Photographing Airports

Patrick Smith, a former pilot, writes about his experiences—involving the police—taking pictures in airports:

He makes sure to remind me, just as his colleague in New Hampshire
had done, that next time I’d benefit from advance permission, and that “we live in a different world now.” Not to put undue weight on the cheap prose of patriotic convenience, but few things are more repellant than that oft- repeated catchphrase. There’s something so pathetically submissive about it—a sound bite of such defeat and capitulation. It’s also untrue; indeed we find ourselves in an altered way of life, though not for the reasons our protectors would have us think. We weren’t forced into this by terrorists, we’ve chosen it. When it comes to flying, we tend to hold the events of Sept. 11 as the be-all and end-all of air crimes, conveniently purging our memories of several decades’ worth of bombings and hijackings. The threats and challenges faced by airports aren’t terribly different from what they’ve always been. What’s different, or “too bad,” to quote the New Hampshire deputy, is our paranoid, overzealous reaction to those threats, and our amped-up obeisance to authority.

Posted on February 22, 2006 at 2:09 PM26 Comments


Lou the troll February 22, 2006 3:07 PM

“…we’ve chosen it…”

Which unforunately gives victory to the terrorists. Grrrr…

Lou the troll

Alun Jones February 22, 2006 3:08 PM

In the world of information security, this would be described as security by obscurity – trying to turn the public (publicly visible and viewable areas of an airport) into the private (no, you can’t take pictures).

To quote Rocky, “that trick never works”.

You have to design your security process to include the concept that anything not private is completely public.

There is no in-between ground, because anything that the public have access to can be recorded by the public, whether you try to prevent photographs or not.

meh. February 22, 2006 3:10 PM

We might as well publicly burn the Constitution.

The terrorists have won, and we’ve done most of their work for them.

Stephen February 22, 2006 3:38 PM

Heck, I went out and bought a camera with a nice big lens after hearing about all this nonsense of strong-arming photographers taking pictures of public structures, just so I could challenge the perception that it’s somehow wrong. I have no real need to, apart for an amateur interest in architecture, but I felt the encroaching paranoia was forcing an “exercise your rights or lose them” situation.

Nathan Jones February 22, 2006 7:38 PM

Further to the article linked by Rob Mayfield, that’s not the only way in which Australians have gone overboard on photography paranoia. There’s this policy from Melbourne’s railway operator, Connex:

No photography at major stations; restrictive permits available for other stations, provided you agree to 18 conditions. My favourite:

“As you may be standing on the platform for some time and in locations where passengers do not usually stop, please do not wear items of clothing that are predominantly red, orange or green. Wearing of clothing in these colours may confuse approaching rail traffic crews with regard to signal aspects.”

The FAQ section titled “How is security at your stations enhanced by these regulations?” completely fails to demonstrate how security will be noticeably improved.

If you don’t want people to take photos on your private property (train stations) for reasons of privacy, corporate interests, or stupidity, then say so – don’t hide behind a lame security argument.

John Moore February 22, 2006 11:18 PM

How do societies rule us, Bruce? By fear. We fear being punished by the criminal justice system. Laws are generally meant for the greater good of the whole rather than the individual. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by the Romans because he had no fear of punishment. Since he didn’t fear death, the authorities had no power over him. Consequently, he was put to death as an example to others who challenged Roman authority. The extremists generally don’t fear death, so most of society’s deterrents and punishments will be ineffective against them. The only fear they have is fear of failure. Most of the current batch of laws hurt us more than they hurt the terrorists. Flight 93 showed everyone the answer to the hijackings. As you point out, we have only ourselves to blame.

Rich February 22, 2006 11:53 PM

I wonder when it will be against the rules to remember what the inside of the terminal looks like. Or maybe it will just be against the rules to tell anyone else.

I wonder what the blue suit reaction would be to a flash mob of a hundred kids with kodaks.

Rob Mayfield February 23, 2006 1:20 AM

@Nathan Jones – thats absolutely priceless – what else can you say? I could have sworn it was April 1, but no apparently not, its still February …

I can see a niche market in melbourne for train signal costumes 😉

There doesnt appear to be any restriction placed on taking photos from within a train, but I might have been laughing too much to notice …

Anonymous February 23, 2006 2:24 AM

I’m sure they’re just worried that the photographer is violating the copyright of the architect. Anyone remember The Bean?

Arturo Quirantes February 23, 2006 2:42 AM

He makes sure to remind me, just as his colleague in New Hampshire had done, … that “we live in a different world now.”

Reminds me of a cartoon by David Horsey I read around Dec 2002. Two people are depicted: one is an American, and the other is foreign. The dialoge was:

(American): “The world sure has changed since 9/11!”

(Foreigner): “Actually, it’s the same bad old world. You’ve just being forced to pay attention.”

Ed T. February 23, 2006 6:17 AM

@Rob Mayfield,

I think the following quote (from the article) pretty much says it all:

“We currently have thousands of cameras set up to watch citizens, but if citizens themselves take photos, the authorities take that as some sort of risk.”


Anonymous February 23, 2006 10:40 AM

I think for a lot of people who have grew up in European countries, 9/11 has a rather different significance. The scale and location were out of the ordinary but if you grew up in France, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy, or Germany during the 1970s and 1980s, mass murder of innocents was not a new activity. Terrorist bombings and shootings were part of the background growing up in the UK. I was in Lockerbie dropping a friend off at the train station a few hours before Pan Am 103 came down. One of my family, who worked for one of the emergeny services, got called out that night and got to see the whole ugly thing up close. It didn’t make for a great Christmas but none of us thought, “this changes everything”. No one was that surprised. The same thing had happened a few years earlier to another London flight. It’s hard not to find American reaction rather extreme. And the irony of the “war on terrorism” is just too much. Where do you think all the bloody money came from to fund the Provos? Not only were Americans ignoring terrorism in other countries; they’d actively funded and supported it for decades.

Thomas Sprinkmeier February 23, 2006 2:50 PM


The Americans were funding (and training) ‘freedom fighters’.
The “war on terror^W^W^Wlong war” is against terrorists.

zippo February 24, 2006 3:00 AM

“The Americans were funding (and training) ‘freedom fighters’. ”

@Thomas Sprinkmeier

Is this irony or am I giving you too much credit?

Anonymous February 24, 2006 9:43 AM

Yes, America has a remarkable track record of funding and training ‘freedom fighters’ in various places. Some day someone will figure out that what goes around, comes around.

Matt February 24, 2006 8:33 PM

“we live in a different world now.”

The British government seem to be using that line on an almost weekly basis at the moment what with new Terror legislation being voted upon and the Identity Card bill being batted back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Yes I believe ‘we live in a different world now’ it’s one where the British are far safer from the threat of being bombed than they were in the 70s and 80s when the IRA were at the height of their terror campaigns.

Stiennon February 24, 2006 9:43 PM

Tip for photographing anything without suspicion: Have a friend stand within the field of view. It looks completely innocuous compared to snapping shots of TSA procedures.

AC February 27, 2006 10:04 PM

While on the subject of security and photography it’s amazing one (and I have) can take photos throughout the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek for personal use as long as you don’t use a tripod or a flash. You can take pictures in most of the Louvre except for the high traffic area. I can’t find a policy statement on their web site I have personally taken non-flash photos in the rijksmuseum.

BUT you cannot even carry a camera into the exhibition areas of the Figge Art Museum for security reason. Go figure.

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