“Suspicious” Photography A Renewed Concern?

Uh-oh. According to this article, Bin Laden’s death means everyone is on high alert for terrorist activity and, naturally, photographers.

Since the attacks, law enforcement officials have identified about 16 potential terrorist behaviors, such as taking photos of “high-value” terrorist targets. The tips, known as “suspicious activity” reports, are vetted by counterterrorism experts who are trained to know the difference between “tourism and terrorism” behaviors, officials said.

But as anyone who values civil liberties knows, the mandate at the top doesn’t always translate perfectly to the streets. Despite the article reporting that the tip gatherers are more interested in trends, police and security officers hear “people taking photos” and will often enforce the rule indiscriminately.

… Michael German, a former FBI agent who now advises the American Civil Liberties Union, said the program gives officers such wide discretion that innocent people are being questioned and even arrested based on behaviors that are not illegal.

“Innocent people” like one T.S. Bye, who took a photo of the Federal Reserve’s seal with his camera phone last week in downtown Minneapolis. The StarTribune reports that he was confronted by a security guard, questioned and asked to delete his photos, which he did (although the phone backs up all photos immediately). When asked for comment, a Fed spokeswoman told the paper this:

Our Law Enforcement staff asked what he was doing. He informed us he was taking photos of the Bank seal. Initially, our Law Enforcement officer told him that he was in a secure area and that we would prefer that he delete the photos. When the second Law Enforcement officer arrived on the scene, he informed this individual that he did not have to delete the photos and all we really needed him to do was move his vehicle to an appropriate parking space. The individual then drove away.

And we all know how many plots have started with a photo of a government seal….

Source: McClatchy News and StarTribune

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