Exploiting the War on Photography

Petty thieves are exploiting the war on photography in Genoa:

As they were walking around, Jeff saw some interesting looking produce and pulled out his Canon G-9 Point-and-Shoot and took a few pictures. Within a few minutes a man came up dressed in plain clothes, flashed a badge, and told him he couldn’t take photos in the store. My brother said “no problem” (after all, it’s a private store, right?), but then the guy demanded my brother’s memory card.

My brother gave him that “Are you outta your mind” look and said, “No way!” Can you guess what happened next? The guy simply shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

My brother saw him in the store a little later, and the guy had a bag and was shopping. My brother made eye contact with him, and the guy turned away as though he didn’t want Jeff looking at him. Jeff feels like this wasn’t “official store security,” but instead some guy collecting (and then reselling) memory cards from unsuspecting tourists (many of whom might have just surrendered that card immediately).

Posted on July 10, 2008 at 6:54 AM47 Comments


Mike B July 10, 2008 7:40 AM

Why would anybody give anything to a rent-a-cop or even allow themselves to be detained by the same? Even with real private security personnel, becoming shrill and combative is the best way to put these high school dropouts in their place.

vince jeter July 10, 2008 7:53 AM

iIthink an equally likely theory is that the plain clothes man was an undercover loss prevention officer employed by the store. He was seen shopping later so that he would be considered a regular shopper to everyone else. Feel free to check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_prevention if you don’t understand.

Another Kevin July 10, 2008 7:56 AM

Why would anyone unarmed not comply with the orders of an armed man acting under color of authority? Don’t think of this as standing up for the First and Fourth Amendments, think of it as giving your wallet to the mugger. Alas, many muggers nowadays seem to be fraudulently wearing the uniforms of local, State, and Federal law enforcement officers.

Anonymous July 10, 2008 8:03 AM

vince jeter: iIthink an equally likely theory is that the plain clothes man was an undercover loss prevention officer employed by the store.

I think you are terminally credulous.

clvrmnky July 10, 2008 8:19 AM

It would be pretty hard for fake loss-prevention dudes to work in a store that had real loss prevention people working there. If this is for real, that store is run pretty poorly.

Daniel Wijk July 10, 2008 8:46 AM

Sorry to ask a unrealted question here but I can no longer view this page in Firefox 3. It tells me that this page uses an unsupported or invalid compression.

Daniel Wijk July 10, 2008 9:15 AM

It suddenly started working (I didnt disable anything).
I wonder if it is a bug in Firefox 3 that they missed in the beta process…

Thank you anyway 🙂

Your Photo Tips July 10, 2008 9:22 AM

These strange occurances are becoming much too frequent.

Never give up your memory card!!!

Photographers are not criminals (paparazzi excluded)!

Damien Franco

tim July 10, 2008 9:40 AM


The war on photography is happening in your own backyard:

“The skyways that the “ABC” ramps have offer some pretty unique vantage points as to how things are being constructed, and the bad guys could potentially use some of that information against us, so there are some homeland security concerns,” Sachi said. “Obviously, infrastructure security is important.”


Yes – the new twin stadium is now a terrorist target.

nathan July 10, 2008 9:42 AM

Uh, in store detectives pretend to shop, it’s called a disguise. But surely it was stupid to try and take the memory card. LET PEOPLE TAKE PICTURES

Anonymous July 10, 2008 10:02 AM

@Mike B

One must be careful in some settigs. The private “Rent-a-cops” at the Detroit, MI Ren. Center have guns. I’ve think they’ve been deputized by the municipality in some capacity as well.

samsam July 10, 2008 10:05 AM

Someone needs to make a camera with bluetooth (or other wireless) connection to memory device held in pocket. Add a dummy card slot to hold a dummy card that you can give up if the situation gets tense. The technology is certainly available, it’s just a marketing problem.

Does this exist yet?

J July 10, 2008 10:27 AM

This is how frightened America still is. Cons often rely on presenting an air of authority, but now it is even easier because of secretive “anti-terrorist” activities and laws that proliferate in the US. When the government’s security forces are allowed to do almost anything without identification, proof or any kind of probable cause or justification, what better con could there be than posing as an unidentified security agent?

TheDoctor July 10, 2008 10:36 AM

The United States asked for this, they got it, so where’s the problem ?

There IS no real threat, so all this wannabe security and it’s parasites can run free.

Ask the Brits about REAL terrorists, e.g. the IRA and what they did in that time. As far as I remember they didn’t go Orwell on their own people. That’s of course quite resonable, because REAL terrorist roll over laughing when they see such kind of security that’s shown today.

Edward S. Marshall July 10, 2008 11:05 AM

“This is how frightened America still is.”

“The United States asked for this”.

The article is about a con staged in Italy. I’d expect folks not reading the linked article on Slashdot, but here?

No comment on the con (or lack thereof), other than to say that this is why you ask for a uniformed officer to be called before handing over personal property to anyone in a situation like that. If they won’t call an officer, it would be a good idea to think about why not.

Anonymous July 10, 2008 11:19 AM

the new twin stadium is now a terrorist target.

Didn’t you ever read Tom Clancy’s novel “The Sum of All Fears” (1991)? Denver’s new football stadium — where Barack Obama will be accepting the nomination next month — was the target of the terrorist nuclear attack.

alan July 10, 2008 11:51 AM

I am waiting for the War on People with Photographic Memories.

The MPAA figured out long ago that memory was a threat to their bottom line. That is why movies are so forgettable. Now remembering details of public landmarks helps Terrorism.

If you have a long term memory, you are remembering Hitler!

partdavid July 10, 2008 1:35 PM

@TheDoctor – ask the British what? Britain is now marked by pervasive surveillance and record-breaking terms of detainment without charge. The crown continues its long tradition of banning movies and Internet content and other forms of censorship. ASBOs represent a ludicrously liberally-applied restriction on private conduct that would be unheard of in the U.S.

The fear-directed war on terror, and the way it spreads in the strangest direction, is alive and well in Great Britain and, apparently, in Italy and probably most other places. Turning it into some kind of nationalistic issue misses the point, I think.

Public Service Announcement July 10, 2008 2:25 PM

If you are approached by somebody claiming to be a police officer, do exactly as you are told.

If he is a real police officer, submission may prevent you from being prosecuted (and possibly save your life).

If he is a criminal impersonating a police officer, we’ll eventually catch him.

Davi Ottenheimer July 10, 2008 2:53 PM

“Ask the Brits about REAL terrorists, e.g. the IRA and what they did in that time. As far as I remember they didn’t go Orwell on their own people.”

Ha ha, where do you think Orwell was from?

I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, but I was profiled and pulled off my bicycle once while riding through the anti-terror “ring of steel” that London built in 1993. An officer ripped open my backpack and started to strew my books and clothes on the sidewalk until his superior told him to quit hassling and let me go.

Here’s an related article about how the IRA planned to manipulate the ring:


The ring is far more sophisticated today and therefore less obvious, but basically London was setup with 16 entry and 12 exit points where the road has been narrowed and covered with surveillance systems. The early unmistakable red and white barriers have been replaced by more decorative iron posts painted red, white and black.

So, yes, London went all Orwellian a long time ago…and this is not the first time if you really want to look at the history of English security systems.

Davi Ottenheimer July 10, 2008 3:03 PM

“a man came up dressed in plain clothes, flashed a badge”

What did the badge say? It’s a curious detail without much detail.

Frankly this is nothing new.

If you want to call it a “war on photography” then I think you are unfairly playing down the business-owner’s side of the story.

It’s an old fact that when you pull out a fancy camera in a place you are not from and just start shooting photos, you should not be surprised if someone reacts in a way you might not expect/want/like.

In the case above, the best strategy would have been to ask the shop owner first if photos would be ok. Problem solved. The photographer, who clearly was acting without concern for the rights of others, is lucky the shop owner did not get more upset.

Matt Blaze July 10, 2008 3:18 PM

Petty theft by “confiscating” property while pretending to be an authority figure is an old scam, particularly as a short con against easily confused tourists.

I was amused by this sign in a Prague hotel on how to tell whether someone is actually a police office, and advising in particular that the police have no authority to “verify” your cash: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattblaze/2656775418/

moo July 10, 2008 7:28 PM

@partdavid: ASBOs are certainly awful, but the United States is no better off. The FBI issued nearly 200,000 National Security Letters between 2003 and 2006, which force people to disclose private information to the government and then NOT tell anyone about it (which often means lying to spouses, co-workers etc. to avoid revealing the existence of the NSL). Totalitarian indeed.

And just recently the U.S. Senate approved a telecommunications bill which basically gives the telecom companies immunity for any illegal spying they did since 2001 at the government’s request. The U.S. used to be a nation ruled by laws, but those days are gone. Nowadays, it is truly a nation ruled by fear and little men.

thiefhunter July 10, 2008 7:36 PM

Americans are, for the most part, ready to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt. We usually take people for their word, at face value. This is classic social engineering. Pseudo-cops “flash a badge” and the mark accepts its validity, without seeing (or needing to see) details. This is why we make such great marks abroad. Thieves know this.

Thiefhunters in Paradise. http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters

Tony Yarusso July 10, 2008 10:06 PM

Now, I can’t speak about the situation in Italy, but I know that here in the US any discussion about whether it was a rent-a-cop, real policeman, or anything else would be completely irrelevant to the point about the memory card, as you don’t have to surrender it to any of the above. You can be asked to stop taking pictures and/or to leave the premises by legitimate authorities, but none of them can confiscate your equipment, nor force you to delete already taken pictures.

Neighborcat July 10, 2008 11:56 PM

Just the other day I was stopped by a security guard while taking pictures in a store…an art store.

Thank you, thank you…I’ll be here all week.

Two Party Failure July 11, 2008 1:50 AM

People are talking –

  • and people are leaving.

America could turn into martial law tomorrow and many of us wouldn’t be surprised one bit. Most of us would continue licking our XBOXes and WIIs, posting on our blogs, and paying taxes to the dictatorship, whining about where the money goes while continuing to fund the source of their frustration.

Unmanned drones flying over forests looking for marijuana (didn’t George Washington say something about spreading the hemp seed? Yes, hemp and marijuana differences, I know),

helicopters with FLIR gazing at infrared screens,

all in an effort to prevent citizens from growing their own medicine.

The street price of marijuana stays up high, rather than plummeting through legalization to the price of green tea, drug lords giggling along with corrupt law enforcement, people paying and begging their doctors for less effective, addictive pills to pop,

No coffins being shown on American TV news, it’s all about distraction,

Two parties anally stuffed by Corporations and Big Pharma,

Non violent drug offenders and file sharers thrown into prison to be anally raped by gang members and introduced into the possibility of dying from AIDS,

Katrina opened the eyes of many around the world,

The television is the worst drug of them all, and it’s legal,

People programmed to obey,

Hallucinogenic plants demonized (war on perception, control the media control the mind), medical studies of these plants eliminated for years,

(Read Food of the Gods by Terence Mckenna)

Marijuana still Schedule I with no medicinal benefit which is a lie, while Foxglove and Datura are legal and both could easily kill you if misused,

People are moving OUT of America, they are tired of the brainwashing, “If you don’t like it here leave” “No, I’ll stay and make a difference” doesn’t matter any more, the system in America refuses change.

When you love your country but everyone around you is asleep and no one wants to participate in their local government because they are all too busy working to pay taxes and ever rising costs on everything in a fake economy, when and where does change happen?

The NL is looking more and more attractive every day.

Learn a second language and investigate your options, or get involved in your local government and work for change.

Sparky July 11, 2008 2:11 AM

In the Netherlands, it is rather easy to see if someone really is a police officer; if he or she isn’t wearing a gun, he or she isn’t a police officer. Firearms are relatively difficult to come by, and you most certainly wouldn’t want to get caught carrying one in a public place.

Private security guards basically have no more rights than any other citizen, and can only demand your leave the premises, or stay where you are until the police arrives. They cannot detain you or search you or your bags, unless you give them permission to do so.

When you are harassed by a overzealous shop guard (it happens sometimes, not often), it is quite funny to refuse to go into a back room, and just talk very loudly about how despicable he is and how ridiculous his accusation is. They really don’t expect you to have the guts to say anything to them except answering their questions.

They can politely ask for you identification (which you don’t have to provide), but you can ask them for their identification and take a picture of it. If the can’t or won’t show their ID, it makes the conversation a lot more interesting, all the while scaring other customers away.

It’s the same with city guards and parking police, you can have great fun with those, too. Just ask if this is wanted to be when they grew up or something when they get annoying.

Quixotic July 11, 2008 4:09 AM

The war on photographers is merely softening us up for the war on sketch artists, followed by the war on people who can sort of draw, the war on people who pause to look at things closely, and eventually, the war on people who look up.

Colossal Squid July 11, 2008 8:15 AM

I agree the UK shouldn’t be pointing out the mote in the US’ eye.
The situation regarding internet content is interesting; all UK ISPs subscribe to BT’s ‘Cleanfeed’ system, which checks sites against a blacklist prepared by the Internet Watch Foundation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Watch_Foundation), a private enterprise. Of course the fact that this removes any recourse via Freedom of Information requests or judicial oversight is entirely coincidental.
Some interesting research from Dr Richard Clayton here:

crossbuck July 11, 2008 8:51 AM

I have a low-tech solution for the photo problem. If an officer (or a sham “officer”) wants my memory card he gets the one attached to my camera. Of course, my camera is a film camera and the memory card is just a defective, empty one I have stuck to the back for just such an occasion.

bob July 11, 2008 9:10 AM

All cameras should be licensed with the USG. At a fee to the user. All cameras should store information in an encrypted form and only the government should have the key. And all cameras should automatically upload all data to the NSA in real time. At the owners expense. Plus they should all have microphones live all the time and send THAT to the NSA as well. Encrypted. In real time. And at the owner’s expense. Along with GPS coordinates and timestamps. Plus the owner should have his taxes increased as well.

There, that should give it the USG seal of approval.

camera nut July 11, 2008 9:13 AM

Someone needs to make a camera with bluetooth (or other wireless)
connection to memory device held in pocket.
Add a dummy card slot to hold a dummy card
that you can give up if the situation gets tense.
The technology is certainly available, it’s just a marketing problem.
Does this exist yet?


Panasonic has launched a Wi-Fi compatible digital camera, the TZ50,
that comes with a year’s free use of T-Mobile’s Hotspot service in the
US. The TZ50 is, essentially a TZ5 with Wi-Fi but the new tie-up
allows users to upload to their Picasa Web Albums while out and about.
There is no word yet on a similar tie-up or camera for European

MBridge July 11, 2008 10:43 AM

First off, not all “rent-a-cops” are high-school drop-outs. Some are using that position as a stepping-stone to a real law enforcement position.

In terms of Italy, I have seen people detained in Italy for nothing more than speaking loudly to someone in law enforcement. If you are in a foreign country and asked to do something by law enforcement you should probably do as they ask.

However, a security guard presumably does not have the right to take possession of your personal property unless they believe it is their property (i.e. you shoplifted it from their store). The person in this story probably did the right thing in not surrendering their memory card. If however they were asked by an Italian police officer then surrendering it would probably have been the smart choice.

When traveling internationally you may want to bring numerous memory cards and swap them out from time to time. Otherwise any camera that uploads directly to a site (YouTube, Flickr) is a nice option. This is particularly true in a country with different laws than our own – which includes just about every foreign country.


war-on-photography-sig July 12, 2008 3:24 PM

When they came for the photographers I did
nothing because I don’t have a camera
When they came for the sketch-artists I did
nothing because I can’t sketch
I hope they’re not coming for me.
I’m afraid to look up and check.

I did July 14, 2008 6:49 AM

@ two party failure

People are talking –
– and people are leaving.

I did. After 25yrs during which I got one heck of an education. Having been back for some months now I’d sum it up as “from the mad-house back to civilization”.

Its refreshing to see how its only the managing classes are giving the impression that anyone actually still liked or cared for the USA; I remember how most everyone believed the brochure (const/decl of indep) was for real.

In a civilized country the money’s ‘wasted’ on millions and millions of good deeds for one’s neighbors — while in the madhouse its goes to waste inflating so called leaders and elites.

of course this didn’t belong here.. except to point out that in a sane world commerce and rules would have to serve the populus.. whereas we’re clearly insane to act as if ‘the war on photography’ was anything more than a symptom of an up-side down dialectic in which its presumed that people are simply inputs into ‘the machine’.

oh well (its not like americans could understand this)

Arghblarg July 14, 2008 1:47 PM

I suppose lots of digital cameras would have room inside for an extra SD card; do some DIY re-wiring to connect this internal, hidden card to the real guts of the camera and then put an old small one in the ‘official’ slot. If someday you get forced to give over the pics you’ve just taken, give them the decoy. Then transfer the pics from the real card over USB to your PC.
You could even add a switch if you wanted to get really fancy so the external slot could be selectable.

Chris July 14, 2008 4:32 PM

1) some stores do have ‘no photography’ policies, but it’s to limit intelligence gathering by the competition. What are they stocking? How much? What are they charging for it? Every so often you’ll hear of a particularly clueless company (e.g., Best Buy) trying to harass individuals for merely taking notes so they can comparison ship with the late CompUSA, but it could easily be a situation where there’s a lot unsaid about what’s actually happening.

So a store cop telling a person to stop taking pictures isn’t entirely out of the question….

2) but demanding that the person hand over their media is another thing. The proper response is to loudly announce that -you- insist he bring the store manager out to the floor to discuss the demand. Loud enough for other employees to hear. If he’s fake, he’ll know that he’s in deep **** since the real store security will have good footage of somebody pulling scams under their noses. If he’s real, he’ll know that he can’t use the usual browbeating techniques that fool most people.

3) in much (most?) of the US, the only difference between cops and regular people is that cops don’t need to witness a felony in order to detain (arrest) a person. Regular people can and do arrest people, but they must turn them over to official cops ASAP. E.g., a bar bouncer holding a kid with a fake id while the police are called. Get it wrong and you can be sued, even prosecuted, for false arrest and wrongful imprisonment.

The only reason stores can get away with detaining people in back rooms is that most people in this situation are probably guilty of something and don’t want the police involved. They’re willing to wait and hope they’re forgotten.

But if you’re innocent and demand they call the real cops, they’re in a bind. If they don’t let you go immediately, the cops might release you and the store will face a ‘cry wolf’ situation. Or they could file a criminal complaint but face another ‘cry wolf’ situation if the DA thinks they’re filing too many bogus complaints. Or they could stall… and pray you don’t find out they didn’t bother to call the cops until hours later.

I think that’s the real reason why making a scene often works. It’s partly a ‘tell’ that you really are innocent, but it also raises the stakes (for both of you) if they’re wrong.

Chris July 14, 2008 4:34 PM

Didn’t you ever read Tom Clancy’s novel “The Sum of All Fears” (1991)? Denver’s new football stadium — where Barack Obama will be accepting the nomination next month — was the target of the terrorist nuclear attack.

The construction details don’t matter if you have a nuke.

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