We're All a Little Nervous in a Post-1748 World

In 1748, the painter William Hogarth was arrested as a spy for sketching fortifications at Calais.

Sound familiar, doesn't it?

Posted on June 20, 2007 at 6:53 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

PeterJune 20, 2007 8:14 AM

As the industrialised world has notionally become more open and classless, at least on the surface, the land owning gentry (in the US and the UK certainly) need to position themselves to assert their authority and ownership. What better way than ensuring that those who go about any activities that may take advantage of nominally public vistas and landscapes, including buildings, bridges, power stations and the like, are treated as criminals ?

That'll fix the problem. And it looks great on the fighting-terrorism stats the DFS produce. (F = Fatherland).

MikeJune 20, 2007 8:43 AM

Familiar, yes. Draw comparisons ... hmmmm.

Peter - what are you going on about?

PeterJune 20, 2007 9:12 AM

@Mike: I am referring to the increase in "security" being used as a way of differentiating between the priviledged and the rest of us. I was pleatantly suprised to see the story of the ex-Secret Service agent being denied special treatment in that other article.

AnonymousJune 20, 2007 9:19 AM

1. Physical security is another name for authority in the hands of idiots and sadists.

2. Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

Carlo GrazianiJune 20, 2007 9:19 AM

Well, the French were just soft. Imagine, they allowed terrorist apologists such as Voltaire, Diderot, and Montesquieu to publish their propaganda, instead of packing them off to a Caribbean penal colony. Thank goodness we've learned how to deal with such menaces nowadays.

AnonymousJune 20, 2007 9:48 AM

Baden-Powell's embedding of military drawings within, eg, butterfly sketches, (see http://pinetreeweb.com/bp-adventure02.htm ) suggests that security often won't be able to figure out ab initio which drawings are actually containing secret information, highlighting that reconaissance people aren't necessarily stupid even if we're on guard because we're "nervous".

NickoJune 20, 2007 10:20 AM

Interestingly, not only does the Chicago Transit Authority's "L" web site mentions explicitly that personal photography is permitted, it also discusses the security issue:

"Please also realize that, as a result of the current state of security in major American cities (as this is being written in March 2003) as well as the national security alert level, police and transit personnel may be more or less concerned about photography at different times. Please be patient and understanding in these matters."

It doesn't make any mention of the Police also needing to be patient and understanding, but it is great that they have a clear, published policy.

http://www.chicago-l.org/FAQ.html#1.4

Another KevinJune 20, 2007 10:49 AM

@ Nicko

Hmm, the way I read the "be patient and understanding in such matters", and the earlier statement:

...simply say "okay" and walk away to take photos someplace else or to return another day.

is, "we don't have a law that says we can restrict photography, but if we do ask you to (and we will), you have to comply anyway."

But of course the threat of global terrorism means that we have to abandon the rule of law to protect our freedom.

sarcasmJune 20, 2007 11:29 AM

We're much more modern, now. If you were to paint a picture of the brooklyn bridge, you'd be safe due to artistic rights that allow you to basically do anything and call it art. However, photographing bridges these days is right out, because those photos can only be used for nefarious purposes.

visiting shopperJune 20, 2007 12:32 PM

I can't speak for all bridges, but you can photograph my Brooklyn Bridge.

René d'HerblayJune 20, 2007 2:05 PM

@carlo

The French were soft, or maybe transportation was too expensive then - Voltaire and Diderot both spent time in French prison for their writings. But the French let them out!

JohnJune 20, 2007 6:31 PM

I can't resist!

The British secret police, terrified by Napoleon and the French Revolution, spied on Wordsworth and Coleridge. The poets attracted unfavorable attention tramping around the Lake District where Wordsworth had his cottage.

Homeland protection gone silly has a long long history.

MikeJune 21, 2007 4:08 AM

@John - Wordsworth visited France, supported the Republican movement and was married to a French woman.

That's almost the 1940s equivilant of being married to a German and supporting Nazism.

He gave up on the Republican movement, but you could understand why they might take an interest.

So depending on your point of view, and whether you're willing to look at more information other than the 'secret police' spied on a poet, not silly at all.

bobJune 22, 2007 6:59 AM

In answer to your question: No, it does not sound familiar - once they realized he was innocuous they let him go. For the event to be truly recognizable he would have to be sentenced to 6 years in jail for interfering with a government official to cover their embarrassment.

bobJune 22, 2007 7:01 AM

...although the "boot your sketching skills to prove your pad & pancil are not a bomb" does look familiar.

bobJune 22, 2007 7:02 AM

...although the "boot your sketching skills to prove your pad & pencil are not a bomb" does look familiar. Oh and dont type in the dark.

Nemo IgnoutsJune 25, 2007 7:17 AM

I have to point out that the concern of the French authorities wasn't totally misplaced, as spies did sketch fortifications. This kind of thing went on into the 20th Century, when we had things like Baden-Powell's butterfly sketches, which were actually plans of forts.

It's interesting to note that the French authorities were, unlike so many of our authorities, able to figure out when someone wasn't a threat.

Far too many of the incidents like this in our time are insane overreactions, but it was much less of an overreaction in an era when there weren't anywhere near as many people traveling and very few of them were interested in forts.

Nowadays, when travel is common, nearly everyone traveling has a camera, many people click away for the heck of it, and a decent percentage of the population is interested in matters military for utterly innocous reasons ("it's cool, dude!") this kind of reaction is a bit less understandable.

NyhmJune 29, 2007 9:07 AM

Coincidentally, I happened to be vacationing in Calais, Maine (US), when this was posted. I took a scenic sunset picture of the US-to-Canadian bridge. Fortunately, the TSA didn't catch that at the airport.

ArticleJanuary 20, 2014 5:14 AM

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