Photographer Rights Activist Tests LA County Sheriff’s On Their Understanding Of The Law

- - Ethics

Discarted a blog written by “photographers & concerned citizens living in Los Angeles. / With the goal to shoot photographs freely in public spaces wherever, whenever, of whoever. / And a desire to get the word out, educate and engage,” has video posted of an encounter with two LA County Sheriff deputies inside the Hollywood and Western Metro Station. MSNBC is reporting (here) that Shawn, the man who took the video says his constitutional rights were violated and he’s posted phone numbers and emails on the Discarted site to rally complaints against the deputies (here).

I love the idea that a group of photographer rights activists will go out and make sure the police understand the law. These Sheriff Deputies not only fail they try to intimidate the photographer by threatening to make his life miserable if they were to place him on a FBI watch list. They also try to review the images he’s taken but can’t because he’s shooting film.

The Sheriff initially tells the photographer what he is doing is against MTA rules (here).

Photography Guidelines

* Only permissible in public areas, proof of fare required in marked fare required areas (station platforms of all rail stations and the Metro Orange Line)
* No commercial photography without prior authorization and consent from Metro
* Hand held equipment only, no tripods are permitted
* No photography inside moving trains for privacy and safety reasons
* No flash photography, especially into oncoming transit vehicles (rail or bus)
* Photography must not interfere with passenger safety or movement at any time

thx for the tip, wmanthony.com

There Are 146 Comments On This Article.

  1. Cops have to hold up the bankers agenda and bring in money for the state. Once upon a time you could kinda-sorta rely on cops to protect you. Now you can be certain that they will harass you.

    We The People voted in shit like the patriot act and now were dealing with it.

    Best thing you can do with cops is just answer their questions how they want to be answered and get the hell out. In my dealings with five-o the sooner I’m out of that spider web the better.

    • Justice-Stress

      @Giulio Sciorio,

      “In my dealings with five-o the sooner I’m out of that spider web the better.”

      Point of the police state is you never get out of that spider web. You’re on a list now, boy, for the rest of your life, vulnerable to active and passive surveillance.

    • @Giulio Sciorio,

      Why answer their questions at all?

      Anything you say WILL be held against you; not may, but WILL.

      As soon as you answer questions you automatically consent and submit to their authority; you go into a contract with the police.

      NEVER go into contract with the police, as then you are always in the ‘spider web’.

      Keep your mouth SHUT.

      Here are some food for thought:

  2. Try doing street photography in Bucharest, Romania!!!! I live here and it is as if Ceausescu still lives! The paranoia is crazy!!! I have been dragged to the police and am constantly told not to photograph. I am unclear on why everyone is so afraid. It seems to be a combination of lingering fear from the Communist era when the secret police was diabolical as well as a severe case of national self-consciousness–Romanians seem to automatically think that if someone is taking a picture it is because they want to show the country in a negative way. . . which I guess is not always so far from the truth since Romania is incredibly corrupt and many things just don’t fit visually like seeing a $500,000 car next to a pack of stray dogs and naked Roma children.

  3. In many ways Bin Laden has succeeded. Look at how he has made the police so scared here. The war in Afghanistan is raging. Good luck America in getting out of this one!!!

  4. Alright time to vent. I have to disagree that these guys are doing some kind of service for photographers. Seems to me he was trolling for this encounter, and he was kind of a douche about it.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve been stopped for taking photos in public, because yeah sometimes it looks unusual. I’m polite, professional, explain what I’m doing, and everyone moves on. Taking pictures makes you a target. Deal with it!

    Useless encounters like this only make it harder for the next guy. It might be exciting for some hipster to have their minute of with a rentacop, but, Honestly everyone’s time is better spent on more important things.

    • @Andrew Kornylak,

      I agree he was trolling for the encounter, but he was trying to express his rights and to document how the police reacted. It seems that because of 9/11 there is the idea that US law no longer matters. Bush thought this and the police here think this. Yes, you may be technically allowed to photograph in public places but because there is the war on terrorism the police have this sort of extra unwritten right to detain you. It’s just sort of assumed that since Bin Laden is out there the police now can do anything they they think fit. This is dangerous and this is why Bid Laden has succeeded. Dropping 2,000 pound bombs on Afghan villages isn’t going to end anything. I am not a soldier but I often feel I could advise the US much better than any general. It’s all in vain. Just watch! trust me :)

      • Justice-Stress

        @Davin Ellicson,

        The most dangerous people in the world: those who think it’s more important for the citizens to obey police than it is for the police to obey the law.

    • @Andrew Kornylak, I completely agree. I only watched about half of the video but what I saw was a police officer acting in a professional manner and a photographer who was being confrontational. The police officer simply wanted to know why this fellow was taking photos. It’s his job to investigate suspicious activity. A dude taking random photos in the subway may have looked a bit suspicious in light of recent world events. A simple “I’m a freelance photographer, here’s my business card” might have diffused the whole situation.

      He is far from a photographer’s advocate in my opinion. He may actually be doing a disservice to the profession (I’m sure many will disagree).

    • Ryan McGinnis

      @Andrew Kornylak, being stopped and asked a question or two doesn’t bother me. However, being told (incorrectly) that photography is not allowed or is illegal is REALLY bothersome. The job of our law enforcement is to enforce law, not to create it. If it is illegal to take pictures in the subway, then by all means, enforce that law. People can slug it out later with lawyers; it’s the American way. If it’s not illegal to take pictures in the subway, then DON’T TELL ME THAT IT IS.

      I know that there are a lot of laws out there and that they’re hard to memorize, but if your job is a law enforcement beat on the MTA, then you sure as hell can spend a little time learning the laws that specifically pertain to the MTA.

    • @Andrew Kornylak,

      I find both sides are at fault.

      The police officer was obviously aggressive with his tone and demeanor, immediately putting the photographer on the defensive. As the photographer shows, he was incorrect in stating particular pieces of information. Adding that he could make the photographers life miserable is ridiculous and completely unprofessional.

      But you have to accept this. Some cops are great and some cops are assholes. The same goes for photographers, right?

      I ask myself this question: what if the photographer had simply said, “Officer, I’m a photographer taking pictures of the beautiful subway system- the walls, the light, the concrete”.

      Would the officer have simply replied, “Cool, no problem, I just need to ask because it’s my job.”

      Most, if not all, of my interactions with police officers have always been fine. I’ve always treated them as decent human beings and they have returned the gesture.

      It’s commendable that there are photographers out their pursuing this passion- defending public rights- but for it to be accurate and worthwhile I believe it needs to be approached in a different, more-neutral manner.

    • @Andrew Kornylak,
      Yes agreed he did it to make a point. That’s what activists do. At least he didn’t start yelling “don’t tase me bro.” I have no problem separating what an activist might do to the police, tobacco executive, etc. to provoke a reaction and prove a point and what professionals should do in a similar situation.

      • @A Photo Editor, Exactly what point did he prove? That provoking a police officer will get you detained? Did that really need to be proven?

        The only questionable thing this police officer did was state that photography was against MTA regulations. To be fair, by your own admission in your post, it IS against regulations in MANY instances. It’s not like the officer completely fabricated that statement. He simply was trying to determine if the dude WAS following the rules and the guy became argumentative.

        • @Ryan Gibson,
          The point is to show photographers their rights. Would you rather get a pamphlet telling you it’s legal or watch a video of someone trying to exercise the right? I think it’s educational.

          • @A Photo Editor,

            That was infuriating. And I take exception to the phrase “unlawfully detained” being casually tossed around when so much emphasis is being put on what’s lawful here.

            That cop was WELL within his rights to detain that kid for suspicious activity. Doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not, it was suspicious.

            The whole situation could have been easily diffused 30 seconds in, and every photographer knows it. Cops OFTEN say things just to watch your reaction. React like an asshole and prepare to get a hip-pocket class on lawful detainment.

            Whenever I photograph in public I put a link to the city ordinance on my phone, just in case. I don’t expect cops to know all the laws pertaining to MY job. Plus, I know for a fact that a sentence or two in a civil tone will not only get me back to work, but also put the particular ordinance on that officer’s radar. I’ve only had to actually show an officer the web page once.

            For every two-bit “activist” with a camera and a flair for sensationalism, there are fifty actual photographers out on the streets having perfectly civil interactions with law enforcement that end without incident.

            All there is to be gleaned from this “educational” video is that there are now two more LA County Sheriffs that have had negative experiences dealing with a photographer.

            Thanks a million kid, you’re a real Blue Falcon.

            • @Paul Bennett,

              “All there is to be gleaned from this “educational” video is that there are now two more LA County Sheriffs that have had negative experiences dealing with a photographer.”

              I think this is exactly the point. Maybe this will lead to them being more cautious the next time they deal with photographers just as negative experiences with cops prompt most photographers to be more cautious when dealing with the police.

              • @j.,

                I don’t believe that “this” gives police any reason whatsoever to be “more cautious” with photographers. On the contrary, I would imagine that when or if this video makes it to that officer’s superiors that they will agree with how the situation was handled.

                I think everyone could have done without the “FBI watchlist” part, that was just poor PR.

                But there will be no real backlash over this other than a few phone calls and some harsh blog posts. This won’t lead to a beer summit.

                There is no reason to throw a shit fit about it because nothing illegal happened. Some kid was less than respectful to a cop and was inconvenienced for less than a half hour.

                I know I’m not the only one who knows how to address police officers in a way that doesn’t end in confrontation.

                Don’t be a prick and you won’t have a problem. I’ve found it works with everybody, not just cops.

    • @Andrew Kornylak, you don’t have to explain yourself when you’re first amendment rights are under attack. this isn’t about diffusing a situation, it’s about making sure that the LAPD, NYPD, etc understand and respect our rights.

    • @Andrew Kornylak, sad how so many people like Andrew fail to understand that violating constitutional rights (especially with “trained” police officers who are supposed to understand law, particularly in their own beats) underscores and rips into American freedom. “Deal with it”? Suspicious for people to take pictures in a public space?

      I was refused entry into the Naval Academy Annapolis because I was a member of the media, unless I had an escort. Meanwhile, visitors from overseas with passports were allowed through the pass gate with their cameras hanging from their necks. And that could surely be considered more of a “terrorist target” than the L.A. subway. If the subways are such a threat to national security, drag in more jersey walls and conduct personal searches before you board the next train.

  5. No Name for L.A.

    Seems like the L.A. Sheriff’s department needs to do some remedial training and reading on the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

    Of course, we the Chief of Homeland Security calling for people to question and report anyone photographing anything as suspicious….

    Can’t wait until it’s an assignment for say, the Los Angeles Subway system to promote people using mass transit, and a Sheriff interrupts the shoot.

    IMO, Sheriff Gylfie over-reacted and attempted to take the conversation to another level. It is clear that he is ignorant of what has happened in other cities and his lack of knowledge of basic rights is dismal.

  6. I see people take pictures in the metro everyday in front of the police and they don’t get harassed by the boys. The guy is receiving all the attention he has sought out.

  7. I am going to agree with AK above. This guy was begging for this encounter. Try to have a little compassion for the job this public servant has to do. Sure we would all like to be left alone to work on our images but come on. This office makes about the same amount of money a photographer does, to go out and protect the public in a sue happy society, and he has to put up with this? A little cooperation would have gone a long way here. My guess this encounter would have gone differently.

    • @Sirfenn,

      I agree! but this guy was trying to show how our rights have indeed been infringed upon by 9/11. But it’s a funny issue: we still want our freedom but we at the same time want protection from would be terrorists.

  8. I have to say, I think this video is less about freedom and more about someone looking to sensationalize an encounter with law enforcement. I happen to completely agree with what the office did and had to say and there are at least 2,740 families that wished some law enforcement office would have been able to step in prior to 9/11.

    As a libertarian, I am very protective of my rights, but I am not ignorant of the belief that we need law enforcement doing the day in day out job of making sure society can operate with a minimum of disruption.

  9. Well, what he really should have done was just keep saying “Allahu Akbar!”
    over and over. I love how the officer told him that he was in kahoots with al qaeda? I mean seriously…. if someone asked me that same question, I would say “Who’s Al? I dont know anyone named Al” I am also curious, if al qaeda buys photographs, do they pay usage fees on them as well? I mean, do they do a limited usage and not a buyout since according to them we are all going to die as soon as they can see that through anyway? Hahaha. I wonder how do these officers distinguish who they stop for taking photos, does the group of giddy teenage girls taking the same pictures with their point and shoots and camera phones for their facebook page get the same treatment?

    There was one time that I was shooting an architectural job for a client and I was in a parking lot of an adjacent crappy little strip mall to get the position. I was approached and questioned and given the same shpiel about being a terrorist and if I was planning an attack. I kind of stopped and looked up and down from my boots to my t shirt, then turned and looked around at the strip mall and the stores and said “Look, if I WAS going to plan a terrorist attack, I sure as shit wouldnt waste the explosives at a dump like this”

  10. To the best of my knowledge, taking a picture of someone or something has never killed anyone. So why all the harassment from government agencies? Now, if you see a guy at a train station with an RPG or a vest made out of C4 or a rental truck loaded up with ammonium nitrate, then maybe you could harass him.

    Otherwise, photographers should be left alone.

  11. Of course the photographer was confrontational. He was detained for no valid reason. I really don’t understand why people allow ignorance and paranoia to be excused in the name of ‘public safety’. Yes, the photographer here could have accepted the police officer’s erroneous judgment but would that not have just reinforced the officer’s ignorance?

    Photographers use cameras to take images and they have a right to do so unhindered within reason. Any restriction on that right is unacceptable. The UK police forces have struggled recently to understand this very point and have recently been issued with guidance on how to deal with photographers.

    If people are detained, there needs to be a really good reason other than having a camera!

    • @Stuart Walker, Wrong. He was not detained UNTIL he became confrontational. Before that he was simply asked a question. Again, it is the police officers job to question. Now, if the police officer had wrongly accused the photographer of something then all of these arguments might hold water. He did not do that.

      Bottom line – if you are doing nothing wrong and are within your rights then act in a professional manner and most of the time there will not be an issue. Frankly, it’s disturbing that so many people think that “stirring up trouble” is somehow helping our profession.

      • @Ryan Gibson, The officer did wrongly accuse him – of breaking MTA rules. But the real issue here is why did he feel the need to even approach the photographer in the first place, and *then* detain him? Because he had a camera? He wasn’t jumping up into people’s faces making a nuisance. He was going about his own legitimate business. What is it about having a camera that makes someone a potential terrorist? Absolutely nothing. No grounds for even approaching the photographer in the first place, and certainly no excuse for making threats about “FBI Hit Lists”.

        Terrorists must crave this sort of errosion of civil liberties.

        • @Stuart Walker, He felt the need because he looked suspicious. Context is everything. “What is it about having a camera that makes someone a potential terrorist?” Nothing at all when stated as simply as you have stated it. Now, being a man, by yourself, sneaking around the subway taking video of yourself taking photos certainly DOES peg you as a POTENTIAL terrorist and rightly so. No one accused this man of being a terrorist. His suspicious activity was merely being investigated.

          • @Ryan Gibson,

            “being a man, by yourself, sneaking around the subway taking video of yourself taking photos certainly DOES peg you as a POTENTIAL terrorist and rightly so.”

            This attitude is pretty good proof that the terrorists have won.

            • @tde4, Nope. When suspicious activity causes a police officer to draw his gun with no provocation then maybe “the terrorists have won”. But when an officer merely INVESTIGATES suspicious activity in an attempt to determine what exactly is taking place (clearly what this officer has done), then the terrorists have simply heightened awareness resulting in a safer society.

              Let’s turn the tables here. Let’s say this guy was filming and photographing in an attempt to plan a terrorist attack and then executed said terrorist attack without interference from law enforcement. When the video comes out showing his suspicious behavior and a disinterested cop in the background there would be no end to the public criticism of law enforcement officials.

              Ugh!

              • @Ryan Gibson,

                If you are correct, then everyone who ever takes a photograph of any building, bridge, train, tunnel, or road is a POTENTIAL terrorist.

                The guy was not sneaking around. He was standing right there in plain sight in the station. The officer did not know about the video camera because he never mentioned it.

                Allowing, or even encouraging, police officer to stop and question people who are engaging in lawful activities destroys the very freedom that is the basis of this country.

                Don’t take it personally, but I think that people like you have damaged this country far more that Bin Laden.

                • @tde4, I don’t take it personally because you have no idea what I’m “like”. I value my freedom highly and I value those who are called to protect my freedom just as highly.

                  If a man is standing outside a bank with his hand inside of his coat wearing a ski mask, is it wrong for an officer to question him? It’s perfectly legal to stand outside of a bank isn’t it? When taken out of context it can be spun any way you choose. “Hey, did you hear about that guy that was detained down at the bank today? I heard he was just standing there minding his own business”. “Yeah, cops just want to steal our rights”. That attitude is what’s damaging our country my friend (don’t take it personally).

                  My point is: this guy’s sole purpose was to provoke this police officer so I don’t believe for half a second that he was minding his own business, just snapping a few photos.

                  At any rate it’s of no consequence because in the very post it’s clearly stated that the MTA does have regulations permitting certain types of photography within the subway system. That alone leaves the officer WELL within his rights to question his activity. CLEARLY this guy was not just hangin’ out with friends snapping a few photos.

  12. Really?

    This kid was looking for a fight and he got one. A simple “i’m a freelance/art photographer making pictures for my blah blah blah would have sufficed. Instead he tried to out douchebag a professional douchebag and caught hell for it.

    I still think you’re great Rob. However, after this and T-bone i’m not going to be surprised if you put up a post about how awesome Jurgen Teller is.

    • @Kenneth,
      I don’t think anyone would deny he was looking for a fight. That’s the whole point of being an activist. It’s not that I don’t have empathy for the officer either but he did state that the MTA forbids taking pictures which is wrong. And, everyone who has seen this video has a plan on how they would handle a similar situation. That’s good.

      • Ryan McGinnis

        @A Photo Editor, actually, now that it’s phrased this way, I’m even less inclined to have any sympathy for the LEO. One could equally say that Rosa Parks should have explained that she was a woman and had a back problem and didn’t want to get up and go to the back of the bus; the point was that she didn’t need such reasons, since the very act of asking her to get up and go to the back was a violation of law.

  13. I am seeing the recurrence of common sense here. The kid was wrong to not identify himself as an amateur photography taking images for personal use.

    It is not fair to entice law enforcement into a confrontation.

    That said, the Sherrif’s Deputy is grossly ignorant of the events that actually happened in the actual subway attacks.

    Most of my interactions with security personnel and police have been respectful and courteous. A few of those interactions were due to my misunderstanding what was public property or private. Once the matter was cleared up I went about my business without any problems.

  14. The whole ‘terror’ phenomena has been blown out of proportion relating to rules on photographing public places, true, but sort of attitude when asked simple questions from a police officer will do little to improve the situation, IMHO. He was looking for a fight.

  15. kevin halliburton

    I’ll probably get blasted for this but I’ve got to point out a few things that really bug me about this whole thing. It’s pretty obvious that this activist is not in the subway to shoot pictures, he was in the subway to shoot this video. For some reason the officer gets the impression that this guy may be up to something more than meets the eye. Hello, he is wearing a hidden video camera. The officer’s delivery is way off but his intuition is right on.

    Watch it again from the officer’s perspective. Keep in mind that, in this situation, this is not a “photographer” shooting this video, it’s an “activist” posing as a photographer. He knew exactly how to act and where to point his camera to get the attention he was after. He also knew exactly how to “legally” prolong his own detention and escalate the situation.

    Not to condone the officer’s actions, but you think it’s tough being a non-permitted photographer in a subway, try being a badged cop in one. There are limited consequences to missing the opportunity to shoot a hand held photo, on film, in the subway, without a permit, but what if that cop misses someone who is a legitimate threat to the public? Does anyone really have a hard time understanding why he gets a little testy here and attempts to use intimidation to his advantage? Imagine having his job and trying to control the most deceptive and dangerous individuals in the city without the use of a little intimidation.

    Here’s the thing. Knowing that terrorism and photography are both hot topics for subway cops what can we do as photographers to ease the tension enough to make both our jobs a little easier. When did “my right to shoot any dang picture I want to” become more important that respect and common courtesy, especially for the officers trying to protect us from getting our gear stolen when we walk into the subway?

    How long would the conversation have lasted if the photographer had smiled and said, “hey, thanks for your service. I guess I can see why you would wonder what I’m up to. I’m taking pictures of that tile pattern over there for use in an art collage.” Better yet, what if he had approached the officer first and said, “hey, I don’t want to distract you from your job but I would like to take some pictures of that tile pattern over there and I didn’t want to raise your suspicions.” Maybe he gets his picture and maybe he doesn’t but hey, this approach didn’t exactly get him a portfolio full of dimly lit subway pictures either, did it? Oh wait, he did get the shot he was after. I forgot, he is an activist, not a photographer.

    No doubt there are some rude dudes in uniform, and believe me, I’ve met my share, but when I view this video I’m reminded once again of the many sources from which that attitude generally springs. This activist went into that subway looking to intimidate a cop or two by inviting them to try and intimidate him. Mission accomplished… Thanks for your valuable service to the country pal.

    Now, take your expensive camera into that subway when he’s gone and try the same attitude on the individuals who approach you and ask for it. Now there is an opportunity to photograph a crime scene and get harassed by rude and intimidating people. Be sure and remember the phone numbers in your video. Thankfully, if this officer is still working for the force he’ll probably be at his desk to take your call.

  16. Photo Rights? Dude expects cops to know photo rights? Cripes, Half the people I work with in the industry don’t know photo rights – and these are people who should know photo rights. Cops and security guards are robots. Sadly, so are most of the people in publishing these days.

    I bet dollars to doughnuts this guys grandma would not get busted taking the same pics in the same location.

  17. I agree with the comments but it is funny. “Terroristic” – I”m going to start using that one.

  18. The video shows more of how to be an activist, than how to act as a photographer. I have to wonder at the motivation for making the video, whether there has been a recent increase in harassment of photographers, an incident with someone the activist knew, or simply a chance to go viral for self promotion.

  19. I agree the photographer was confrontational, but he was highlighting a problem of the misuse of terrorism laws to control citizens behaviour. Here in the UK it is now illegal to photograph a police officer! All in the name of terrorism. During the recent G20 summit there were peaceful protests. There was significant misuse of police powers, and brave photographers and film makers risked filming what was going on. One man who was innocently walking home from work died of a heart attack after being beaten by police officers who were there to “protect the public’! Several officers have now been charged with assault, one for punching a woman in the face. None of this would have come to light if the photographers had not made a stand and photographed the events that day. Personal freedom is hard fought for and won and should not be so easily given up to authoritarianism……

    “They who most loudly clamour for liberty do not most liberally grant it.”
    Johnson: Milton (Lives of the Poets)

    Power is not sufficient evidence of truth.
    Samuel Johnson

    If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
    George Washington

    You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom.
    Clarence Darrow

    If the evens of September 11, 2001, have proven anything, it’s that the terrorists can attack us, but they can’t take away what makes us American – our freedom, our liberty, our civil rights. No, only Attorney General John Ashcroft can do that.
    Jon Stewart

    To me, freedom entitles you to do something, not to not do something.
    Shel Silverstein

  20. All of the people who think that the photographer did anything wrong – or had any obligation at all to explain what he was doing – pose a far greater threat to the safety and security of this country than any terrorist because they are willing to sacrifice the right guaranteed to citizens by the constitution.

    Beyond that, the photographer was exceedingly polite. In a situation like that, I would have simply said “If I am being detained I want to speak to a lawyer and I don’t have anything to say to you assholes.” If that means I am arrested, so be it.

    Jesus Christ people, the guy was not doing anything illegal at all. Read Bruce Schneider and you’ll see that the idea that “terrorists” go out and take photographs if things they intend to blow up comes more from Hollywood movies than reality.

    Look, if the reasonable suspicion here that allowed the officer to stop and question him was that he might at some later point decide to sell the photographs to terrorists, then the police can stop and question you for anything at all:

    “I notice that you are driving this car down the road and you might be on your way to plot a bombing with some terrorists. So where are you going today, Ma’am?”

  21. I shoot at night

    In my experience it is pretty easy to explain to the LAPD or Sheriff what I am taking pictures of and THEN I’m left alone. I understand that I should not have been approached in the first place, but I don’t have any illusion that I can go anywhere and take pictures without any questions being asked.

    I was photographing a power station in Los Angeles during the middle of the night near 9/11 of last year and was greeted by 1 helicopter and 3 police cars. They were all very professional (Pasadena PD). They checked my I.D., listened to my story (I had lots of “arty” night architecture shots on my iPhone), and then told me what I was doing was not illegal and went on their merry way.

    • @I shoot at night,

      Do you understand how f…ed up that is?

      Either an asset is protected from being imaged because of the value of said asset and the danger images posed to it, in which case the authorities have a right to control who can and cannot image the asset. Or not.

      If such a law has not been put in place, then by what authority were the police operating? A law of general suspicion?

      Let the law of general suspicion be the golden rule, and your nation will be f…ed.

      Not everybody is as confident as you, as chill as you. Many people are crushed by the sight of the police. Those are the people who are not merely inconvenienced, but convinced to stay home and not take the photograph.

  22. And I forgot about the most disturbing part of the videotape – and one that the “law and order” types in the comment thread have also apparently forgotten.

    Did you see when the deputy threatened to place the photographer’s name on the “TLO” or the terrorist watch list so that he would be detained and searched every time he travelled in the future?

    • @tde4,

      Don’t worry this guy is already on a list. There are more lists than people realize, and lists have been developed out of what was formerly dead information sitting in cabinets. Even if there is no official list, it can be assembled by running a search query through one of the massive DHS databases.

      In Canada, the Ontario government was chastised for using police databases to profile jury members. The police database had all kinds of secret and private information built from past investigations, rumors, etc. Run a name through the database, and get a full biography, even if the person has never been directly investigated, never been charged, never been convicted of anything.

      Given DHS/FBI/CIA has investigated Catholic peace groups (!), there is definitely an “annoying activists who might eventually turn out to be terrorists, maybe someday” list. Those are among the American citizens the NSA is illegally spying on.

      http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/12/nsa_and_bushs_i.html

  23. The first thing out of the officer’s mouth was a false assertion and an attempt to change the photographer’s legal behavior. If this was an isolated incident I might criticize the photographer for being purposely provocative out of some sort of vanity, but this happens ALL THE TIME. It has practically become a duty for photographers to stand up to this.

    Also, I don’t believe for a second that the officer really suspected that this guy was working for terrorists. If he had legitimate reasons to suspect a terrorist, he would have acted much differently. He was being a bully and was offended that someone called him out on being clueless and decided to use his power as a police officer to stroke his injured pride. Historically police and military acting on their own behalf, using state power for extra-legal purposes have proven much more dangerous than terrorists. The story of Democracy and freedom is not one of overcoming terrorists and winning military battles, it is one of shackling the power of the state and using in support of individual rights. Police have difficult jobs to be sure, but we still need to be vigilant in limiting their power to only what is necessary to maintain peace.

  24. I’ve been questioned several times by law enforcement for shooting public areas, such as train stations, etc. The worst was when I was briefly detained by the Passaic County Sheriff’s Dept. in Jersey for taking pics of the county jail where hundred of Arab men were held without charge, shortly after 9/11. They knew they couldn’t stop me, so they let me go. They always want to give some type of lecture on why it’s important to be vigilant about such things. I had press ID so I’m sure that made all the difference. The bottom line is, in my experience, cops understand your job and hope you understand theirs. Can’t we all just get along?

    The funniest encounter I had was with a private security guard of a building I had to shoot. I stood across the street from the building, only to be told that I couldn’t shoot the building. Let’s see, you have this HUGE skyscraper that’s a part of the city skyline, and you’re telling me I can’t shoot it? FUNNY!

  25. This isn’t an example of a photographers rights being stepped on – this is an example of a photographer being a wank and provoking a situation. I’ve been stopped a number of times in situations very similar to this. My first response is I’m an photographer (mostly for hobby) my name is …. do you wish to see my id or my business card from my day job or any of the photo’s I’ve taken in this area… see I’m not doing anything wrong and I’ve got nothing to hide. Most of the time after that I’m left alone – sometimes they want to see my ID rarely do they want to see my photo’s. I’ve never been detained or harassed. (New York/San Fran/San Diego/Toronto/Vancouver) ps. never had to use my photographers rights card with this approach … ever – not even in NYC Subway.

    This fellow – although you can’t say he is being rude – he is being challenging – less than forthcoming and in general a pain in the ass. I mean seriously – he is a cop – not some random person off the street – if he wants to see your ID – do it. Some people think cops are the bad guys, but when you’re in trouble / hurt /in danger / etc etc – who do you call – thats right – the same fellow you’re disrespecting will also stand between you and a real criminal with a gun and defend you with his life. Quit being a prick

    • @Arne,

      Thank u for articulating. You and Halliburton have rescued my faith in this group of columnists. Photographers? Activists? Really? Adults? At the end of the day we are talking about a guy just trying to do his job in a rough environment, which is to protect our ass supported by ridiculous regulations. And we are going to get on some punk ass soap box and criticize this guy? Harassment? because he asked for information in a public place? Truly amazing and kind of sad. I want to get the photo more than anyone but please.

  26. I just had a house painter read me the riot act for taking a picture of a house in my own neighborhood. People need to dial it down a notch. I feel like I should just start staring at places, and see if I get harassed for that.

    If this video was a stunt, it would be awesome to see how it played out with a cell-camera, a point-and-shoot, and on up. I’m really noticing my DSLR with a modest zoom gets the brunt of people’s paranoia.

    The more I shoot in public, the more surreal my life becomes.

  27. kevin halliburton

    Let me ask a question of the activist supporters. What would you do if you were the police officer here? You see a guy acting abnormally from the typical subway passenger, and he appears to be taking pictures of the infrastructure of the subway? You have no idea why he is taking the pictures and when you ask him he immediately starts acting defensive and refusing to cooperate. Now you are doubly suspicious.

    At that point you either have to solidify a reason to arrest him, or let him go and hope you haven’t turned the next Timothy McVey loose. How many times have we shaken our heads over the news reports that the cops questioned a suspect just days before some horrific crime and then let him go?

    I suspect the officer did what he was probably trained to do in that situation, take measures to protect himself then try to provoke the suspect into giving him enough information to make an intelligent call.

    Yes, I saw the TLO threat. Sure it seems way out of line after the fact on a video but it was a pretty tame threat compared to some of the ones I’ve heard officers use in an attempt to get the information a suspect is refusing to offer willingly. Fortunately, as the officer knew good and well when he issued the threat, he can’t just sign someone up for a lifetime of free strip searches and long airport lines.

    He can however hold that guy there as long as he needs to in order to clearly ascertain whether he is a threat or not. The activist did nothing to help him arrive at a reasonable conclusion of his innocence – quite the opposite actually. This guy isn’t Rosa parks. He’s not the lone figure confronting a line of tanks. He is not a civil rights activist or a hapless victim of police brutality speaking out against his oppressors. Please, quit confusing the true heroes of freedom with this breed of activist. It’s an insult to true heroism.

    • @kevin halliburton,
      It’s my understanding you cannot be held and you do not have to answer any questions unless you are committing a crime or under suspicion that you are about to commit a crime.

      The point to debate here is whether you think people lawfully taking pictures on public property should have to answer questions from a police officer about what they are up to. Does taking a picture make you suspicious? or is that act enough that they can detain and start asking question?

      You are saying taking pictures is a suspicious activity. That seemed absurd to me but many people seem to be in agreement with you.

      • @A Photo Editor, Yes, the cop was dead wrong and overzealous. But, what I think people, including me are saying, is that in a real life situation, a real photographer would just explain what he/she was doing and avoided the situation reaching this level. As someone who has been in this situation a number of times, I’ve only had a real issue just once and was let go after asserting my rights. Again, the cop was DEAD wrong in his actions and knowledge of the law. I just think that each case should be judged differently.

      • @A Photo Editor, Photographer? Really Rob? Youve worked with the best, this guy was a confrontational punk with an agenda. I am betting the real photographers / professionals you have worked with in the past would have handled this very differently, and in return had a totally different response.

          • @A Photo Editor, I think you are right I am missing the point. The example you give has activists trying to expose illegal and immoral activity. Our discussion surrounds a public officer trying to do his job of protecting our safety by asking some questions in a public place. To effectively do the job we expect him to do he needs a little cooperation. I just think we have to keep things in perspective.

            • @Sirfenn,
              Killing dolphins is not illegal. What the photographers did in the documentary was illegal. Killing whales is not illegal. Ramming a greenpeace boat into the side of a whale hunting boat is illegal. So, the point of activism is to expose something that you think is wrong. This person believes that you should be able to take pictures of the subway without detainment and without answering any questions from a police officer. So, getting out of the detainment or avoiding the confrontation is not the point. It’s that he believes it should have never taken place in the first place.

              • @A Photo Editor, It still feels like a misalignment of perspectives. So his inconvenience of answering a few questions in a public place in the name of safety and security for possibly millions of people is his beef? This is what he has gone to great lengths to expose? How would this brain surgeon suggest this public transportation hub be kept safe? My guess is that this guy will also be the on in front of the crowd waving the picket sign criticizing the security folks after the train/bus is taken out by some explosive device. We are getting away from photography, and thats a different post. We are just trying to take a photo here, and the officer we we employ is trying to save lives, lets keep it in perspective and cut him a little slack in his thankless job.

                PS. I thought killing whales and dolphins was illegal ;)

      • @A Photo Editor,

        If I was lawfully taking pictures on public property, I think it would be in my best interest to answer an officer’s questions about what was doing. I’d be as polite, cooperative, and diplomatic about it as possible, even if what I was doing was perfectly legal.

        I think we can all learn from David’s experience:
        http://davidbram.blogspot.com/2008/02/questioned-by-fbi-and-police.html

        And as far as suspicion is concerned… Believe it or not, I have been pulled over while driving late a night without having violated any law. This has happened at least a few times. Each time, the officers admitted that I had not done anything wrong, but they just wanted to check me out to make sure that I wasn’t doing anything suspicious. Sometimes, they never know if unless they ask questions. I just see it as a part of their job.

    • @kevin halliburton,

      “Let me ask a question of the activist supporters. What would you do if you were the police officer here?”

      Simple, if I were a police officer, I would ask myself: “Is this person engaged in an illegal activity or do I have reason to believe that he is about to engage in such an activity immediately.”

      If the answer to those questions is no (as it was here) then the police officer should not have even approached the photographer.

      Also, your whole premise (photography is somehow logically related to potential terrorism) is just laughable. Pure fantasy. Nonsense. Make-believe. As the cop said “What, you don’t think that the bombers in London took pictures before planting their bombs?” They didn’t. That’s reality.

      Finally, anytime you take a picture of any road, any part of any road, any part of any bridge – you are taking a picture of infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people everyday take a picture of the “infrastructure” of the Golden Gate Bridge.

      • kevin halliburton

        @tde4, “if I were a police officer, I would ask myself: “Is this person engaged in an illegal activity or do I have reason to believe that he is about to engage in such an activity immediately.”

        If I’ve made any point worth considering here it’s that we don’t have the part of the video where the activist was trying to get the officer to ask and answer that question the way he wanted him to. The tape I saw actually starts rolling somewhere in the middle of this story.

      • @tde4, I don’t think any of us could really say what we’d do if we were a cop, because our training and background would give us a different perspective on the issue.

        • @Tim,

          Then why ask what we would do in that situation if we were the cop?

          And, by the way, my father was a police officer for 30 years (rising to Chief) in a mid-sized city. I did countless ride-alongs when I was growing up, took the civil service, physical requirements test, and some of the training before deciding it wasn’t for me. So, no, I was never a sworn officer.

    • @kevin halliburton,

      “Let me ask a question of the activist supporters. What would you do if you were the police officer here? You see a guy acting abnormally from the typical subway passenger, and he appears to be taking pictures of the infrastructure of the subway? You have no idea why he is taking the pictures and when you ask him he immediately starts acting defensive and refusing to cooperate. Now you are doubly suspicious.”

      First, I’d know the law regarding imaging the asset I was protecting.

      Second, I’d realize 3.4 million photos of said asset are available on Google images.

      Third, I’d recognize that most people are not terrorists, statistically speaking. We’re talking 99.99% of people are not terrorists in the USA.

      Fourth, I’d recognize that I have limited capacity to perform an investigation independent of the intelligence community.

      As to what I would do? If I felt someone was being suspicious, given all that, I’d ask in a friendly tone, “Hi sir, can you get one of me posing near the turnstiles?” If the guy flipped his wig, I’d ask him in a friendly tone, “Well, can I get your card? You’re working for an agency? You a student?” If he flipped his wig a bit more, I’d say, “Sir, would you mind stepping into my office for a few minutes. I’d like to ask you a few questions.” If the suspect refused, I’d detain him under whatever legal power was appropriate.

      Everybody talks about how cops have to be aggressive. No, angry monkey’s have to be aggressive. Intelligent people can get what they want and be nice at the same time. 99.99% of people are not terrorists. Being a dick just means you’re wrong 99.99% of the time.

      • @Justice-Stress,

        By the way by “detain him under whatever legal power was appropriate,” I’m assuming there is some Federal law that authorizes the police to detain someone under suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities. If not, no detention.

        I’m using the “wigging out” of the suspect as an index of the likelihood of his involvement in illegal activities. I’m assuming the index is valid if the officer begins in a friendly way, and then slowly rachets up the pressure. Start with accusations and a threatening demeanor, and your measure is warped.

      • Kevin Halliburton

        @Justice-Stress, It’s a proven fact that 99.99% of all statistics quoted on the internet are made up on the spot. :-)

        On a serious note, you put a lot of work into some very thoughtful responses which helped me think about this issue from other angles. Thank you.

      • @Justice-Stress, “We’re talking 99.99% of people are not terrorists in the USA.”

        That leaves c30,000 terrorists out there.

  28. kevin halliburton

    Let me throw out a few names here:
    Unibomber
    McVey
    Freeway Sniper…

    Should I go on or is it clear that not every activist concerned about protecting the freedom of American’s from the authorities should be regarded as a hero?

    Think about it… Are all of you certain that this anti-government activist isn’t on his way to earning himself a spot on the TLO list? I hope he does come under some increased scrutiny over this type of behavior, don’t you?

    “Excuse me Mr. Mcvey, why are you buying all of that fertilizer?” “Because I can… it’s not illegal.” Yea, man I wish that guy had met a cop somewhere along that road that would have inconvenienced him a little with some questions about his perfectly legal activity.

  29. kevin halliburton

    A child in your neighborhood gets raped. There is a middle aged guy with no children taking pictures of your daughter on the public playground. Should he be questioned?

    Your neighbor’s house just got robbed. There is a guy driving around in your neighborhood taking pictures of your house from his car. Should he be questioned?

    I’m saying taking certain pictures, in certain places, after certain events warrants a question. Getting defensive and evasive when asked those questions warrants harder questions. At some point it might even warrant arrest.

    Questioning legal activity. The metaphor was on topic.

    • @kevin halliburton,

      “There is a middle aged guy with no children taking pictures of your daughter on the public playground. Should he be questioned?”

      Hmm, the last actual “child rape” I heard about was a woman in California who raped and killed a neighbor child. So if you are going to question folks for taking pictures of children, be sure and question the women, too.

      “Your neighbor’s house just got robbed. There is a guy driving around in your neighborhood taking pictures of your house from his car. Should he be questioned?”

      This is the sort of thinking that leads to banning breastmilk on planes.

      • kevin halliburton

        @tde4, I think all female rapists should have their breast milk banned. Wait a minute… what were we talking about again? Oh yea, fertilizer… It’s getting deep enough for an explosive conversation in here isn’t it? :-)

    • @kevin halliburton, I’ve had some really shitty newspaper assignments. One was having to sit outside a doctor’s house who had been charged with some types of malpractice violations. I was suppose to capture some images of him as he went to work that morning.

      I sat for several hours and he never came out. Around 8 a.m., a neighbor walking his dog approached me and said that I was making some of the neighbors nervous. I politely explained my reason for being there because I understood his position. Some guy’s been parked out on the street for several hours, maybe he’s planning something. As a homeowner, I would’ve done the same thing.

      Bottom line: just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you have to be a jackass about it.

    • @kevin halliburton,

      “A child in your neighborhood gets raped. There is a middle aged guy with no children taking pictures of your daughter on the public playground. Should he be questioned?”

      This one is easy. Your example links a known event (the crime) to a second known event (the photography). The first event causes the second event to be suspicious, and reasonably so if the two events took place in the same area.

      But the case with the video is different. There is no known event by which the second event becomes reasonably suspicious. There is nothing that links the photographer to any crime except the expectation that terrorists must use photographs to plan their crimes.

      The basic difference is this. The first is investigation of a past crime, the second is prediction of future crime.

      In the first case, suspicion is based on direct relevance to *past* events (an inference of sexual attraction to children, the relevance of gender, the proximity to the crime). In the second case, suspicion is based EITHER on *future* events that have not happened and may never happen, OR else on events for which the person is not a suspect.

      You will note the officer did not ask any questions like, “Where were you on such and such a date?” i.e. the photographer was not suspected of aiding any particular known terrorist plot.

      General suspicion replaces investigative knowledge because there are no hard facts to investigate. The aim of the DHS databases is to draw out data that reliably predicts terrorist and criminal activities. Under such a system, it would be unnecessary to be suspicious. The data would provide factual indicators, which could then be followed up by IRL police work. Whether you agree or disagree with that aim (I oppose it), we can all recognize this predictive power is not available to the cop on the street.

  30. Hahahaha.
    I love the idea that “Al Qaeda would love to buy your pictures”.
    Add “Al Qaeda” to the client list!

    Actually, all parties involved were being douchey and/or stupid.

    If the officer had just said “I find what you are doing suspicious for X, Y, Z reasons, and I have the right and obligation to detain you to ascertain whether my suspicion is founded or not, and additionally, I find your answer evasive and confrontational” then it would have been a lot more cut-and-dry case of photographer douchiness.

    This “photo rights activist” is an idiot. He’s not advocating for photographer rights, but is obviously provoking a cop with a confrontational and evasive response. If he had politely explained what he was doing and why, until the cop’s suspicious were eased, then explained to him that, although he doesn’t want to tell Mr. Cop how to do his job, photography is legally allowed and even have a copy of the statute on hand, then it might do everybody some good.

    The “suspicious activity” here isn’t the photography – it’s the douchebag attitude towards a cop just trying to do his job.

  31. Surely the question is, who is to judge whether a photograph of ‘the tracks’ is not a beautiful photograph of the decor? The problem with the Officer’s argument is that in his point of view, it’s ok to photograph the ‘ beautiful decor’ but not ‘ the tracks’ as he sees that as planning for a terrorist attack. hence why he wanted to see the images. But say he did see the images, and this photographer found a beauty in something that the officer sees as a threat. I know i often find beauty in the strangest things, and now the law gets to be my judge for whether it is or isn’t art? That’s the problem.

    • @rob g,

      This police officer was paranoid about the tracks, but not paranoid about other features of the metro.

      The problem for all of us is that we have no idea which bit of information in a photograph is going to be relevant to a terrorist. Granted, a photo of a blank wall will probably not be useful, but add more features and things get complicated, along the lines of the three-body problem.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-body_problem

      Not only can the photographer not know, the police officer cannot know. Nor can Al-Qaida. There is probably a photograph on Google right now that, if the operatives had only seen it in time, would have resulted in a successful attack.

      Working around security to destroy things is like inventing something new. A smart mind will see into a set of circumstances a possibility that others do not see. We cannot rely on our present knowledge to predict future behavior (or future inventions).

      In place of knowledge, we get general suspicion. If our inferences are wrong a sufficient percentage of the time, police work will become inefficient and intrusive, leading to civil disillusionment with authorities, leading to… more suspicion and intrusive policing?

  32. I think everyone is a little over emotional about this, if you objectively analyze the video, the “photographer” created the situation by not “answering” the first question when it was asked. He provokes the deputy. The deputy is being a “wanker” because he makes a statement that goes beyond his knowledge.

    What if the Deputy said “I want to make sure you understand the rules of shooting photos down here in the subway”

    There is no doubt that the whole situation could have been handled differently. I think “Rob” is right in providing some information that can prove very useful to photographers (Professional or amateur).

    I have shot photos of Downtown LA and all of the wonderful locations, buildings, tunnels during the daytime and night. In all of the times that I had been shooting, I have been approached once. I was told to be careful “and not get hit by a car” because I had a tripod setup in the middle of the street near the Disney theater, at the end of an event with lots of people exiting the building.

    Also common sense tells me that if a terrorist wants to shoot pictures of a target he is not going to use a large camera, too much attention is drawn to you, thus the discussion above.

    Based on the many repetitive years of anti-terrorism training during my career in the military, the activist got “Exactly what he wanted” with minimal effort. I am more than happy to not be an “Activist” and be an American and a patriot. I believe in our rights as “photographers” and a behavior that supports our rights. Don’t go out and act in a way that brings a negative light onto having a camera.

    I think this is a great way to learn how to be a professional and not an “amateur” as someone else stated. Freelance or not. You don’t need to act like an “Arse” because photographers are professionals not activists.

    Last words and you can say what you want, a professional educates people in the profession he belongs to! Clearly the activist is not a professional otherwise, yes it is inconvenient, he would have taken a few minutes to educate. A professional is proactive going into a sensitive area to shoot some photo and let people know hey I am here to shoot some photos, any problems or questions here is my card, thanks, and have a nice day.

    I lied, I liked quotes thrown out there made by some great men. As far as a TLO, based on the behavior of a lot of people in the world today, Bin Laden did his job as a terrorist. Look of the definition. For all we know everyone who has bought a camera since 9-11-01 is on the TLO. You don’t know, that is the funny thing.

    • @Ed Hamlin: “professional educates people in the profession he belongs to!”

      Would you say the officer was being a professional by this definition? I disagree that an objective viewing shows the photographer creating the situation. The situation was clearly created and instigated by the officer with a false assertion of the rules and attempt to prevent the photographer from acting freely within the bounds of the law. Go back and watch the first few seconds. They start with, “Sir, you can’t…” Not with, “I’d like to ask some questions” or “I’m curious what you are doing.” Right away the officer is wrong and is trying to wrongly apply a non-existant rule. THAT is what is creating this situation.

      • @Mark M, We can juxtapose a lot. There is only video of the incident. If it was done in a documentry expose style with video leading up to the actual incident, I think a better judgemtn could be made. We don’t know what was happen just prior to other than this guy had to do something to bring his activity into question. Neither was right, so why say one is right more than the other.

        • @Ed Hamlin, a 25 minute video is on the photographer’s blog. http://www.discarted.com

          He was riding the Metro home from Hollywood/Highland, one of the major tourist/shopping spots in Hollywood (directly above a Metro station), which must have been an amazing photo op on Halloween, even the Metro employees were wearing costumes.

          He wasn’t planning a confrontation, he wears a clip on Vievu camera in plain sight and lets it run while doing street photography. He got off at the Hollywood/Western station because he lives a few blocks away. He was EXITING the station and the video shows he raised his camera and snapped 2 photos of the newly installed turnstiles (a topic of interest/debate in LA right now) all wrapped up in caution tape, when the deputies came from somewhere behind him and shouted no photography was allowed. He didn’t see them prior to that.

          Missing from the shorter video is Shawn explaining he shoots a photos for an eventual book (which he also explains is why he shoots film). I suppose some people will criticize him for not blurting that out at the beginning as an explanation for taking the shots, but I think the point was that he was doing something legal and allowed by Metro rules and short any other behavior that might be deemed suspicious or criminal, he shouldn’t have to justify his photography, especially to an officer who is basically stating he has no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and wants to go on a fishing trip to find some.

    • @Ed Hamlin,

      I agree with the general tendency towards more civil attitudes and professional behavior. I believe police officers have a responsibility to start things on the right foot since most of the time they initiate contact.

      “I lied, I liked quotes thrown out there made by some great men. As far as a TLO, based on the behavior of a lot of people in the world today, Bin Laden did his job as a terrorist. Look of the definition. For all we know everyone who has bought a camera since 9-11-01 is on the TLO. You don’t know, that is the funny thing.”

      Uhm, you lied about what?

      “Also common sense tells me that if a terrorist wants to shoot pictures of a target he is not going to use a large camera, too much attention is drawn to you, thus the discussion above.”

      The world is becoming saturated with imaging. Everyone has a cell phone camera. Most of the new ones do video Cameras are getting smaller and cheaper. They can be hidden easily.

      http://www.advanced-intelligence.com/vid044.jpg

      • @Justice-Stress, You know, this can get pulled apart and we have wasted a lot of time. Get this link, get that link, say this and that and nothing is really accomplished except for a momentary releif of frustration. So beit.

        The lesson is in the story of be civil.

        If it doesn’t work then by all rights foul can be hollered until the pariots take up arms in defense of liberty.

    • @Ed Hamlin, Thank you for adding some well written common sense. This is quite a post. The officer could have improved his approach here or there certainly. But maybe we could cut this cop a little slack and just act a little human here. (This cop has to deal with the lowest common denominator on a constant basis – including this guy posing as a “photographer”) This guy is not helping anyone else holding a camera one bit.

      • @Sirfenn, If I remember right the Hollywood and western station is so so place. I think I am going to go shoot some pictures and see what happens. I mean if you can’t use some common sense and courtesy, you get what you deserve.

  33. I get the feeling the photographers on this site do not know the world they are living in. They continue to see photography in terms of a discrete activity, one which can be controlled.

    The truth is, the world is becoming saturated with imaging. The imaging is continuous, not discrete. Everyone has a cell phone camera. Most of the new ones do video. Cameras are getting smaller and cheaper. They can be hidden easily.

    http://www.advanced-intelligence.com/vid044.jpg

    Technology is pushing towards an era of cameras everywhere, all the time.

    One of the functions of painting prior to photography was to record people, places, and events, the forms of which would otherwise fade from memory. Photography displaced this because it was so much better at rendering a likeness, and easier too, as time went on.

    Now ubiquitous photography is changing the nature of photography itself. Taking a photo is no longer an event of memory, a creative act. The ubiquitous camera records all things, all the time. Our harddrives and the Internet bulges with the record of all things, important and unimportant.

    This makes us more vulnerable, as the incidental element (the location of a trash can) finds its way into an image, upon which an attack may be based. And it makes it increasingly difficult to defend ourselves, because photography, essentially, is out of control.

    Just pass a law making it illegal to take a picture in the metro. See if it can be reliably enforced.

    In case you have any doubts, do you think child pornography is not available right now, a few mouse clicks away from you? This is imaging is deemed illegal throughout the world, with special task forces technologically armed to remove it from the net. Yet the efforts fail. Why? Because we live in a new world, with a webcam in every bedroom.

    In case you missed it, I found the Al Qaida photography repository for the LA Metro system. 3.4 million images!

    http://images.google.ca/images?hl=en&safe=off&um=1&sa=1&q=los+angeles+metro&btnG=Search+images&aq=f&oq=&start=0&imgtbs=ct&imgtype=photo&imgc=color

  34. It would be interesting to conduct the experiment again but this time with a muslim photographer and let’s see how far the rights of a photographer defence gets him .

  35. Hank Reardon

    Okay, I’ll weigh in here, although my better sense tells me to stay out of it. My background: 22 years as a military police officer, 3 years as a state police officer, and 25+ years as an amateur photographer. The issue here has less to do with photography and more to do with how to assert your rights in any area where you are likely to encounter the police.

    First, I don’t know if the London bombings were preceded by photographic surveillance, but I will tell you from 20 years’ experience that most terrorist actions are preceded by careful intelligence gathering and surveillance, and photography is part of that process. Photos are available on web sites of many public venues, but most often they do not show the aspects of the target I would need to effectively plan the approach, operation, escape routes, etc. The surveillance is not conducted by the operators, and so must be comprehensive. It would not be gathered all at once, but over a period of time to avoid suspicion. I don’t know where you are getting your information, tde4, but it’s wrong. Every police officer on duty since 9/11 has been trained on this, and whether he knows what he is looking for or not, is looking for it. I was stopped myself by a London police officer while I was taking a picture of Buckingham Palace. Granted, I was not taking the usual tourist shot, but I was on public property taking a picture of a public monument. I was within my rights to tell the officer where to get off. But I was cooperative, explained what I was doing, and within a minute was on my way to my next photographic target. What’s worth more to you, getting the photo or making a point? If you are a pro, I’m sure your client will understand when you explain that you educated a police officer on the laws of public photography at the expense of the shots the client was paying you to get.

    A police officer may detain someone if he has a suspicion that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime. The detention must articulable (able to be explained to a judge) and be for only that length of time necessary to determine whether a crime has happened or was about to take place. The officer may use restraints (handcuffs) for the safety of the detainee and the officer. If it gets to this point, in my opinion, you’ve lost the encounter.

    The ‘activist’ probably committed a crime by failure to identify himself when requested by the officer (I’m not familiar with CA or LA law, but many jurisdictions, particularly in a public transit facility, make it a misdemeanor to fail to identify oneself to a law enforcement officer).

    The deputy stretched the truth somewhat, but here’s a tidbit that may help you: an officer may lie to a detainee or suspect to elicit information. Sucks, don’t it? Was it ignorance or trying to get to the bottom of the matter quickly? It sounded to me like he was adlibbing to resolve the situation. I don’t know what the Metro rules are, and probably neither do you. All you know is what the self-serving ‘activist’ put on the video.

    The ‘activist’ sounded like he was picking a fight. He answered every question with a question or some lame assertion that his activity was legal. Want to know how many people I put in jail who asserted what they were doing was legal? Most of them. How many of the arrested were exonerated by the judge because what they were doing was legal? None of them.

    It’s easy to pick on the cops. They are expected to have the knowledge and experience of lawyers, public works inspectors, marriage counselors, professional drivers, professional wrestlers, expert marksmen, typists, computer systems operators, para-emergency medical technicians, and a host of other skills. They are expected to be able to run a high-speed chase during morning rush hour traffic, jump out of a rolling car and chase a suspect on foot for blocks, tackle and wrestle a suspect’s arms behind his back to apply handcuffs, and immediately lose his adrenaline enough to not to forget to call the a$$hole “sir”. His decisions that are made in a second will be analyzed by doctors of jurisprudence for weeks or years. And he is expected to do all this for less than the average librarian makes. You want perfection? You can’t afford it.

    So, as the only sworn officer on this thread, here’s my advice. Know your rights. Know that generally you can shoot any public place from public property. Just about every property has rules concerning photography on the property. Know those rules. It helps to have a copy. If approached by the police, understand they have a job to do, generally they don’t want to waste time on a photographer, and if you explain politely what it is you are doing, you will be on your way in a minute or two. Offer to take a shot of the officer and his partner. Get their email addresses. You may make a friend.

    • Kevin Halliburton

      @Hank Reardon, Thank you! Not just for this post but for all of the experience behind it.

    • @Hank Reardon,
      I appreciate the information. Thanks. The part about being able to lie to elicit information is a real eye opener and so is the fact that law enforcement is on the look out for people taking pictures at angles not already available on flickr or the company website. So, I think you’re saying that taking pictures in a certain manner has been proven to indicate a crime is about to be committed.

  36. We live in a time where acts that were once considered harmless and innocent, such as photographing children at play, are now judged by some to be prurient and perverted. The same is true now for shooting pictures in certain public locations.

    Photographing people in public has been part of the photographer’s arsenal for over 125 years. The “terrorism” bug that has been up this nation’s ass since 9/11 has provided an excuse to employ thousands of security badge wearing goons to enforce a sense of security in every location from public libraries to train stations. Most of these very bored officers have nothing to do all day, and they seem to relish the excitement of exerting their authority and making innocent people feel powerless. In the end, nobody is actually any safer, and our civil liberties and right to freely roam and create pictures is hampered and harassed.

    In reality, photography is one of the best ways to defuse terror because it opens up understanding and communications between people all over the world. Flickr is where the Israeli photographer befriends the Pakistani photographer. Photography only puts fear at risk.

  37. The problem, as I see it, is on three levels:

    1) Cops makeup the law as they go… And they just can’t stand it when the actual law doesn’t support their inquiry.
    Basically, if it’s legal to stand some place it’s legal to take pictures. The military and department of energy have made it illegal to stand some places around their playfrounds.

    2) The pseudo government agencies (transit, parks, highway departments) have made it “illegal” by administrative code (not statute) to be in a transit station (that taxpayers paid for) without having a paid for a ticket to ride. So if you buy a ticket it’s legal to stand in a train station. (Marginal constitutional violation here… putting a quid pro quo on your first amendment rights.) Once it’s legal to stand there it’s legal to photograph…

    Same thing with the idea that you have to have “permits” to engage in constitutionally protected activities.

    3) Creating “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” out of thin air when the observed activity is inherently NOT illegal. This is called “jumping to conclusions” and police are trained to NOT do this…. But they do it all the time. I don’t know what the solution to this is because a “gut feeling” can payoff a lot of times in nabbing a real criminal…. But they are NOT supposed to do this.

    Additionally, cops are not the finders of fact. Even if the photos were for a terrorist group that is not within the police department’s ability to determine. Nor is it their legal right to inquire. Since the underlying activity is NOT illegal the case can never go to court which IS the proper place to find fact.

  38. Dudes, the problem here is the loss of presumption of innocence, a fundamental tenet of our law. At issue is not who was a douche, but the fact the officer felt that taking a couple of photos was suspicious to begin with. The asshatery on the part of both parties is irrelevant–the atmosphere that led to it to begin with is the problem.

  39. I’m all for the rights of photographers, not cooperating with officials and providing ID is really stupid.

    seems like the police were well within their power to demand ID and ask questions. they didn’t arrest him or stop him from taking photos, did they? nope. they just asked a few questions.

    yes, they weren’t 100% professional, and they didn’t have 100% information, but that’s the way the world works.

    next time, the photographer should have a handout on the subway rules.

  40. I’m all for the rights of photographers, not cooperating with officials and providing ID is a bit stupid.

    seems like the police were well within their power to demand ID and ask questions. they didn’t arrest him.

    the photographer got all hung up about being detained and the request for ID, and he should have just handed them a printout on the subway’s rules.

    yes, they weren’t 100% professional with the FBI references, nd they didn’t have 100% information, but that’s the way the world works.

    no reason to pick a fight.

  41. C’mon, If the photographer’s first response was “hi, my name is ____ and I’m taking photos for project X which I’m working on” none of this would have happened.

    Lack of civility doesn’t further anyone’s agenda, and certainly not that of the photographic community at large. How many times does the officer say “I’m trying to determine if you are committing a crime”. Poorly worded yes, but a big difference from saying “you are committing a crime”.

    There definitely are times when a photographer is unjustly prevented from taking photos. This isn’t one of them.

    Rosa Parks? Oh please! The officer here was simply investigating what was going on, which is exactly what he is charged with doing. He even said ‘if you would simply explain that you like the mosaics… everyone would simply go on doing what they were doing’ (paraphrased).

    Personal note: I was out on a country road at midnight in the winter. It was drizzling and foggy and I felt it was a great opportunity to make a photograph of the general store. Naturally the only cop in town pulls up just as I’m about to make an exposure. As his window goes down I say “just another crazy photographer shooting pictures in the dark, freezing his ass off”. He breaks out laughing, waves and drives away.

  42. I don’t agree with introducing yourself and providing a project name and a rational or “client” behind the photo.

    In Seattle the first thing that might get you is a $150 fine for not having a permit to make commercial photos in a park or on a street.

    It is perfectly legal to make pictures for yourself for no money almost any place you can think of. There is no need for justification.

    In Washington you do not have to provide ID for any reason other than you are operating a motor vehicle. Not true in other states as per state law.

    Recently, because Seattle police have lost every battle that has gone to the courts over restricting photography they went through a little retraining. I suppose this happened because the city got tired of paying out tens of thousands of dollars in awards.

    The training says you can expect to be photographed doing your job any time. any place. And to leave photographers alone.

    • @mike penney,
      By project I didn’t mean to imply commercial, I do understand that permits are necessary for commercial work.

      I agree that you don’t have to explain what you’re doing. My point is that a simple and polite response might not be required by law, but it is by manners. The officer seemed respectful enough (to me) at the onset. If he’d led off by being a prick my response would be quite different.

      It’s legal for me to take a photo of your house. If you came out and asked me why I was doing so it would seem reasonable for me to give you some assurance that I was not up to no good. Although I have my rights, giving you a little peace of mind costs me nothing, so what the hell. There is a legal issue here to be sure, but there is also an issue of manners. It’s best not to loose sight of either.

  43. My stepfather was a cop for 30 years, a Field Training Officer, and a leader on the SWAT team. I happen to be on vacation visiting the folks, and showed this video to him. His reaction was one of disgust, as well as embarrassment. He also said the same thing that someone else said above. That is: “Go to Google and search for images of the LA Metro system. Guaranteed there are more images than one would know what to do with. Why would AQ need to buy images from this guy?” I also noticed a certain level of disgust on his face when the officer started threatening to blacklist his name with the FBI. When I asked my stepfather if he would have used these tactics he said, “Use these tactics? I wouldn’t have even bothered with this guy, much less threatened him with FBI lists. I had real work to do in regards to domestic violence and other violent crimes that actually affected people.”

    Our rights have disintegrated in more ways than just taking pictures. We are helpless in today’s society. We are lied to by government officials on a constant in order to help progress their cause, all the while surrendering the very foundation upon which this country was built: Freedom. We are not free– we are simply told we are. The most effective way of controlling a people is by leading them to believe they are free when they are not. Not to preach, but c’mon. This cop was digging for trouble just as much as the photographer. Let him learn his lesson.

  44. I am very discreet in sensitive areas. I have a smartphone to take some photos with and I can always say the phone is new to me and I pressed the wrong button. I get tired of the people on the beach or the homeless demanding money when I take a general crowd photo. That is a practice that was curtailed in Hollywood recently with the people in costumes. I think the press pass brings too much attention to my activities. I do my best to “fly under the radar” and still get the artistic shot that I want.