Laurie Mann April 28, 2008 1:51 PM

I got yelled at by a security guard a few years back for taking photos of the PPG buildings in downtown Pittsburgh. These are really neat, Gothic glass towers (built nearly 30 years ago now). It’s OK to take pictures of them from far away, but not in the courtyard itself. Geesh.

David April 28, 2008 2:02 PM

“One of the things discussed in
the al-Qaeda manual is conducting
surveillance of your target,” added
Eric Jackson with the FBI’s Joint
Terrorism Task Force.
“That could mean looking at a
building to see how security is

Never mind photos… just LOOKING at a building may stir the cunning protectors of the security of the Father^H^H^H^H^H^HhomeLand into action!

Brandioch Conner April 28, 2008 2:25 PM

“Every arrest ticket written in 24 hours by each of those agencies will be reviewed to see if any of those people, even those with minor traffic charges, might have any connection to any possible terrorist activity lurking in the region,” Shular said.

That’s great! So all the terrorists need to do is to stay off the streets for those 24 hours …

Ummmm …. there may be a problem there.

Why isn’t that being done every day?

Oh, yeah. Security Theatre.

Snark April 28, 2008 2:41 PM

Well, we all know that Memphis is an absolute HOTBED of terrorist activity!

There are HORDES of foreign tourists at Graceland! And in the blues bars! And watching the march of the Peabody ducks!

rob April 28, 2008 2:56 PM

“But we do ask people to be on the lookout for that individual who comes into the group and talks a little bit radical.”

That would be the law enforcement plant looking to provoke someone into doing something illegal.

Mark April 28, 2008 2:56 PM

“”But we do ask people to be on the lookout for that individual who comes into the group and talks a little bit radical.””

I sounds like the use of adverbs may be already deemed radical.

“Allen also warned that possible terror suspects often set off business alarms to test security systems.”

This makes me wonder: how often? and how often compared to other reasons business alarms are set off?

Mark April 28, 2008 3:00 PM

“Allen also warned that possible terror suspects often set off business alarms to test security systems.”

And also: of those ‘possible terror suspect,’ what percentage are actual terror suspects, and of those what percentage are actual terrorists. It would be comical if it wasn’t so scary.

George Smiley April 28, 2008 3:03 PM

And phones. Since most phones now contain cameras we need to ban them. All of them.

HappySnapper April 28, 2008 3:11 PM

We interrupt this program with a special bulletin:
America is now under martial law.
All Constitutional rights have been suspended.
Stay in your homes.
Do not attempt to contact loved ones, insurance agents or attorneys.
Shut up.
Do not attempt to think or depression may occur.
Stay in your homes.
Curfew is at 7 PM sharp after work.
Anyone caught outside the gates of their subdivision sector after curfew will be shot.
Remain calm. Do not panic.
Your neighbourhood watch officer will be by to collect urine samples in the morning.
Anyone caught interfering with the collection of urine samples will be shot.
Stay in your homes, remain calm.
The number one enemy of progress is questions.
National security is more important than individual will.
All sports broadcasts will proceed as normal.
No more than two people may gather anywhere without permission.
Use only the drugs prescribed by your boss or supervisor.
Shut up! Be happy.
Obey all orders without question.
The comfort you’ve demanded is now mandatory.
Be happy.
At last everything is done for you.

-- "Shut Up, Be Happy", Jello Biafra

Anonymous April 28, 2008 3:20 PM

“But we do ask people to be on the lookout for that individual who comes into the group and talks a little bit radical.”

Wow. How little?

Roy April 28, 2008 4:03 PM

This is beyond security theater, this is just screwing around for laughs, but with real guns and real consequences — but not real for the perpetrators, only for the public.

If they had any worry about surveillance through filming, then they would take down every movie and TV film crew on location everywhere and shut down the business, just to be on the safe side.

Obviously there is too much money, including tax revenue, in keeping Hollywood taking pictures, so DHS is clearly lying through their teeth — while grinning. Shame on them.

Slick April 28, 2008 4:48 PM

And yet the Google Street View van will be free to cruise the streets photographing everything and everyone…

Valen April 28, 2008 4:50 PM

A comment on a quotation from the article:

Allen said environmental groups and animal rights groups may harbor terrorists, but Jackson said the FBI will not infringe on those groups’ First Amendment right to free speech.

This type of thinking can lead to some really scary programs. See COINTELPRO ( for a real world example.

Roxanne April 28, 2008 6:46 PM

“We will never do anything to interfere with anyone’s First Amendment rights,” Jackson said. “But we do ask people to be on the lookout for that individual who comes into the group and talks a little bit radical.”

It’s a classic case of “Ignore what comes before the “But.” Can he define ‘a little bit radical,’ please?

I wonder if they’ll import Grandmas from Russia next …. they have experience in this sort of thing….

Really, the US was jealous of all the stuff they couldn’t do but the KGB could. Now that the Cold War has officially ended, they’re rushing to catch up.

george April 28, 2008 6:50 PM

Then there was the fuel truck refilling the gas station on James Island, SC, spilling fuel onto the ground from the main hose. Took three photos, one of the tanker truck registration number, one of the license plate, and one of the spill. The driver was outraged, told him to back away from my vehicle, with my daughter and wife inside. Drove off. Sent photos to SC Department of Transportation (police), copy to Corp HQ of Tanker Company, copy to local tank fuel farm. Got replies back from state law enforcement that my activities were suspicious homeland security and state law enforcement could question me and arrest me for my activity. No concern for environmental laws being violated.

Stan April 28, 2008 7:06 PM

The best thing to do here is call the police -every- time you see someone with a camera. Every single time. No exceptions. TV new crew? Call it in. Teenagers with cell phone cameras? Call it in. Red light camera? Well, it’s a camera, best to call it in – what proof do you have that it wasn’t set up by a terrorist to monitor that intersection? Like the article says, it’s not your job to think, just call it in and let them sort it out.

Beta April 28, 2008 7:11 PM

“You may think a guy is just shooting pictures, but if you report it to us, we’ll send it on to the FBI and they may have four or five other reports of the same thing,”

I wonder what he meant (if anything) by “the same thing”.

And bonus points for use of the new meaning-free phrase “possible terror suspect”. I’ve noticed the (recent?) blurring of such terms, and– hey, here’s a little test you can try at home. Consider the following phrase: “INNOCENT SUSPECT”. Did it strike you as odd, like a contradiction in terms? If so then you are beginning to bellythink newspeak.

bzelbob April 28, 2008 7:14 PM

Why do we limit this to cameras?
What about sketchbooks, or eyeballs?

I think what is needed is a new government department….
The Department of Image Protection (DIP).

DIP would issue government registered and approved PERMITS to make images of any kind. Any unapproved images would be subject to immediate deletion.

Police and Federal stormtroopers, er…I mean agents, would break down downs in the middle of night looking for illegal photo albums and paintings of dogs playing poker.

People, we’ve got to close this gaping security hole now!

John Campbell April 28, 2008 7:37 PM


Ummmm… well, there is the idea of enforcing copyrights to the images of a building that are the property of the architectural firm, or, if the folks who bought the building bought the rights to its images, so, perhaps, the sedition implicit in pirating these copyrighted images will finally be dealt with.

One wonders why Disney allows people to photograph their parks, given the intellectual property rights they are desperate to hang on to.

Anonymous April 28, 2008 7:39 PM

We need to rebuild the camps in the deserts of the southwest (usa). Will need lots of space to lockup suspects.

Nim April 28, 2008 11:02 PM

Seems quite reasonable. A terrorist would want to take a good look at the target, photograph access roads and escape routes, etc. Of course, it would be a lot easier to sit at home in a cave in Pakistan and just look at images on Google Earth.

My God! There’s a camera in the sky? Call the cops…

C10 April 28, 2008 11:46 PM

I think they want to prevent a real security risk. A risk that does happen from time to time, and when it happen, it is might be on the news.

It is the risk of law enforcements or other public figures doing illegal things caught on the camera. I guess that they are fed up with it.

The problem is that this is a risk to them, but a safety measure to the public.

CorporateStatesOfAmerica April 28, 2008 11:47 PM


You see, these laws are only applied to individuals. They are to ensure that your corporate masters can continue to make huge profits off of your back. If any individual stands in the way of corporate profit, they should be arrested.

Andrew April 29, 2008 1:23 AM

Rest assured, if you choose to photograph Authority, be aware that Authority has already photographed you. A lot.

What is it with this ‘turn about isn’t fair play’ mentality in the law enforcement community? I am perfectly happy to have someone take my picture in the performance of my duties. I will take your picture, too. 🙂

D0R April 29, 2008 1:28 AM

“You may think a guy is just shooting
pictures, but if you report it to us, we’ll
send it on to the FBI and they may have
four or five other reports of the same thing,”

Er… Which same thing?
Other reports that the guy has been shooting pics all the day around? Very likely!

If you think all this is normal during the War on Terror (TM), then here’s a link to Al Qaeda intelligence website:

D0R April 29, 2008 1:34 AM

“That could mean looking at a building
to see how security is established.”

New security rule: from now on, citizens are requested to walk around blindfold.

Jerk April 29, 2008 2:31 AM

what is needed is a nation wide add campaing about the real threats and how we overestimate unlikely threads … show what price we pay just to make us feel we did sth to make us safer

bob April 29, 2008 7:11 AM

@John Campbell: Hehe. Then Disney needs to worry about the (German) state of Bavaria; which is VERY sensitive about the intellectual property they have in Neuschwanstein (not for terrorists; they don’t want tourists taking photos so they can SELL them some) and Disney ripped it off for their castle!

Kind of like back when Apple sued Microsoft for stealing their GUI interface (from the original Mac/Lisa). Of course Apple stole it from Xerox (PARC) in the first place, but that’s different.

Cassandra April 29, 2008 7:20 AM

“Nihil nobis metuendum est, praeter metum ipsum.”

or, perhaps more resonant with residents of the United States of America:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address (4 March 1933)

Lyle April 29, 2008 7:23 AM

A few months back, I saw the security guards hassling a TV news reporter who was getting some footage of the removal of the Christmas tree in the middle of the ice rink. She was obviously incensed, but packed up her rig and moved 5 yards down to the public sidewalk which isn’t PPG property. After she finished shooting and drove off, the police showed up. I was disappointed that they’d missed her, seems like hassling the local news staff would be a poetically counterproductive move. The point here is that it might be possible to get the EYE-TEAM to investigate.

Bill April 29, 2008 8:05 AM

Hmm, I’m sure some terrorists have purchased milk in the past. Therefore, we should report anyone buying milk!

In Singapore in 2002 a group were arrested for conspiring to bomb a number of embassies. They videoed possible targets from their car. Many terrorist attacks, in the Lebanon, in Iraq, in Ireland and even the Oklahoma City bombing, used car bombs. It’s obvious that many terrorists have used vehicles for surveillance, for transport and for the actual bombing. So, the next time you see someone driving a car report it to the Police immediately. It could be a terrorist.

Oh, terrorists now use the Internet as well. Do you know anyone using the Internet? They could be a terrorist. Report them.

bob April 29, 2008 8:22 AM

@CorporateStatesOfAmerica: I think you are being too generous. The US Government does this to feed its own power; I dont believe they even have commerce as a motive.

Robert Accettura April 29, 2008 8:59 AM

It seems pretty common to take in photographers for snapping pictures. I’ve seen it several times in the NYC subway. Yea, that law never went through, so it’s still legal to take pictures.

I love the excuse that it was in the terrorist manual, as if that’s a good reason to forget about common sense.

I really hope the next terrorist group to write a manual includes the following things:

  • Talk excessively on phones in public places, in particular restaurants, trains, buses about mindless things to look like you fit in.
  • Don’t use deodorant. Natural musk is necessary.
  • Gain weight. Being overweight and sweaty is the best way to perform a terrorist act.
  • Wear clothing a size to small. Fit in with the overweight American population.

At least then a few revolting and annoying pet peeves in society will disappear and the insanity will at least become useful 😉 .

Nick S. April 29, 2008 9:49 AM

I too was harassed by a security guard at the PPG towers. I was told that I was on private property and not allowed to take pictures (in the alley area with tables in the middle of everything). A publicly signed street runs right through the middle of everything, so I don’t see how I can be prevented from taking pictures there.

My friend and I went across the street and snapped some photos there instead.

Harry April 29, 2008 10:03 AM

John Campbell wrote: “Ummmm… well, there is the idea of enforcing copyrights to the images of a building that are the property of the architectural firm, or, if the folks who bought the building bought the rights to its images, so, perhaps, the sedition implicit in pirating these copyrighted images will finally be dealt with.”

The short version is NO.

Building owners do not have exclusive rights to the parts of the building that are on open display. (Note, commerical rights are a little different, but not always.) And from whom did the new owners buy the rights? The builder doesn’t own those rights in the first place. If the new owner wants to buy the rights he’d have to negotiate with every single person in the US or the world, since each of us has the right to take a photo of a public building.

@ Laurie Mann: property owners do have the right to restrict actions taken on their physical property. As long as its done consistently, in a nonbiased fashion, etc., etc., etc. Owners also have to put a stake in the ground and renew it periodically. The road between Rockefeller Tower and Rockefeller Plaza is private property belonging to the complex owner. One of things they have to do to maintain the private ownership of what seems to be public thoroughfare is to close the road one day a year.

Take a few photos is very different from full-scale casing of a joint. One wonders if the FBI is capable of training local forces in the difference, given its known shortcomings in its own operations.

I say we follow Gen. Grant’s dictum that the best way to get a bad law overturned is to enforce it strictly. Call in EVERY SINGLE PHOTOGRAPHER you see.

Blutskralle April 29, 2008 10:50 AM


Ironically, that might work if everyone did it. If nothing else, the comedic value is immense.

John April 29, 2008 10:57 AM

This reminds me of the couple months I spent traveling around the Soviet Union back in 1977. You couldn’t take pictures of bridges, factories, etc. without risking being stopped by the police and having your film confiscated.
I’m not aware that any Americans were sent to the Gulag for this, though.

Rai April 29, 2008 12:05 PM

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I was first threatened with death while serving in the first battalion, twentieh infantry amercal division at landing zone dragon in 1969 when some villagers in black pajamas, (the standard dress of all rice farmers) were being tortured with a field telephone. Thats when I learned to photograph anything that they tell you not to photograph, I reget that at that time I complied.
I was first arrested for photography in 1983 when four thugs burst out of a car and handcuffed a black man I happened to know then and still know now, hes a working man and completely harmless, they cuffed his hands behind his back and were questioning him by slaming him face first into a plate glass window of the catholic charities building on 16th and chicago ave.
One of the thugs was Rick Thomas, a MPD lieutenant who killed a guy in 1987 while pimping his badge to a nightclub where he served as bouncer. it took him 40 minutes to take the guy in handcuffs from 5th and hennipen to the county hospital emergency room where he was delivered in a coma, caused by smithandwesson brand teargas spray being used up his nostrils. The guys still on the corrupt MPD. The murder was covered up by the corrupt coroners office, since replaced by the medical examiners because some of the corruption was uncovered about the coroner.
During the ISAG protests in 2000, the police pretended that they had information that someone was going to break some plate glass windows, so they spent a million dollars to build a mini belfast around the hyatt hotel. I was covering this, with video, and escaped harm, however a cameraman from one of the television stations was speared in the solar plexis and has problems with it that continue. The police refused to investigate that competently. there are enough photographs around from that day that they could easily have learned which one of them was the liar, except that they were all lying. My photography clearly shows some police chose not to have their name badges on their uniforms, but close ups show the holes in the shirt that the pin had gone through and the shape of the nameplate in the pocket. the black and white nameplates were replace with tiny shiny gold nameplates that originally have black lettering, but this is scrubbed out by the corrupt ones. the reflectivity and the fact that these new nameplates hang at a steep downward tilt make them useless to the public. They have also tried to use ‘razzledazzle’ camoflage on the squad car numbers, putting some of them on the top of bumpers facing the sky.
In 2001 I modified the illegal behavior of the corrupt Douglas Dubay,by videotaping it, however not without him harrassing me and accusing me of filming children. the day that he did accuse me I had only tape of him harrassing people. but pretexting is just lying that the supreme court feels is proper law enforcement. In fact I had photographed children, posing with the mayor at a ‘night out block party’ so I suppose I do that.
There is a law that makes it legal for the fbi to lie to you all day and its a crime for you to lie to them. there is only one conclusion, use the bush excuse every time they ask a question. “” I do not comment on open investigations, so tell it to my lawyer, cease harrassing me now.
Remember, the supreme court dosent care about the constitution as much as it does about systems of weath and power, (see US Constitution, and the supreme corrupt decision in ‘Bush V Gore)

Only citizens who insist that thier rights be respected can hold the line on this current criminal regime.
When you waive any right without a lawyer present, you weaken the US Constitution and allow the corrupt to argue that the people do not care about their rights.

Jason April 29, 2008 1:14 PM

Perhaps it is just a terrible misunderstanding of our presidents pronunciation of “terrorists” as “terrists” being heard as “tourists.”
The FBI is just performing the presidential mandate to clamp down on “tourists” and “tourism.”
Because if we let them take pictures, then the tourists have won.

js April 29, 2008 2:45 PM

There’s a percentage of the population that has a mental condition called paranoid schitzophrenia. I am familiar with the condition, since my mother had it. It involves (among other things) seeing other people’s innocent acts as evidence of malicious intent. For example, a paranoid schitzophreniac (spelling?) could see somebody taking pictures of a landmark bridge and draw the conclusion that the photographer is surveying the bridge to plan for an attack, where others might draw the conclusion that the person were a tourist taking souvenir photos.

Now we have a situation where paranoid behavior is officially encouraged and is rapidly becoming the norm: there is a purported enemy that is invisible, largely imaginary, manifesting in innocent, everyday acts. Now, imagine what this will do to those who are already paranoid; those who have a paranoid tendency, but have been able to keep it in check because the social norm is not to be paranoid; those who are under stress and prone to break down. These are people whose reports will be mostly imaginary. Estimate the number of false calls per year from these people. Add the calls from people who are rather safe than sorry, those who report others because of a personal grudge, and prank calls, and divide the actual number of incidents reported by the resulting sum. The result will be an abysmal signal-to-noise ratio.

What has been accomplished? A social norm that makes life difficult for numerous people while making recovery difficult from certain mental conditions; a system of mutual suspicion that rivals the USSR and East Germany, but accomplishes almost nothing since the probability of a real incident is relatively low; broken trust and morale between citizens; a complete failure of trust to any government whatsoever.

How many terrorist attacks were actually thwarted? Was it worth it?

Amateur April 30, 2008 11:16 PM

I have some first hand experience with just how off bubble the whole picture taking issue really is. Just a few months ago I was at a major International Airport waiting for relatives to arrive. I parked at the top level of the short term facility overlooking the runway infrastructure, and started taking a few pictures of planes taking off.

There were at least three other people doing the exact same thing, one of them standing not 20 feet from me.

I was (apparently) singled out because, unlike my fellow amateurs, I was using a more “professional looking” camera.

Yes, in spite of the fact that my new Nikon DSLR with its attached 18-135mm lens likely had less “zoom-ability” than other cameras at the rail, and the fact that a terrorist would be foolish indeed to be so obvious, I was detained and questioned for about 20 minutes. All in spite of the fact that the airport police officer flatly admitted I was “doing nothing wrong”, and observed at least one other person doing the same thing WHILE he was asking me questions.

So a bit of advice to you budding terrorists out there scoping out public transportation….. make sure you do your recon with an innocuous looking point-and-shoot. Apparently they’re far less dangerous than a “pro” model according to law enforcement. 😉

lurker May 1, 2008 11:50 AM

“I think what is needed is a new government department….
The Department of Image Protection (DIP).”

Combined with the the latest technological software: Secret Homeland Image Tracking System or SHITS. Law enforcement working in conjunction with the DIPS using this software will be known as DIP-SHITS for short.

Jilara May 1, 2008 6:51 PM

Take photos of those people taking photos, so we can identify them later! “And what were YOU doing taking photos of this man, Mr. Jones, if that is your name…”

D0R May 5, 2008 6:16 AM

The Government just needs to build another Guantanamo facility for Japanese tourists, then.

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