More attempts to block public photography

| Comments (12) | TrackBacks (69) |
Boing Boing points to an account from a photographer who was stopped from photographing on Muni by Fare Inspectors and then by SFPD.
Officer Primiano expressed extreme frustration with me as soon as I began speaking of my rights to photograph in public places. She wanted to debate the wisdom of my taking pictures and asserted that in the wake of the Sept 11th attacks on our country, I should be more interested in aiding officials in their efforts to increase security than my rights as a citizen or journalist. Despite my calm statement of my side of the issue, Officer Primiano waved her hands in the air, stated, "This guy is really pissing me off", and walked away, leaving Officer Ryan to talk to me. Luckily he exhibited a more rational, professional demeanor.

However Officer Ryan was of the opinion that I should not be taking photographs. I explained to him that I didn't want to argue the wisdom of my taking photographs, or the efficacy of a ban on photography in the MUNI System should one exist. All I was concerned with was the legality of my actions. If I had in fact committed a crime by taking photographs, I should (and in fact wanted to) be cited under the relevant law so that I could then pursue the matter in the courts and assert my First Amendment rights. Officer Ryan told me in a very straightforward manner that he did not wish to allow me the opportunity to assert my constitutional rights in court.

After walking over to the group of Fare Inspectors and BART Police Officers, Officer Ryan returned to speak to me. He expressed his frustration at the situation and me by saying: "Would it have been so difficult for you to just stop taking photographs when these guys told you to stop? If you weren't on your soapbox, I'd be out fighting real crime rather than standing around here dealing with you." He expounded further, "Even if there is no law forbidding photography in the MUNI System, the Fare Inspectors have the right to refuse you service for any reason they choose, including taking photographs. Once they refuse you service they can swear out a citizens arrest for trespassing. I, or other officers, will book you and you'll spend the rest of your weekend in jail. It won't be for taking photographs, so your weekend would be ruined yet you'd never get a chance to argue the matter of taking photographs before a judge."

This isn't exactly the behavior I want out of my law enforcement officers. What makes it especially stupid is that there's no good reason to stop people from taking photographs of this kind of public. Yes, yes, I understand that if you wanted to mount some kind of terrorist attack on a Muni station it would be convenient to have photographs of the station for planning purposes, but consider that:

  1. The vast majority of people taking photographs are almost certainly not terrorists—because the vast majority of people are not terrorists and photography is a pretty common activity.
  2. It's fairly easy to set up surreptitious cameras so that you can film people and situations undetected. Ever see the candid photography segments on Jackass?

Whenever you're considering some security measure you have to weigh the costs against the benefits. Prohibiting this kind of public photography causes terrorists some inconvenience, but not that much inconvenience and and it would cause innocent photographers—who vastly outnumber terrorists—quite a bit of invonvenience. And that's not even counting the time that the police spend hassling innocent photographers (though that will no doubt go away when "sensitive" areas are tagged as no-photography zones).

69 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: More attempts to block public photography.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.educatedguesswork.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/140

Educated Guesswork has posted a couple entries over the last couple days about photography being stopped in public places, the

Read More

Eric Rescorla discusses this account: Officer Primiano expressed extreme frustration with me as soon as I began speaking of my rights to photograph in public places. She wanted to debate the wisdom of my taking pictures and asserted that... Read More

male orgasm control orgasm denial forum free orgasm pics how to make a girl orgasm gushing female orgasms squirting orgasm clips female orgasm denial sybian orgasm machine women controlling men's orgasms women and orgasms g spot orgasms squirt orgasm Read More

train travel from train travel on August 2, 2005 12:45 PM

train travel Read More

ryan air Read More

refinance second mortgage from refinance second mortgage on August 5, 2005 11:24 PM

refinance second mortgage Read More

tattoo flash from tattoo flash on August 6, 2005 12:28 AM

tattoo flash Read More

tattoo Read More

tattoo design from tattoo design on August 13, 2005 11:51 PM

tattoo design Read More

thailand Read More

criminal investigation from criminal investigation on August 17, 2005 6:51 AM

criminal investigation Read More

celebrity photo from celebrity photo on August 25, 2005 9:15 AM

celebrity photo Read More

womens health from womens health on August 26, 2005 12:10 PM

womens health Read More

mortgage question refinance from mortgage question refinance on August 29, 2005 3:35 AM

mortgage question refinance Read More

carisoprodol Read More

gasoline Read More

single dating Read More

cheap ticket Read More

farmer insurance from farmer insurance on September 19, 2005 9:25 PM

farmer insurance Read More

allstate insurance from allstate insurance on September 19, 2005 9:25 PM

allstate insurance Read More

adaware Read More

insurance carrier broker agent from insurance carrier broker agent on September 19, 2005 9:30 PM

insurance carrier broker agent Read More

hemorrhoids Read More

lexapro Read More

spyware Read More

loan calculator from loan calculator on October 1, 2005 10:58 AM

loan calculator senalando has no uses except for its lessons.' Business disposed of, he assailed aside all spherical Read More

adaware Read More

akon lonely Read More

hilton paris Read More

forex trading from forex trading on October 16, 2005 4:37 AM

forex trading Biggs had been smoke-dried by Munsther to rinse her whereas to Cheruscan. But Sherman's emotionless was choir-sing Read More

`free pics animal mature Dog fuck movie samples Hentai vidéo hard free Gay cartoon sex clips Read More

office depot from office depot on October 28, 2005 1:38 AM

office depot Read More

artificial christmas trees from artificial christmas trees on November 8, 2005 1:02 AM

artificial christmas trees Read More

christmas trees from christmas trees on November 8, 2005 1:54 AM

christmas trees Read More

ciallis Read More

thc detox Read More

Japanese school girl pussy from Photo of girl boy men playing on December 16, 2005 3:54 AM

Zoo horse porno Pakistani girls nude site Nude girls 18 years Pictures of indian womans ... Read More

Anima teen sex free from Free gallery porno drawings on December 24, 2005 6:03 AM

Extreme tortue Teen assspankingfree video Free xxx india Teenage virgin sex stories Read More

cheap ticket from cheap ticket on January 3, 2006 7:45 AM

cheap ticket Read More

black jack Read More

air conditioners from blog about air conditioner on January 11, 2006 10:49 AM

TITLE: air conditioners URL: http://air-conditioner.w3z.de/ IP: 24.232.133.87 BLOG NAME: blog about air conditioner DATE: 01/11/2006 10:49:27 AM Read More

georgialottery from georgialottery on January 12, 2006 3:49 AM

georgialottery Read More

freesex Read More

spirit airlines from spirit airlines on January 18, 2006 1:17 AM

spirit airlines Read More

Payday Loans from Payday Loans on January 19, 2006 8:11 AM

Payday Loans is a niceblog. Read More

paintball Read More

paydayloans Read More

comforter Read More

stockmarket Read More

groves teleology acuteness extremal collided transistorized loan http://loan.money-lovers.com/ Read More

partypoker Read More

used cars Read More

southwest airlines from southwest airlines on February 2, 2006 11:56 AM

southwest airlines Read More

Ftv collection Read More

countrywide mortgage from countrywide mortgage on February 24, 2006 3:45 PM

coarsened marking,understandably armchairs secular Stevie:poker world http://wsop.play10.zindagi.us/ Read More

bad credit home loan refinancing from bad credit home loan refinancing on February 27, 2006 2:20 AM

TITLE: bad credit home loan refinancing URL: http://www.theguestbook.com/read.php/614174 IP: 83.219.129.44 BLOG NAME: bad credit home loan refinancing DATE: 02/27/2006 02:20:13 AM Read More

Home Mortgage Refinance from Home Mortgage Refinance on February 27, 2006 11:00 AM

TITLE: Home Mortgage Refinance URL: http://www.theguestbook.com/read.php/614174 IP: 83.219.129.44 BLOG NAME: Home Mortgage Refinance DATE: 02/27/2006 11:00:39 AM Read More

12 Comments

Here's another question: is it really legal for fare inspectors to refuse service on public transport for "any reason they choose?"

I'm curious as to which of the following statements you disagree with:

1) If a group of Middle-Eastern-looking men speaking Arabic are spotted meticulously photographing train stations in San Francisco, then the police should at least make sure to find out who they are.

2) If the police were to treat a group of Middle-Eastern-looking men speaking Arabic any differently from the photographer and his wife in the story you linked to, then they would be practicing unacceptable racial/ethnic profiling.

3) If the police were to demand ID--in a pressing manner, if refused--from a man and his wife behaving in a perfectly legal way at a San Francisco train station, then their actions would amount to police harassment.

4) Photographing train stations should not be illegal.

It seems to me to be difficult to agree with all of these statements simultaneously, while being consistent--although perhaps I've missed something. (For the record, I disagree strongly with (3), and mildly, in certain ways, with (2).)

I'm not sure I see the relevance of this set of questions. The police didn't merely ask for ID: they informed the man in question that photography was illegal.

Well, my thinking went roughly like this: if it had been a group of Middle-Eastern men photographing the train station, I'd at least want the police to be able to find out who they are. The problem is that I've heard plenty of civil libertarians complain both about the police treating groups of Middle-Eastern men differently from completely nondescript Americans, and about the police insisting that completely nondescript Americans, behaving innocently, show them ID.

Until now, there was still a way out--we could allow the police to distinguish between photographing train stations and behaving innocently. But now I've heard complaints about that, as well. It seemed to me that at least one of these complaints (including my original one) had to be rejected. I was just curious as to which one you'd choose.

I gather, based on your response, that you actually agree with me--that is, that you consider police demanding ID from people not breaking any laws to be less objectionable than any of the other cases I listed. Is that correct?

Dan: for me, (1) is the disagreeable statement there. It assumes there is some sort of terrorist threat to the rail system in the US, the preparation for which would be helped by photos of stations. There isn't. As was recently shown, attacking the rail system is as easy as parking a car on the line. The lack of any terrorist attacks in the US shows not that security is working - it isn't - but that no attacks are being made.

Of course, this brings up the question:

Could I make a T-shirt and hat saying "This shirt is copyright 2005 by Nicholas C Weaver. Any reproduction in any form is strictly prohibited", and then sue anyone who phographs me for copyright infringement? Any one who trains a closed circuit TV camera on me?

It assumes there is some sort of terrorist threat to the rail system in the US, the preparation for which would be helped by photos of stations. There isn't.

Oddly enough, there appear to be some folks in Iran who disagree with you. Perhaps you should contact them and explain why they're so laughably mistaken?

Technically speaking, there are some folks in the US who claim that there are folks in Iran who disagree with Pete. As I read that article, the Iranians deny it.

Analyze the threat model:

Goal: prevent intel gathering from terrorists.

Technique: Ban overt picture taking.

Success? None. A terrorist can buy a digital camera for $80 that fits in a Zippo lighter case: ( http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/655e/ )

A terrorist's cellphone can have a camera (cameraphones aren't banned). It takes a fraction of a second to take a bad photo, and a bad photo is all thats needed for reconnisance.

A terrorist can put his nice Cannon Digital SLR in a backpack with a window in it.

Thus, effect on terrorist activity? None. Zero. Zilch.

Effect on the normal public citizens and press ability to monitor the behavior of a public service? Considerable.

Nick, I think you underestimate the level of surveillance that a terrorist would find useful. If one were to attempt, say, a Madrid-style chain of train station bombings, with a view to maximizing casualties, it would be helpful to understand the entire physical structure of each station, as well as the pattern of traffic (human and vehicle), so as to optimize the placement, timing and strength of bombs. Such understanding requires repeated, detailed surveillance--"a bad photo" likely wouldn't be of much use.

Your point about the value to other people of being able to take photographs of (or simply in) train stations is well taken, though. That's why I suggested that a preferable approach to outright bans on these sorts of behaviors would be to entitle the police to demand identification from people engaging in them. At least that way, they'd be able to do follow-up investigations in cases of, for instance, suspicious-looking photographers in train stations.

OK, lets suppose I want extensive survelance, and I have 2-5 people.

You think that my cameras would be visible to the cops? THat I couldn't be using micro-sized digital cameras? Heck, the one I posted can take timelapse: Stick a few in corners, walls, etc with some junk camo, come back the next day. Nice, 24 hour views of the entire operation.

As a terrorist, I'd PREFER a "no camera" attitude, after all, it reflects erroding peoples confidence in government, adds to the state of fear, and everytihng else.

And just human walking through is probably sufficient, combined with cell-cam photos, to get enough survelance to do all the madrid-style attacks a terrorist could want.

And this case wasn't ABOUT the police asking questions: it was a blanket denial which would be of zero use to terrorists.

There is a huge difference between Officer Friendly coming up and asking a couple of questions: nonconfrontational, non-constitution-infringing, and far MORE effective (which is what you seem to be advocating, and I agree with in general on anything 'hinky'), then what was described: Officer Arse saying "No Pictures!".

The thing I found upsetting about the story was a lot more basic. Everyone seemed to agree that there was no law or rule written anywhere saying no pictures, but the police felt like it was okay to demand that no pictures be taken anyway, and to threaten to harass the photographer in sufficiently nasty ways to make sure their demands were met. I think this approach to law enforcement is a bad one, even when its goal is worthwhile.

I am pretty doubtful about the usefulness of a no-pictures-in-train-station rule, too. But it's even worse if the rule isn't written anywhere, isn't formally stated, but is still enforced through police harassment.

--John Kelsey

Leave a comment