Friday, April 04, 2008

All together now, let's fight terrorism by keeping an eye out for photographers who seem odd

Terrorism is a serious matter. Terrorists use cameras in planning their attacks, so we all need to keep an eye out for photographers who seem odd. Use your judgment. Do they look shifty, twitchy or nervous? Do they have a sullen, hangdog, guilty look? Do they exhibit a Middle Eastern appearance? Are they brown? Our national security depends on your vigilance. You can't be too careful.

That seems to be what this poster issued by the Metropolitan Police of London seems to be saying (click on image to enlarge). It's an open-ended invitation to profile the people you see around you. I came across it at an interesting Flickr group called Photography Is Not a Crime, showcasing photographs that got photographers in trouble with police or security guards, along with the stories behind the pictures. The member who posted it also put up this link to a wonderful satirical "counter-poster."

Nothing like creating a climate of fear to keep the public in line and voting for politicians who promise them security while they take away their liberties. And, of course, it's stupid. Sure, terrorists sometimes use cameras. Who doesn't? But anybody scouting out a target would use a small, unobtrusive high resolution point-and-shoot indistinguishable from millions of other cameras used by tourists and local residents. With a 10-megapixel camera with a good zoom lens they could stand far away from the significant detail they wish to photograph and snap it completely unobtrusively. The whole thing is stupid.

The folly is compounded by the fact, noted by a commenter at Photography Is Not a Crime, that many security guards automatically equate camera size with danger. Generally, people using point-and-shoots can shoot almost anywhere, as long as they don't fire the flash where they're not supposed to. But anybody using a prosumer or professional DSLR with a big lens is likely to be challenged in the most unlikely place. That was certainly my experience at the Kastenmeier Federal Courthouse in Madison. I had photographed this striking red and blue example of Kenton Peters architecture many times with a point and shoot. No problem. But the first time I approached the building with a DSLR and a honking big 10-20mm Sigma ultrawide zoom, security came rushing out of the building to confront me..


George H. said...

I was threatened with arrest and with notification to Homeland Security three weeks ago while taping a short (30-second) feature on students leaving Madison for spring break. The authority person, while screaming for my identification, was anonymous, arrogant and foul-mouthed.

Madison Guy said...

Yikes. That's what we've come to. What country is this?