Filming in DC's Union Station

This video is priceless. A Washington, DC, news crew goes down to Union Station to interview someone from Amtrak about people who have been stopped from taking pictures, even though there's no policy against it. As the Amtrak spokesperson is explaining that there is no policy against photography, a guard comes up and tries to stop them from filming, saying it is against the rules.

EDITED TO ADD (6/7): More.

Posted on June 3, 2008 at 1:57 PM • 55 Comments

Comments

Ed HurstJune 3, 2008 2:13 PM

I can recall training for the Military Police. They actually encouraged us to be idiotic blowhards like that. Not that it was given that way, but it's the net result of what they told us.

jdw242bJune 3, 2008 2:24 PM

why don't don't see if the Amtrak spokesman takes any action against what the guard says? Could it be that the rules are so screwed up that he doesn't know for sure?

ShaneJune 3, 2008 2:41 PM

@jdw242b

Well, if you paid attention to the actual report, they were standing in the 'Mall' area during the segment when the security guard asked them to turn off the cameras. The Amtrak guy can only speak for his portion of the station, the 'Mall' area is owned (leased?) / operated by Lasalle Partners or whatnot, who claimed to not have any policies against photography, but as the report said, the contact for the company did not return the reporters' phone calls. This is most likely the reason the Amtrak official did not protest the request, since I would assume he had absolutely no authority to do so.

InfospongeJune 3, 2008 2:55 PM

With geniuses like this around, we'll win the war on photographers long before we'll win the war on terrorism....


It's time for a photographer's bill of legal rights forbidding property holders from interfering with photography in areas that are open to the public. If you open your doors to the public, you should have no right to harass or evict anyone who choses to record what they can already see with their own eyes.

Rich WilsonJune 3, 2008 3:02 PM

Security actors not allowing photos in places of business (malls, large stores etc) is nothing new. What's perhaps new is the dropping of phrases like 'national security' and 'these times'.

EGJune 3, 2008 3:15 PM

Amazing!

I live in Portland OR and just last night I took the light rail to the water front in stead of parking down town. I was there to film a band performing that evening.

My stop is in the middle of what's called the ``Robertson Tunnel'' It's about 100m underground and is a beautiful yet functional stop.

Since it was later in the evening, all the rush hour traffic had trickled to a stop and I was just listening and thinking how cool would it be to capture the cars and the sound coming out of the tunnel on the next train.

So I did. Spent about 4 min waiting and got a really good shot. I wanted to get multiple angles so I picked up the tripod and moved to the other end to shoot from another angle when a Trimet approached me and gave me the ``We really get nervous and don't like when people shoot video or photographs down here''

He was actually really nice and I don't really ever want to argue with the ``grunts'' So we talked for a little bit but then I asked. ``What is it Trimet really has a problem with?'' He informed me that `` we don't want video to get into the hands of terrorists ''

I'm in the process of writing a letter to Trimet. I will be sure to include Bruce's comments and the article in question.

JasonJune 3, 2008 4:04 PM

The ignorance is wide spread. This was in my home town of Memphis, TN. http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/Content?...
There is much "better safe than sorry" thinking.
Such short-sightedness is maddening when you follow those thoughts to their illogical conclusion (such as.. why even get out of bed since there is a chance you will be hit by a car, slip on a piece of ice, get mugged, eat tainted meat, etc).

And here is website helping to educate folks about what the law really says and what your rights are when it comes to *shudder* photography.
http://www.nycphotorights.com/wordpress/index.php

JasonJune 3, 2008 4:16 PM

Also, _The Photographer's Right_ from a real patent, trademark, and copyright attorney.

http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

See, back then, people got in trouble for taking pictures of things that might be considered "proprietary."

Now it's terrorism.

KevinJune 3, 2008 4:36 PM

There is a real effort out there to stop people from photographing things, whether buildings or scenes that someone might object to on legal grounds, be it right or wrong.

Some is proprietary, some is security, and some are just made up on the spot.

Most of the time when photographers are stopped by security, the "goons" don't even know what they are talking about.

Do these so-called "security professionals" really think that a terrorist is going to use a 35mm SLR and long lens (or equipment like it) to take pictures? I don't think so.

mooJune 3, 2008 4:45 PM

Yeah, the idiotic thing is that if terrorists can *walk through* an area, then they can covertly take pictures of anything you can see from that area. There is no way security guards or police can prevent this.

All the "War on Photographers" does is annoy tourists, journalists and hobbyist photographers. (Oh, it also helps make police, security guards, and public officials look stupid. That's just a bonus).

EGJune 3, 2008 4:53 PM

@Jason

Thanks! That link you posted is going to be *very* helpful to me. Plus, the guy is in Portland too, how awesome!

Amateur PhotographerJune 3, 2008 5:03 PM

Here's an interesting URL

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol5no2/html/v05i2a03p_0001.htm

A shorter version:

http://tinyurl.com/3m3weq

It contains the following text:

If a new gas storage tank is being built in the city where you are stationed and you drive past it going to work every day, why not photograph it once a week or once a month? The photos will tell how long it takes to build it, what types of materials and methods of construction are used, and how much gas storage capacity is being added. Maybe you don't know what a gas storage tank looks like, and all you see is a big tank being built. Take a picture of it anyway; obviously it is built to store something. What you don't know about it the analyst will. That is what he is an analyst for, but he can't analyze it if you don't get him the pictures.

OttarJune 3, 2008 5:24 PM

I understand why you bomb half of the world back to stone age to spread it! Oh, the freedom in USA is just so special!

NovaLoungeJune 3, 2008 5:31 PM

Photography is a very passive thing - simply collecting and preserving the photons that are already in the air.

It seems that the onus should be on the property owners to prevent photons from bouncing off of objects on their premises if they don't want them collected.

KashmarekJune 3, 2008 6:15 PM

Actually, the military is working on ways to keep photons of light from being useful to people who can see them or photograph them. Snipers use this technology now, planes also, tanks, cars, trains next. I guess a Klingon Warbird is the ultimate.

Davi OttenheimerJune 3, 2008 6:39 PM

Nice example of ineffective security management.

I love the comment by the guard "there is a policy but I can't tell you" combined with the fact that he is "not allowed to answer questions", and that his management refuses to respond. I suppose they do not believe any consequence will come from their bad behavior.

There should be a doghouse for these guys, and maybe even an annual top ten for examples of the worst management in security.

On the bright side, at least they did not accuse the reporter of using magic or being a witch and then trying to boil him or burn him alive. Don't forget it has only been a few generations since English settlers in this area operated as a theocracy and ruthlessly killed those considered suspicious.

RoenigkJune 3, 2008 6:43 PM

Should that photographer apply for a White House press pass, he will now have to state he has been arrested.

The Secret Service could deny his application on those grounds, even though charges were never filed or were subsequently dropped for an 'offense' that wasn't against the law in the first place.

dcJune 3, 2008 7:00 PM

@shane,

actually, if you watch the video closely, they are in the Amtrak area of the station. It might not be clear to someone who doesn't spend time there regularly, but anything from the ticket counters north is Amtrak territory.

When they were getting some B-roll for the rest of the report, THAT stuff came from the mall portion. But the security guard? Amtrak territory, 100 %.

Lawrence D'OliveiroJune 3, 2008 10:47 PM

So what was the resolution? What was the spokesman's explanation for this state of affairs? Is there some disconnect between "official" policy and the people making decisions on the ground?

Lawrence D'OliveiroJune 3, 2008 10:48 PM

To the guy trying to draw a distinction between still photos and shooting video: note that if video was not allowed, then the spokesman would hardly have consented to being a party to violation of policy, would he?

antibozoJune 3, 2008 11:12 PM

Lawrence D'Oliveiro> To the guy trying to draw a distinction between still photos and shooting video: note that if video was not allowed, then the spokesman would hardly have consented to being a party to violation of policy, would he?

I'm not "trying" to draw a distinction between still photography and shooting video of an interview; I'm pointing out that there certainly is such a distinction, and the two scenarios often fall under completely different policies (e.g. talking to the media). What a particular spokesperson would do depends on how well he knows policy, how much he wants to be on TV, and whether, as a spokesperson, he is exempt from governing policies (e.g. talking to the media).

Sure, the video is funny and pathetic. If you bother to think about it, however, it is not as self-contradictory as it may initially seem.

Not AfraidJune 4, 2008 12:45 AM

@Amateur Photographer: "The photos will tell how long it takes to build it, what types of materials and methods of construction are used, and how much gas storage capacity is being added."

But that's just it. We live in a open society -- not a closed one. If a hostile agency wanted that information they would not need to photograph it over time, all they would have to do is ask for that info from the construction company -- they would happily supply it. It's only in closed societies where street photography needs to be a primary source of intelligence.

szigiJune 4, 2008 2:35 AM

This very much reminds me of the communist era. We actually had road signs that said: No photos (a crossed out camera). Sometimes you were driving through a completely innocent looking forest, when you saw this sign. Now you could be sure, that there must be some military installation nearby.

SparkyJune 4, 2008 3:58 AM

@Antibozo: what is the difference between a series of photos and a video? Just the framerate? Or is it the audio track?

I fail to see how a video is going to be more useful to anyone planning anything, since the resolution is far lower, which means that details aren't very clear in a video.

That said, it's a policy that can't be enforced; someone could pretend to be talking on a cellphone, camera facing out, while shooting pictures.

If being able to see the inside of a public building poses a thread to its security, you have far bigger problems than camera's.

Andy DingleyJune 4, 2008 4:25 AM

http://current.com/items/...

Interesting UK video. A filmmaker on our current right to film in public places is accosted by a couple of VolksPolizei and told to stop. With talking heads from the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) on just what we can still do.

Nick LancasterJune 4, 2008 6:11 AM

The question to ask is, 'what vulnerabilities would a photograph reveal that normal surveillance would not'?

I rather think that photographing a security guard with a telephoto lens to obtain details of their uniform and duplicate it is nothing more than a movie plot.

Placing explosives, for example, is more a function of engineering/building design than a photo of a scene - unless you're going to disguise your device as a trash can, or drop a claymore disguised as a backpack on the train platform. (And with the latter, we're back to having/employing knowledge of how to deploy a device that is not significantly aided or improved by a photo of the target location.)

Please StopJune 4, 2008 8:00 AM

We don't ask the "general public" their opinion of new brain surgery techniques. We don't ask amateurs to comment on operating nuclear power plants. Last I checked, the Navy was soliciting input from video game players how to best deploy our fleets.

Why do we do it with security? Why exactly are we surprised that amateur hour looks and feels like amateur hour? Our security guards should be good security guards. They should be suspicious, inquisitive, use their intuition. However, security guards need calibration. They should not be setting policy. And when their suspicion is misplaced, it should be guided to more productive uses.

Now, as an aside, why exactly is it hard for the bad guys to use hidden cameras? Did they not see Candid Camera? Are we again protecting against only the stupid bad guys? I'd rather be afraid of the smart bad guys.

Nick LancasterJune 4, 2008 9:46 AM

@ Please Stop:

The excuse for doing it with security is 'we don't want the proof to be a mushroom cloud' - essentially, the government's version of 'OMG! Pass this on to everyone you know! It could save your life! Kidney thieves are striking in Las Vegas hotels! Gang members are killing people who flash their highbeams! AIDS-tainted needles are being planted in theater seats!"

Fear is making us stupid.

JasonJune 4, 2008 9:51 AM

What is the recourse for the photographer asked by a misguided security guard to stop taking pictures?

Do you simply tell them that you are in your rights and ignore them? This challenges their false sense of superiority and can cause them to overcompensate with push back leading to physical confrontation.
Does it really matter if you prove later they were wrong if your camera is broken and you have a black eye?
They still win. You were forced to stop taking photos.

And what is with the hostility toward tripods? Really, what is it?
You can take pictures but only if you aren't using a tripod.
Search around and you'll discover that more often than not, the person being harassed had a tripod.
Are they intimidating? Do they think someone will swap the camera out with a sniper rifle?

Many still cameras with huge memory cards can be used to take lower quality video as well.
Who can tell what your snapping when you point it at something?
Amateur video vs. still photo is a silly distinction. Obviously professional video is supposed to have a permit in most places, but just some guy filming the bay or a sunset is no different than taking a bunch of photos really fast (accept for the sound).

Matthew SkalaJune 4, 2008 10:22 AM

Why are terrorists supposed to want photos anyway? It seems to me that what would be useful in planning an attack would be specific items of factual information, like "The guard goes on coffee break every morning at 10:15." You don't need a photo to collect that information.

PaulJune 4, 2008 10:49 AM

"Does it really matter if you prove later they were wrong if your camera is broken and you have a black eye?"

That sort of thinking is how we're allowing our rights to be taken away from us.

Yes, it matters, because they overstepped their legal rights (whether they knew it or not) and then physically assaulted you.

That's a crime in most civilised nations and you'd be entirely justified in pressing charges against them.

antibozoJune 4, 2008 11:32 AM

Jason> Amateur video vs. still photo is a silly distinction.

The distiction I pointed out is between still photography and video of an interview. No one said anything about "amateur video". Still photography and video interviews are obviously different cases that for most companies fall under distinct policies.

With any form of photography in a public place, bystanders might not want to be filmed, which is one reason for policies on photography, and indeed, as others have already pointed out, policies on photography of any kind existed long before the current paranoia began. I was once chastised by security guards at a nearby mall for taking perfectly innocuous still photographs over 25 years ago.

Regarding video of an interview, large companies have policies regarding who may talk to the media about business matters. Companies may also have policies regarding how space can be used commercially, and video interviews are typically conducted for commercial purposes.

Video itself is also plainly different from still photography, since with video, audio is also being recorded. So it's certainly possible for a company to have differing policies for still photography and video of any kind, as well as audio recording. Whether policies are enforceable is often irrelevant when they exist for legal purposes.

These are all examples of why and how policies for various activities differ, and if you use your brain I expect you can come up with more on your own. As I said in the first place, it is disingenuous to pretend that shooting a video of an interview is the same thing as taking a still photograph. This is the last time I will explain this. Anyone who still doesn't get it is an idiot.

the other AlanJune 4, 2008 12:02 PM

@antibozo:

Big difference between a mall and public street.

Malls are private property and they have every right to prohibit you from photographing there.

As for in public: no one has or should have any expectation of privacy.

pegrJune 4, 2008 12:08 PM

Jason: "Obviously professional video is supposed to have a permit in most places"

Cite reference, please.

(**cough cough, BS! cough**)

antibozoJune 4, 2008 12:22 PM

the other Alan> Big difference between a mall and public street.
the other Alan> Malls are private property and they have every right to prohibit you from photographing there.

I don't believe I wrote anything that disagrees with that statement.

the other AlanJune 4, 2008 12:44 PM

@antibozo: You did, indeed.

To quote from your post: With any form of photography in a public place, bystanders might not want to be filmed, which is one reason for policies on photography, and indeed, as others have already pointed out, policies on photography of any kind existed long before the current paranoia began. I was once chastised by security guards at a nearby mall for taking perfectly innocuous still photographs over 25 years ago.

JasonJune 4, 2008 1:09 PM

Clearly WFT means "We're F***in' Terrorists."

Actually, I meant WTF.

Sorry for typing faster than I could see.

antibozoJune 4, 2008 1:35 PM

the other Alan> You did, indeed.

No, really I didn't.

My post is about the policies of corporations, which obviously don't apply on public property, such as a public street. I didn't wrote anything about public property; I wrote that some bystanders don't want to be photographed in public places, and a mall certainly qualifies as such.

I can only guess at how you're misintepreting what I wrote, so why don't you explain what you think I said instead of quoting me? I know what I wrote.

The traditional, pre-9/11 explanation for mall policies against photography, BTW, had to do with potential burglars "casing" establishments. If you haven't seen Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run", put it in your Netflix queue so you can see how a clever criminal will hide a camera in an unexpected place for this purpose.

antibozoJune 4, 2008 1:39 PM

Jason, yes, you may need a permit to tie up a public intersection with a 20-man crew, no matter what you're doing. You certainly do not need a permit simply to shoot professional video in most places.

In any case permits are issued by governments; the discussion is about policies in a privately owned mall, so your assertion is not only false, but also irrelevant.

Nomen PublicusJune 4, 2008 4:09 PM

We are seeing the start of a new religion where nobody should anger the security god by committing sins. Some of the sins are known, but many of the sins are only reviled after they are committed.

We already have a priesthood whose commands must be obeyed on pain of death. The priests cannot or will not explain where they get their revelations, only that they must be believed.

It all sounds a lot like the medieval church. You can even pay for an "indulgence" that allows you to avoid waiting in line for confession at the airport. A few dollars given to the security pope and you can walk on through.

A hundred years from now, we will still be taking off shoes to enter an airport, even though nobody will remember why...

ChuckJune 4, 2008 4:35 PM

I grew up in East Germany in the 80s. Sometimes there were signs in the middle of nowhere "Filming and taking Photographs forbidden" and you were thinking "wait, why?" And then you'd notice a rather innocent looking warehouse or something. You only give people ideas with this. Taking photographs at railwaystations was also problematic, but they were more concerned with people photographing the rails, not the building, and the bombs were expected to be delivered by a B52... Anyway, I have feeling those restrictions on taking photographs are just another step in making people aware that a) there being watched and b) they can't do whatever they want

SpockJune 4, 2008 9:47 PM

The no photo/video policies are a scam in non-police state countries. Essentially, companies (and even government departments) were sick of seeing video footage of their staff doing the wrong thing on the nightly news. So by claiming a security policy requires no filming, they can prevent the staff appearing on the news for doing stupid things. And since it is "policy" not to allow filming, the company / agency doesn't consider security guards preventing filming (or at least trying to prevent obvious filming) as a stupid act that would cause embarrassment on the news. The only place these guys feel the embarrassment is on sites such as this where people openly debate the merits of security policies and practices, and the vast majority of the buying/voting public are not participating in these sites.

HannoJune 5, 2008 3:04 AM

A few months ago I took a photo in a mall and was approached by a private guard who told me that this wasn't allowed there.

Asked him why and he told me that this is written down in the rules posted on that sign over there. Reading the sign, there was no rule about photography or filming, so I asked him again. He then told me that he is sure this rule exists and that is probably written down in a different set of rules that is kept internal...

MickMay 3, 2009 12:42 PM

For the person who stated "It's time for a photographer's bill of legal rights forbidding property holders from interfering with photography in areas that are open to the public. If you open your doors to the public, you should have no right to harass or evict anyone who choses to record what they can already see with their own eyes", you really need to try to understand that your "rights" have no bearing on when you are in or on someones personal property. They have the right to kick you out and to make their own rules. If I went to your home and you asked me to not take pictures, I would have honor your wishes and not bitch about it.

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