Posts Tagged 'Homeland Security'

DHS Officer Bans Photographer From Public Protest in Los Angeles

Last week on October 5, I decided to head to downtown Los Angeles to photograph a rally that was being held at the federal building. What was dubbed as a National Day of Action against FBI Repression ended up being a major non-event, and only about 5-10 people were there to protest the FBI’s recent raids that targeted political activists in Illinois and Minnesota.

So for a photographer hoping to capture another protest with the usual high energy associated with these kinds of events, there really wasn’t much to photograph. Plus, it started raining fifteen minutes into this tiny protest, and that was still before anyone even arrived. However, at the same time the rain started falling, a Department of Homeland Security vehicle arrived, which caused me to believe that people were going to show up—at some point—and they did.

I stuck around and burned the roll’s last few frames on the lackluster protesters that finally arrived and used the very last frame for the Homeland Security decal that was on the front fender of the DHS SUV. It seemed like an important stock image to get, seeing that DHS has been known to harass a photographer or two. I thought I could use my photo for future posts dealing with DHS harassment rather than pulling the DHS decal from the web.

Well, I should’ve known that I would be posting a video showing a DHS officer prohibiting me from returning to a protest that was being held on a public sidewalk before I even processed the roll of film I shot that day.

Video of Police/BP Harassing Photographer

Last week we  posted on freelance photographer Lance Rosenfield’s run-in with law enforcement/BP Gestapo while on assignment for ProPublica and PBS Frontline.

The Galveston County Daily News has now published dashboard cam video of the encounter where you can see the officer phoning in Rosenfield’s details to the local FBI, or “frickin’ Homeland Security guy,” noting that he was in the public right of way and basically doing nothing wrong. When Rosenfield objects to his personal information being given to BP’s private security force, he’s told that they are “a certain type of law enforcement.”

Officer Kreitemeyer admits he’s just “going through the motions.” Meanwhile, the first amendment dies a slow death.

As ProPublia’s Stephen Engelberg reports in this piece, The Galveston County Daily News’ has tried unsucessfully to press the police to name the law that allows them to review photos. Associate Editor Mike Smith: 

“Nobody can point to a law of the United States of America or the State of Texas that allows police to do this. This is an assumed power that the police have taken on themselves based on this amorphous notion that the demands of the security state allow this and if you’re a good citizen, you shouldn’t make a fuss.”

See more videos at ProPublica

DHS, Police & BP Detain Photographer at Refinery

Refineries are typically dicey places for photography — even from public vantage points — because oil companies evidently are above the law and the government typically backs them up on that. Add BP and the biggest oil spill in US history to the mix, and well, you can imagine what ensues.

On Friday, Lance Rosenfield, a photographer working on a piece jointly produced by PBS Frontline and ProPublica, was harassed and detained by a Homeland Security officer, two police officers and a security guard at a BP refinery in Texas City, TX. After Rosenfield took a photo of a Texas City road sign, he was followed and surrounded at a gas station where the trio told him they had a right to look at his photos — even if they were shot on public property — and if he didn’t comply he would be taken in. After giving them his vital stats (which are no doubt now filed away on some terrorist watchlist), Rosenfield was released and no charges were filed.

From ProPublica‘s editor in chief: 

We certainly appreciate the need to secure the nation’s refineries. But we’re deeply troubled by BP’s conduct here, especially when they knew we were working on deadline on critical stories about this very facility. And we see no reason why, if law enforcement needed to review the unpublished photographs, that should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company. 

BP maintains it followed “industry practice that is required by federal law.” I would like to see this federal law challenged in court because I have a feeling taking photos of  a public street is a constitutionally protected activity.
See all of Rosenfield’s Texas City photos here.
Article from ProPublica and The Intel Hub

Photographer Harassed, Detained at DC Airport

Photo by Jerome Vorus

June 1st marks the day NPRO stands up for photographers’ rights, and for the past two years we’ve held a rally in Los Angeles where we’ve gathered to assert our right to shoot in public. So stand up and be counted…or stand up and shoot in your own city, and if you’re stopped and harassed just remember your rights.

And now, in honor of the day, another incident in the annals of clashes between photographers and authorities….

In March, 18-year-old and photographer Jerome Vorus was taking photos at Reagan National Airport in Virginia because that’s what he likes to do. Knowing the airport was a sensitive location, he spoke to a media relations representative beforehand and asked about any restrictions. He was told there were none. He and  the representative went over which areas were leased by private companies (like the check-in counters) and she said she would notify airport police and TSA officials.

Still, the message didn’t seem to get through. As Vorus shot photos, TSA employees approached him twice and asked what he was doing. The third time, he was approached by TSA in suits who asked whether he’d spoken with media relations. Even though Vorus told them he had, they said he could not take photos of TSA employees or checkpoints. To clarify, so that he could understand the situation he was in more fully, Vorus asked the men if he could see their credentials. One man replied, “We ain’t gotta show you shit.” Vorus pressed because he knew they are required by law, and so they did. It turns out they were Department of Homeland Security officers, and when Vorus asked if he was being detained he was told no. Things got heated and there was some back and forth over being detained versus being free to go.

Ultimately Vorus was told he was being detained and he would be arrested for disorderly conduct. His camera was taken and photos were deleted. And then, when all was said and done, he was free to go. Afterward Vorus filed a complaint with the airport authority’s internal affairs and received a letter a few weeks ago that acknowledged the officer did violate policy. TSA has not gotten back to him about the complaint filed with them.

The thing is, friction naturally occurs when law enforcement officers very badly want some trouble and an innocent person knows his rights are being violated. That is a predictable clash, and it happens all the time — but it doesn’t have to.

Article from Vorus Blog

Homeland Security Renews Photography Suspicion

0382A012Critical infrastructure. Photo by discarted

Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano told reporters last week that we all need to be aware and on the lookout for terrorists on the prowl, and that means calling in photographers “continually taking photographs of a piece of critical infrastructure that doesn’t seem to make any sense.” Jeesh, way to set us back, oh, about eight years, Janet. I feel like I’m having flashbacks to a different administration.

Just when it looked like there was a little progress, with Amtrak and the NYPD revising or clarifying their policies – now, law enforcement has a renewed mandate to harass photographers who “continually” shoot, say, their local ports or skyscrapers. I can just see the cop or security guard who finds that type of photography just “doesn’t make sense.”

Article from PDNPulse

Read the National Press Photographers Association response here

Aerial Photography Tool for Terror – or Paranoia?

US Bank Tower, Downtown Los Angeles, via Google Maps

Aerial photography and Google maps have become a flash point for people who need a tangible target for their terrorism-related paranoia and fear. In March, we posted on Joel Anderson, the California State Assemblyman who is trying to get a law on the books that would blur out images of medical facilities, schools and government institutions in online mapping tools. Now, there’s another outspoken critic to add to the mix. reports that Pennsylvania piano tuner Scott Portzline is lobbying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Homeland Security Secretary for the same cause. Portzline has apparently spent a lot of time figuring out how he’d attack a nuclear plant, so he thinks it’s fairly easy to do with information gathered on the internet. From the article:

“What we’re seeing here is a guard shack,” Portzline said, pointing to a rooftop structure. “This is a communications device for the nuclear plant.”

He added, “This particular building is the air intake for the control room. And there’s some nasty thing you could do to disable the people in the control room. So this type of information should not be available. I look at this and just say, ‘Wow.’ “

Interestingly, operators of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant that is close to Portzline’s home aren’t as worried as he is: “Our security programs are designed and tested to defend against (an attacker) that has insider information — even more information then is available on the Internet,” said Ralph DeSantis, spokesman for AmerGen, which operates the plant. “In addition to that, our physical security is constantly changing… so what you see one day won’t be the same as the next day.”

As noted security consultant and hysteria debunker, Bruce Schneier (read Refuse to be Terrorized), writes on his blog in response to this story:

Yes, and the same technology that allows people to call their friends can be used by terrorists to choose targets and plan attacks. And the same technology that allows people to commute to work can be used by terrorists to plan and execute attacks. And the same technology that allows you to read this blog post…repeat until tired.

Article via

Read Bruce Schneier’s “Fear of Aerial Images” here.

More Made Up Laws Regarding Oil Refineries

Photo by wmliu

One of the Daily Kos site’s diarists, Androsko, posted about a recent incident he and a friend experienced while taking photos outside of the Hess Refinery in Port Reading, New Jersey. While they were there to shoot a comedy sketch, the local police smelled terrorism.

A police officer pulled up and told them – surprise! – they weren’t allowed to take photos and they’d have to delete them. Why? As Androkso writes:

He responded that there were town ordinances that were mandated by the state and the Department of Homeland Security. I then asked for the specific ordinance or law, saying that I had read a lot of stories about police and photography in public places. He failed to provide me with anything specific, citing Homeland Security “stuff”.

The officer asked for their driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers, while insisting they weren’t being reported, just that he had to enter their information in the system. The photos were not deleted in the end and they parted amicably. And the harassment goes on….

A commenter points out that the canon of laws is so vast that cops can’t be expected to remember them all, further adding:

So they sometimes operate the way most of us do, sorta figuring if it seems like it might be illegal, it probably is. … Whether or not any laws got passed, it seeped into the collective consciousness, and a lot of folks have vague impressions that ‘you’re not supposed to scope out such places’. Your cop obviously had that vagueness floating around in the back of his mind.

I get that rationale; police officers are human and they can’t be expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of law. But they need to have a better-than-average one – and more importantly, if you’re stopping someone to tell them they’re breaking a law, you damn well better know which one. (And if you don’t, radio into the station, read up on laws that pertain to your district, bone up for god sakes!) This type of thing is going on all the time, and no matter how wrong, how egregious, how unlawful, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Read Androsko’s whole post here.

Can I See Some ID?


Not that we’re endorsing fraud, but this is a funny idea – download your very own  Homeland Security photography license to show off to overzealous cops and security guards.

From JWZ via Boing Boing

Homeless Advocates Are The New Domestic Terrorists

Photo by Phil Connelly

The Fresno Police Department’s Homeland Security force is going after some big fish – because we all know what a threat homeless advocates are.

Phil Connelly sparked the interest of anti-terrorism officials in April when he was monitoring city crews removing property from a known homeless area of Fresno, CA and photographed them dumping the materials in a city maintenance yard. City employees grew concerned over Connelly’s presence and contacted the Fresno Police Department’s Homeland Security Bureau, who tracked down Connelly via his license plate. However, rather than visiting the suspected “terrorist”, Connelly  only received an intimidating letter from Homeland Security saying his behavior “caused concern among several city employees.” 

Now, there’s more to this story that involves a $2 million dollar judgement against the city for destroying the homeless people’s belongings, and this could be an intimidation tactic (as Connelly believes it is).

But, as Sgt. Ronald Grimm, the Homeland Security Coordinator for the Fresno Police Department, told the local ABC news station:

“It was textbook casing. Similar to what a domestic terrorist, an international terrorist, or simply, what a citizen meaning to do harm to the government would do just prior to an event.”

Actually, I’m willing to bet it couldn’t be farther from “textbook casing.” Do terrorists follow city workers in broad daylight and photograph them from at most a few feet away? Sgt. Grimm can’t really expect people to believe that, but it’s just another ridiculous, lazy justification that government officials like to use these days to infringe on our rights.

Maybe we should all send Sgt. Grimm a letter because his justification for what was done to Connelly is causing me grave concern. 

Watch the news story at ABC 30’s web site.

Read more about Connelly’s incident here.

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