more and more specifically because they aren't anomalies...they're happening everywhere!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:19 PM on August 26, 2005


see i have figured out the whole thing here. The US spy guys go and think like this "well if we are going to bomb a building we will case the place and take lots of surveillance photos and use out spy satellites... *THEREFORE* thats exactly what the terrorists would do also. So anything like that must be terrorists1
posted by MrLint at 10:25 PM on August 26, 2005


It just occurred to me that if I took a picture of my face and posted it to the Net that would be a terrorist act because mass blindness and madness would immediately ensue. I won't do it though, I have enough guilt already.

(Can anybody tell when my poor li'l brain is tired?)
posted by davy at 11:03 PM on August 26, 2005


If you have any questions about this, please visit the page of Bert Krages, which contains an immensely helpful PDF page of Good Stuff.
posted by Aquaman at 11:25 PM on August 26, 2005


I'm not defending the anti-public photgraphy practices but I have worked with the Dept of Homeland Security and I was briefed on current anti-terrorist/security programs. The reason for all this "paranoia" is because there is much evidence from Al Qaeda manuals and captured documents showing that taking pictures of targeted buildings and facilities is a recommended part of terrorist planning.

I know it is silly and futile to try to prevent people from taking pictures in public places but before you write your derisive, dismisive reply about this, just keep in mind that there are people who are truly trying everything they can think of to prevent terror attacks in the U.S. Many of these building security guards and street cops have recently been to DHS seminars describing Al Qaeda photo surveillance techniques and they are trying to protect us. Silly as it may be -- or silly as it may seem.
posted by AJ at 11:54 PM on August 26, 2005


AJ writes "I'm not defending the anti-public photgraphy practices but"...

I'm not a racist, but...
posted by clevershark at 12:09 AM on August 27, 2005


Al Qaeda photo surveillance techniques

Ah yes, once again, the camera as potential weapon.

What about Al Qaeda transportation techniques such as - riding the bus?

Or Al Qaeda communication techniques such as - talking on a cell phone?

What about Al Qaeda personnel creation techniques such as - having sex?

The question is where do we draw the line. What are we going to consider normal un-harassable behavior, nothing?

btw, anyone care to hazard a guess as to the ratio of camera owners to Al Qaeda members in Oakland?
posted by scheptech at 12:27 AM on August 27, 2005


Where exactly in Oakland did this happen? There are some areas that it's probably pretty suspicious for someone to be there at night at all, taking pictures or not.
posted by gohlkus at 12:43 AM on August 27, 2005


The reason for all this "paranoia" is because there is much evidence [...] that taking pictures of targeted buildings and facilities is a recommended part of terrorist planning.

I shot a couple of crime scenes for a newspaper, and I can tell you that, even though I was perfectly within my rights to do so, the cops did not like being in-shot. It had nothing to do with national security and everything to do with having a face tied to the slightest potential for bad publicity. Reason never entered into it. It was like a default triggered mechanism: guy takes out camera, police approach guy and tell him to stop photographing.

I can almost understand their situation. Almost. Many of these cops might someday see undercover work, and it would be dangerous to have a record of their pictures readily available on the internet in full uniform. But I think this is a red-herring more than anything else. Like "terrorism," an excuse brandied about when you don't want to say the truth. And the truth is, ever since Rodney King, cops don't like pictures taken with them in the shot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:32 AM on August 27, 2005


Which I should add, is all the more reason why people should carry around cameras with them. Photo/video evidence is a powerful tool in our media. It gives power to the everyman to combat systemic abuses of authority. That's why cops fear it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:35 AM on August 27, 2005


Yeah, it's a universal cop-thing. Happened to me in Beijing, too. (Which I should have expected.)

I'm not defending the anti-public photgraphy practices . . .
Fooled me.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:05 AM on August 27, 2005


I'm not defending the anti-public photgraphy practices but I have worked with the Dept of Homeland Security and I was briefed on current anti-terrorist/security programs. The reason for all this "paranoia" is because there is much evidence from Al Qaeda manuals and captured documents showing that taking pictures of targeted buildings and facilities is a recommended part of terrorist planning.

Oh for fuck's sake, you little baby. I'm glad that because of one attack four years ago, photography is now outlawed in the United States. And since you seem to have all sorts of buddies in DHS, tell me: in those last four years, how many terrorists have been stoppped as a result of these ridiculous and illegal policies? Oh, what's that? Zero? Fucking aces, then. Thanks for all your help defending our freedoms, champ.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:37 AM on August 27, 2005


(By the way, I think that your everyday work is really really cool, but your defense of authoritarianism is not.)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:39 AM on August 27, 2005


I tried taking pictures at the mall yesterday, even alerting the security guards beforehand, but apparently I need to ask between 9 and 5 so they can give me a little piece of paper at the information desk. Terrorists, of course, are incapable of asking for that piece of paper.
posted by danb at 8:07 AM on August 27, 2005


We just had this article in our local paper. (Warning: link might only be good for today). Apparently the police here are interested in the same tactics. But it's the most natural thing in the world for visitors to Waterfront Park to take pictures of the bridges, especially during festivals (like, oh, WorldFest).
posted by dilettante at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2005


There's also a "no-cameraphone" list for Terrists doncha' know.

I've been hassled by rent-a-cops, and I basically told them to either restrain me or go get their boss, but they weren't real police, and weren't armed. That kind of changes the whole equation.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 8:14 AM on August 27, 2005


I tried taking pictures at the mall yesterday, even alerting the security guards beforehand, but apparently I need to ask between 9 and 5 so they can give me a little piece of paper at the information desk. Terrorists, of course, are incapable of asking for that piece of paper.

Perhaps your mall is now using an anti-terrorism stance to justify it, but this type of policy is not new. I got kicked out of a Seattle mall in 1993 for taking photographs without permission and had to come back and get permission before I could continue.

Once that happened, I saw that lots of malls had posted policies against such things (and other activities such as no "scavenger hunt type games").

When a photographer is taking photos of something not generally considered photo-worthy, it is amazing how concerned some people get. They assume there is some ulterior motive. They are so locked into a mindset that photographs are an informational medium that they don't consider the artistic. Or that if they don't see what is informational there must not be any legitimate purpose.

Walk down a residential street taking a photograph of the front of every house. The police may not stop you to check things out, but odds are every resident who notices you is going to wish they would; and several will likely come out and try to stop you themselves (this has happened to me).

My point is not that these tactics are good police work, but rather that they're an attitude and tactic that is not wholly born from inside the police department but is a reflection of a larger societal attitude that someone taking photographs, where it is not easily understood why, must be up to no good.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:55 AM on August 27, 2005


I had a run-in not too long ago with some cops over photos that I took in an Amtrack station. Given the timing of my photos with the bombings in London, I could certainly forgive the suspicion, but I was still taken aback to have to fork over my camera for review and have the police take down my contact information and social security number.

If anyone wants to read my full report on the subject, it can be found here.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:03 AM on August 27, 2005


AJ writes "The reason for all this 'paranoia' is because there is much evidence from Al Qaeda manuals and captured documents showing that taking pictures of targeted buildings and facilities is a recommended part of terrorist planning."

What percentage of the 100s of billions of images taken every year are taken by terrorists? Talk about an operation nuclear fly kill.
posted by Mitheral at 9:40 AM on August 27, 2005


Being a highway historian with a camera raises eyebrows, too: "why are you taking a picture of that?"

Many bridges and transit facilities have photographs officially prohibited, especially in NYC.

FreedomToPhotograph chronicles events in this vein.
posted by kurumi at 9:48 AM on August 27, 2005


Y'know, even people who may commit terrorist acts in the future have the right to free speech, free assembly, and to operate small hand-held devices that do not violate any federal or state code in public. That is the law of this country, like it or not.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:22 AM on August 27, 2005


I predict that zero terrorist attack-prevention feats accomplished over say the next 10 years will involve stopping people on the street with cameras. You are never going hear a lead-in like "terrorist cell discovered in [insert city name], it all started when quick-thinking officer [insert officer name] spotted a man pointing a camera at [insert target name]..."

First the numbers, cameras are everywhere and used for recreational and commercial purposes by millions. The photography industry is huge.

Second, technology. What terrorist with half a brain is going to walk around with large enough camera close enough to a target to be seen. They don't have to. A big camera far away or a little camera closer can both take detailed pictures of anything.
posted by scheptech at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2005


tourist = terrorist
posted by ilsa at 1:23 PM on August 27, 2005


What makes anyone think this is about terrorism? Folks poking around around a warehouse district at night. Cop gets curious, ask some questions. No arrests, no threats, no confiscations. S.O.P. for years.

20 minutes delay? Oh shit, here comes facism!
posted by Ayn Marx at 3:54 PM on August 27, 2005


no threats

When you are detained by the police and forced to provide I.D., the threat is clearly implied: stop doing this or we'll hassle you until we can arrest you for something.

What a waste of time. But hey, it's not full-blown, kill-the-Jews-and-the-gays capital-F facism, so who gives a shit, right? We can only object to the deprivation of liberty when they just start executing dissidents, but not one minute earlier!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:20 PM on August 27, 2005


Why don't They (or should I say 'Y'all'?) just get it over with and make EVERYTHING illegal? "Whatever is not compulsory is prohibited." American society would be much more efficient as one big Gulag.

Except we might give the upper classes a bit of leg room. Somebody has to give orders and golf, right?

Maybe we'll leave the major stockholders of our favorite corporations in fancy palaces, while ordinary folk like you and me get dormitory housing in secure accomodations; and while the rich "telecommute", the rest of us will live within marching distance of our places of employment, conveniently located inside the Compound. Just think, everybody will get to live in a Gated Community of one kind or another, and no more parking hassles!
posted by davy at 5:07 PM on August 27, 2005


Ayn Marx, that's F-A-S-C-I-S-M.
posted by davy at 5:09 PM on August 27, 2005


Stories like this one truly freak me out. I'm fortunate in that I'm a fairly unassuming-looking white girl with an air of confidence...never had anyone harass me about taking photos, not even at Portland, Oregon's Amtrak station immediately after the first London bombing this summer.

I realize after reading Ian Spiers' story how fortunate I am to have not had some idiot Homeland Security officer try to scare me into submission. If I wasn't quite so pale, if I "dressed funny," if...if...if... There are just so many ridiculous possibilities.

For example: Etc.

For those of you in the thread who think we're being drama queens about this story or 'misunderestimating' the authorities (ha ha) ...just wait until your particular color / gender / hobby / whatever gets pegged as "potential terrorist"-y. Don't come crying to us then!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:25 PM on August 27, 2005


bitter-girl.com : Um, I'm as pasty and white as it gets. And I have a large, large rack. I can go through customs and say that I've got a live moose in my possession and no one would care, they'd just take one look at the boobs and wave me on.

I've gotten out of a hell of a lot of situations by smiling pretty, but this time, I still got hassled. Just so you know, they're not just hassling 6'5" black guys anymore. They're hassling us.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:05 PM on August 27, 2005


All an officer needs to question an individual is "reasonable suspicion." If, during the course of questioning, the officer's reasonable suspicion is raised, he/she can detain the individual based on probable cause. After 9-11 the law enforcement community has become much more alert to terrorism and related issues. You can call it what you want...
posted by nocode at 6:36 PM on August 27, 2005


And I have a large, large rack. I can go through customs and say that I've got a live moose in my possession and no one would care, they'd just take one look at the boobs and wave me on.

This isn't much of an argument against the current craziness. In a just world (or in this world, when you're dealing with people who take their job seriously), having a large rack would not be a factor in getting through any kind of security checkpoint. I'm as disgusted at the terrorism-related paranoia as the next guy, but cry me a river.
posted by bingo at 7:24 PM on August 27, 2005


Um, I'm as pasty and white as it gets. And I have a large, large rack. I can go through customs and say that I've got a live moose in my possession and no one would care, they'd just take one look at the boobs and wave me on.

LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! HOORAY LIVEJOURNAL!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:34 PM on August 27, 2005


I've gotten out of a hell of a lot of situations by smiling pretty, but this time, I still got hassled. Just so you know, they're not just hassling 6'5" black guys anymore. They're hassling us.

Oh, I know. 'Til now, it was fairly simple to skate out of any situation with your method of choice: smile, rack-jutting, stammering in abysmal Czech (aka the time I had a gun held to my head by a castle guard in Prague), being dismissive in that "royal-we" way...no more.

Now it doesn't matter if you're black or white (cringe! Michael Jackson quote!), if you've got a camera in your hand...well, you might be a terrorist.

Oh, and scheptech, this cracked me up: What about Al Qaeda personnel creation techniques such as - having sex?

The question is where do we draw the line. What are we going to consider normal un-harassable behavior, nothing?


Seems to be where we're heading. When you can't take photos in a touristy area without the cops or rent-a-cops hassling you, and they're eyeing the large-racked, commuter-train-riding art students as potential threats...well...not a good sign.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:29 AM on August 28, 2005


...I have a large, large rack.

Scuse me, grapefruit, but I don't believe you. I shall require proof. *leering*
posted by HiveMind at 10:28 PM on August 29, 2005


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