The Police Now Like Amateur Photography points out the obvious: after years of warning us that photography is suspicious, the police were happy to accept all of those amateur photographs and videos at the Boston Marathon.

Adding to the hypocrisy is that these same authorities will most likely start clamping down on citizens with cameras more than ever once the smoke clears and we once again become a nation of paranoids willing to give up our freedoms in exchange for some type of perceived security.

After all, that is exactly how it played out in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks where it became impossible to photograph buildings, trains or airplanes without drawing the suspicion of authorities as potential terrorists.

Posted on April 23, 2013 at 12:34 PM22 Comments


Anon April 23, 2013 1:26 PM

Next privacy threat to fight, other people taking pictures! Once this gets back to Washington, they’re gonna start drafting bills to create a public cloud service for the FBI and require all photographs taken to be uploaded through it. All camera’s manufactured in the future will contain a dial home device that provides photo count and hash data (and actual photos, should bandwidth allow) which the cloud service will use to audit your compliance. Additionally all photos will now be encoded with Federal Rights Management (FRM) data until they are uploaded to the cloud service. It will be a federal crime to store FRM’d photos on any device except the cloud service and your camera. After processing all photos will be returned RAW and stripped of their FRM and free for you to use.

Carl April 23, 2013 1:36 PM

“I wasn’t taking pictures of that building! I was merely photographing someone who looks suspicious, in case he turns out to be a terrorist!”

ironau April 23, 2013 1:58 PM

The police are all for photography when it helps with their job. It is still illegal under the wiretapping laws to photograph/audio record/video record a police officer doing his job without prior consent.

Sean Paul April 23, 2013 2:08 PM

Actually, it’s not illegal to film police officers while they are in public. Last year, SCOTUS ruled laws stating that officers cannot be recorded while in the public view was a violation of the First Amendment.

cassiel April 23, 2013 2:31 PM

A few years ago the London Tourist Board asked photographers in London to upload photographs of the city to a dedicated Flickr account, for publicity purposes. Instead, a vast majority of contributors uploaded scanned copies of their official anti-terrorism stop-and-search forms.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons April 23, 2013 3:21 PM

Off topic–but near the ball park…

In the CRS report on CIPSA one of the flaws that attempts to clear information collected (like IP address) are pen test relative equating e-mail to a post-card (yeah, I know, technically it’s already treat as such). I’d argue the following:

No, reviewing the transport of all mail, say I am a business that has competitive relationships that is maintained via mail communications. One could gather the types of business, frequency of interaction, and possible how or what proprietary business process I am using…a competitor
that has a relationship with the government can use that relationship and that information to form a non-competitive barrier to my business…de facto discrimination exercised by actors at the heal of the government.

Now change the object of the relationship, say a political party,
affliations, religious group, etc…it becomes clear that this can be used–maybe not now–to change the fortunes of political pirates, organizations, or minority groups.

The reasoning behind the 4th amendment included limiting the ability of government (say King George [did I mean W] or his cronies) from establishing a “picture” of who and with whom you have relationships with…so no…this is not like mail. In fact, I’d argue that the tracking of mail addresses (such as scanning the TO/FROM data and storing it in a database) violates the spirit and intention of the 4th amendment. It was not invisioned that a one-to-one mapping
of all mail was possible…but the ‘letters’ statement implies not just the content it includes the associations that might be exposed by letters…the traitors to the constitution never rest.

evilI April 23, 2013 4:25 PM

In 2003 I was prevented from taking a photo of the Eurostar, after I got off the train. I wasnt stopped nor could have been from taking one whilst boarding. However, Im sure you can find the plans of these trains in libraries or on Altavista.

Jeff Del Papa April 23, 2013 5:13 PM

Bunnie Huang recently found a $12 (unsubsidized) cell phone in a Chinese electronics bazaar. He was writing about it due to its amazingly simplified design and construction, but I hope they come out with some sort of camera model, with a data connection.

I went last week to the Aaron’s law rally in Boston. After all that happened to the Boston OWS protests, I was in a bit of a quandary, do I bring my smartphone, so I can make calls and take pictures, with the risk of a warrantless siezure and loss of data.

Having seen his discovery, I would pony up $20 for the camera model – set to upload the pictures, and not store them locally. If officer unfriendly noticed that I got video of some random protestor making an unprovoked sitting attack on his truncheon with their face, and accidentally ground the phone into the curb, I could shrug, I wasn’t out any significant $$, and the data is beyond reach of “accidental” erasure.

(I did bring my phone, just enabling “10 wrong guesses and wipe everything” and confirming I had enabled automatic dropbox uploads of any photos or video.)

boog April 23, 2013 5:37 PM

…impossible to photograph [large people containers] without drawing the suspicion of authorities as potential terrorists.

I miss the days when people with cameras were suspected of being potential tourists.

Seems so long ago.

Dirk Praet April 23, 2013 7:03 PM

after years of warning us that photography is suspicious, the police were happy to accept all of those amateur photographs and videos at the Boston Marathon.

I don’t think it has anything to do with hypocrisy, but everything with the extent to which LEA’s were completely and utterly clueless about what had happened. Don’t expect any dramatic changes in their disposition towards photography once the dust has settled.

Godel April 23, 2013 7:54 PM

One of my favorite pieces of Australian stupidity was immediately after the 9/11 bombing, when there were UNARMED security guards stopping people taking pictures of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Never mind that there must be millions of official and unofficial photos existing of both of these, but you’d need a frigging huge explosive backpack to make a dent in the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

Allen April 23, 2013 8:32 PM

Congress is so full of it. People will hopefully wake up fast so we can effect change with our overwhelming numbers. Never trade liberty for security. We need progress not regress.

Mike B April 24, 2013 6:20 AM

Photography harassment is rarely about any real threat of terrorism, although I am sure that some lower level security guard types may believe this. It is instead mostly about people worried about them or their employer being caught not doing their job or violating the law or public trust. Harassment is much more prevalent in the Northeast as compared with the west coast which can speak to different corporate and public employee cultures.

The #1 reason Harassment has reduced in recent years is due to the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and video. It is simply impossible to avoid being recorded in public and both law enforcement and employees have generally given up the fight especially when videos of the harassment get posted to YouTube.

Nobody April 24, 2013 6:58 AM

Things terrorists might do:

take pictures of landmarks
eat food and drink in public places
pretend not to be a terrorist by going to titty bars
go to places where a ton of people may hang out
surveil the city and countryside (I am not sure which is worse)
vote one way or the other, they can throw you that way — rightists might vote republican, leftists might vote democrat
use computers
use encryption on computers (very suspicious, why aren’t they letting us see what they are doing, what are they afraid of)

Reality is these latest terrorists were reported by authorities in Russia as being associated with extremists. The 9/11 attackers also had the same identifiers.

Visit foreign countries… go to extremist training areas… probably hang out with extremists the rest of the time…

That is a short list.

There are exceptions to this rule. The far left and far right terrorists here have hung out with extremists advocating terrorism locally, historically. That trend actually goes back to the 19th century.

So, there are not really exceptions to the rule.

Mass murders and spree killers are hard to find beforehand. But, political or religious motivated terrorists are not that hard to find.

No reason for mass illegal surveillance of civilians. Stick to the profile, and they could probably start catching guys.

Alex April 24, 2013 1:17 PM

Police only like photography when it’s convenient. IE: doesn’t show their misdeeds.

With everyone walking around with essentially a video camera on their mobile phones, police have two choices: A) Deal with it, B) push for legislation banning recording of law enforcement. I’m sure they’ll push for the latter.

Philippe April 29, 2013 7:33 AM

The best part is that this spilled in Europe as well.

If you come near any official EU building (Parliament, Council…) with a profesionnal camera and tripod, security gars will rush you. A bit like these buildings were bunkers while they are suposed to be democracy palaces…

And we didn’t have our “Boston” yet to reverse the steam, even temporarilly.

Danny May 12, 2013 5:57 PM

“…willing to give up our freedoms in exchange for some type of perceived security.” Kinda like gun control?

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