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Friday, 20 March 2009


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Hey did the 911 hijackers have a photograph of the twin towers to identify them before impact? I have a sneaking suspicion they knew which ones to hit just by looking through the jet's windshield. Let's ban airliner windshields.

yes, unfortunately, we have an inept, incompetent and venal government that seems to make a hash of every law it passes. What we have done to deserve such wretched set of politicians is a mystery, but if we can screw our own society up in any way at all, our government will unerringly find that way and take it.

Undermining ordinary freedoms and arresting those who complain is almost an art form - witness the woman who was arrested for quietly reading the names of the soldiers killed in Iraq in front of the Cenotaph (a public war memorial in Whitehall). Orwellian or what?

Bruce Schneier has an insightful essay regarding photographers, terroists and movie plot scenarios.


It is of course a silly law.

Politicians passing laws to assure the people that they are doing everything possible to protect them is nothing new. BS but nothing new. I think it more the politics of fear than any sort of stripping of individual freedoms with the desire to assert complete control over the population. It's a little scary but it seems to work for a lot of elected officials...

That said there must be hundreds upon hundreds of laws that are never enforced. Is there in fact a string of arrests made under the articles of this law and will there ever be? I doubt it very much...

I'd be interested to see the real aftershocks of this law a year or two later.

Why do we implicitly believe that only city photographers will be prosecuted?

Let's imagine a purely fictional situation.
Imagine a person in the USA (if the same legislation passed) walking around Yellowstone park taking pictures.
Here comes policeman and arrests him for being a terrorist, because, as was pictured in that doomsday film (and use a bit of imagination), one could detonate an a-bomb and make whole Yellowstone park a giant volcano which would end the civilization as we know it.
We can extrapolate further:
No pictures of any open body of water because one could poison it and reduce amount of drinking water available.
No picture of any fields or farms - you can poison future food.
No picture of any mountain - a well placed bomb could make an avalanche.
Sorry, no pictures of forests either. One is certainly figuring out where to start forest fires.
No pictures of wild animals - you are looking for virus carriers.

Where do we draw the line? How can we remain silent when we will end up taking pictures only of our family, some indoor macros and middle-of-nowhere deserts? (Not that deserts are not a beautiful motif.)

Yup. Taking a camera out in public these days must mean I'm either a terrorist or a pervert.

A cranky security screener told me once that "big cameras like that" need to be declared ahead of time (it was a Canon 40D!) That's only happened once, though, I think I just caught the guy on a bad day.

Anyway, I think this sort of thing could easily happen in the USA. Certainly some overzealous official could confiscate your camera, memory card, or worse, even if it were technically illegal for him/her to do so.

The toilet analogy is priceless....

Terrorist use explosives, ergo explosives should be illegal to use even for mining purposes.

Sieg heil.

Oh, and remind to spend my tourist dollars any place but the UK. Hmmm, what else can we embargo?

I'm shocked, appalled, and sad. I always keep coming back to the Ben Franklin quote : "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Of course, this only provides the illusion of safety to those who think terrorist always take out their targets with cameras.

And as much as I like photography, I couldn't care less that I may not be able to see photos of UK police. No big deal in that regard. And I'm sure that type of reasoning is what led to this law, which is unbelievably short-sighted.

This quote is from a BBC article about the issues "In a statement, the Home Office said taking pictures of police officers would only be deemed an offence in 'very exceptional circumstances'."

That's almost like saying "sure we passed a law that might harm some people, but we won't use it that way - just trust us."

Why should UK photographers trust them? Apparently they think every photographer is a potential terrorist...

I live in the UK. What makes this even worse is that this applies to people who have been members of the police or armed forces in the past. So, in theory, they can prosecute me for taking picture today of my dad (who did national service in the 1950s). Also, as I have spent a year in the armed forces (nearly 20 years ago) - I could be prosecuted for taking pictures of myself!

There's a really good resource on photographers' rights here: http://www.urban75.org/photos/photographers-rights-and-the-law.html

there is an increasing paranoia all over the world not only when it comes to terrorism. just look at BSE, bird flue, dust particles in the air etc.

the easiest way to convince people to vote for new laws restricting their freedom is to make them afraid, afraid of whatever comes in handy.

generalizing is one of their favorites, currently being seen in germany, trying to blame computer games for those horrible events.
as you brought up the toilet analogy there is another one concerning bread. terrorists and people who shoot students without reason do eat bread, therefore bread increases the aggressive potential of those consuming it.

sad thing, people actually fall for that and only few try to resist.

I'm really looking forward to study in California even though the political discussions already piss me off for it's just too ridiculous to actually participate yet you can't avoid it.

I am a documentary photograper & I have just returned to Australia after completing an 8 month project centered around Bristol in the UK. During this time I was detained twice by police and attacked (strangled and beaten) by "members of the public" because I had taken pictures in public places; I was accused of photographing children for nefarious purposes and was asked to stop photographing a bomb scare in Bristol city centre because of the possible threat to national security. I am lucky. I was able to go back to the relative sanity that still prevails in Australia. I found the entire experience extremely stressful in stark contrast to my last time in England when photographing on the street attracted mild curiosity at best. Today, its people are deeply suspicious and aggressively antagonistic towards that which they deem another invasion of their limited privacy. Today in the UK there are over 4.2 million CCTV cameras, that's 1 for every 14 people. It is indeed a surveillance society. The erosion of the kind of freedoms we have always taken for granted is ongoing and seemingly unstoppable. Governments the world over (including Australia) are using the threat of terrorism to enact all manner of draconian legislation. This is one of the greatest threats we are all facing today, on a par with global warming and the current economic meltdown. Unfortunately, nothing will be done by the electorate until the effects of this are felt to the extent that it topples the walls of apathy which pervade the middle classes; It won't affect my life...

It's tragic isn't it. Jack Straw is the instigator of most of this nonsense, the man is an absolute demon in the face of liberty.

I don't have a website but you can see pictures from that project at http://gallery.lfi-online.com/gallery/index.php?cat=12476&view=5102
Under the pseudo "Bondipix" entitled "Reasons to be cheerful" - you get the picture!

Both my daughters are in the police here in the UK. Does this mean it is now illegal for me to take photographs of them? NO, it does not.

According to the Association of Chief Police Officers: "Police officers may not prevent someone from taking a photograph in public unless they suspect criminal or terrorist intent. Their powers are strictly regulated by law and once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order. This applies equally to members of the media seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places,"

However, many police officers have abused their powers even before the 16 February changes. Nothing will change.

Can you please stop blaming the government for this? The government created the law, passed it, and is now enforcing it while all this time Englishmen have just sat there not doing anything about it. Who´s fault is it then? You can´t expect politicians to do the right thing, but they might if you just tell them to. And no, writing articles and comments on the internet does not count as a protest.

In the first place, why would a terrorist need a photograph of something that's in plain sight?

Secondly, assuming that a photograph would be of any use to a terrorist, wouldn't it make more sense to use the most inconspicuous camera possible like a cell phone camera?

Send a squad to Buckingham Palace!

I suspect that are a lot of tour- er, terrorists, taking pictures of the guards there.

The Queen has to be the biggest target in Britain, right?

"Hey did the 911 hijackers have a photograph of the twin towers to identify them before impact? I have a sneaking suspicion they knew which ones to hit just by looking through the jet's windshield."

From what I read in the liberal newspapers, some of the hijackers went to the observation floor with a GPS and got the readings. No one is proposing to ban GPS units from the public, but let's go after cameras. You know cameras can be put to nefarious uses. So can telephones and e-mail, but that's going too far.

As I have written before, it's being used as an excuse to curtail civil rights - nothing more. It's an excuse to harass civilians. Remember McCarthy? Well, his ghost is back, and it's here to stay.

You look suspicious - so there.

Peter Adamski slightly mis-states what the new law says, but only slightly. The new law says:

"(1) A person commits an offence who—

(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been—

(i) a member of Her Majesty’s forces,

(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or

(iii) a constable,

which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or

(b) publishes or communicates any such information.

(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action."

Of course, the compatibility of this with Human Rights legislation hasn't been tested.

The government have now said that they are going to issue guidance to the police to stop them from using the legislation to harass photographers:


(Although it still leaves us at the mercy of the police's opinion of us.)

The police themselves seem to be pretty unhappy about all this, as it will leave them in an impossible position when policing major events like the London Olympics.

Using their own bloody "logic" with all the cameras they have trained upon their own citizenry, you'd think they'd be one up on identifying and capturing all these would be photographic terrorists by just letting them go about their business right on video.

Reminds me of the same "logic" where security confiscated liquids before boarding and dumped them all into one large container thus creating (again by their own logic) the potential for one massive WMD.

It's only a hopeful consolation at the moment, but such a wave of ridiculous examples of how this law could be misapplied to real (but pre-legislation) scenarios has been aired from every direction that I get the feeling that our government is already backing sheepishly away from this one. Fingers crossed for 'clarifying' legislation which cuts off its cojones.

If the act of taking picures becomes illegal, only criminals will be taking pictures.

So two things happen:
1) Nothing changes for true criminals/terrorists. They don't care about a silly law like this.
2) If you or I try to take a picture, we become criminals.

This type of law really needs to be discussed before passing.

David Bostedo wrote: And as much as I like photography, I couldn't care less that I may not be able to see photos of UK police. No big deal in that regard.

The video of Rodney King's beating at the hands of a group of white police officers shone a harsh light on a brutal culture of abusive racial prejudice. In Canada, a confused Polish immigrant's death-by-taser at the Vancouver airport only became a huge national controversy because a bystander caught the incident on videotape.

Under a law like this, the witness would be arrested, the video (or memory card) hidden from the light of day and the police left free from judgment and rebuke.

It may be difficult to arouse the non-photographer public about this, though. I haven't had a problem where I live now, but in Calgary, where I lived for 20 years, my street-shooting forays were routinely interrupted by questions and admonishments from random "citizens". The general sentiment being that I needed permission before I could point my camera in public.

One gentleman found me on a sidewalk setting up a shot of a weathered building juxtaposed with flowering bushes. He wanted to know who i was working for, if I had contacted the building's owner, what I was planning to do with the picture. After I blew him off, he pronounced, "You, sir, have no ethics!" and stormed away.

You nail it with this sentence: "It's a giant, fat red herring that does nothing but cede unreasonable power to authorities.."

And this is exactly the point of all these laws. I really doubt that the "photographers are terrorists" meme exists; this is just read into such laws. I remember those laws from the 80s, in the eastern bloc; you were warned by everyone that waiving a camera other than in front of tourist attraction could bring you in trouble.

So, what's the common denominator between eastern europe in the 80's and such laws?

Why not see it this way. Photography is an activity pursued in public places. In a free country, free people would be able to to this as they like; just like walking or traveling or sit down and sip a coffee. For a government, however, this is an outrage. To govern - to exercise authority, to command, to rule - is the very nature of a government, as it's name indicates.

So, in a way to show it's power and superiority, the further a government is placed from democracy, the more it will restrict and control the behavior in public spaces. Not because anybody believes in some threats. But to make a point: the public space is owned by us, the government. If you don't behave, if you decide to stick out - we are will take measures as we like.

If you're into time travel, check out the soviet union in the early 80s. Crowds of people moving in the streets, always conscious to not attract attention of the authorities.

I don't want to be a cynic. I dislike cynicism (other than in hilarious gallows humour), but I sometimes get the feeling that it's not possible to be cynical enough.

The discussion around this law focuses on the terrorist angle. What if that's just smoke and mirrors? What if the real reason for the law is to make it more difficult to record unacceptable police behaviour for later use by newspapers or in civil lawsuits. No society is immune from bad cops, but there have bee many instances of egregious behaviour in Britain. If I were the consulting company hired to lobby the government to pass legislation to make it difficult to sue bad police acts, I would call it "anti-terrorist" legislation. First, you eliminate half your opponents right off the bat, and second, you almost guarantee that the resulting public debate will be beside the point.

I am not an authority on history but I suspect that this is the kind of law that fascist states like a lot (and I include Soviet-era communist states in that category.)

The entire photography aiding terrorist nonsense is tiresome to listen to. But it has the vague appearance of action. It's not much different than anti-drug laws though. Some drugs have always been illegal, and more and more laws are passed to make them more illegal. But I've never known a time when it was NOT possible to buy anything you could want. There are now drug-related problems in every corner of our society, where there weren't before, and there are open gun fights in the streets in many places (Mexico, inner cities, suburbs, etc.). But we pass more laws. Who is kidding whom?

Sigh. This new legislation is quite timely for me. I'll be traveling through London and up into Scotland in a couple of weeks. I plan to take lots of photographs while I'm there, I even bought a new super wide lens for the trip.

I am of course leery of how I'll be treated in the UK when I have my camera around my neck. I wonder, is this really just a few cases of police on a power trip that got lots of attention? Or is the harassment of photographers really that widespread that I can simply assume I'll be approached about taking photographs.

I guess the only way to tell is to experience it myself.

I think it is indicative such laws and harrassment occur in Britain and the States. (Yes, the States, too, in spite of the happy outcome of the Amtrak situation.) It seems the politicians there are still trying to find weapons of mass distraction. No, it's not a typo.

I haven't heard about anything like that in Spain, for example. France, while it has just had its problematic decision about "citizen journalists," doesn't seem to regard its photographers with suspicion. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Yes, there is a reason why I chose Spain and France as examples.

As to the "very exceptional circumstances" arguments... Hah! Pull the other one, squire, it's got bells on. Check this article by Adam Blenford. Or this list by Matt Wardman. Exceptional circumstances, each and every one of them.

Sorry, BZ, no pictures of your family; that's child pornography!

Anything to keep the public's focus off the real problems.

I've been going to London for a long time, and obviously it's one of the great cities of the world. However, I've also watched with amazement as the British essentially stand by and watch their governors convert the country into a near-fascist state. It's now quite common to hear that old totalitarian rubric, "If you don't do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." Yeah? What about photographers? What about people running for trains? "Wrong" tends to defined by the very people who are in power, and who knows that "wrong" will come to mean? Fox hunting used to be a great tradition, celebrated in art and literature, going back hundreds of years; now it's a crime. The Brits have a great motor sports tradition, but they managed to virtually kill it by putting up video monitors at every corner that automatically attack your right to drive whenever you do something the least bit creative; what used to be "sport" is now a crime.

Because Britain has a labor government, which people tend to conflate with "liberal," (which they further conflate with "well-meaning"), there's this tendency to think that bad laws, like those involving cameras, are more the result of a bumbling attempt to do good, rather than anything evil. But people should also remember that fascism comes from the left, not the right. IMHO, the Brits have managed in the past few years (aided by an artificial hysteria over pedophiles) to put together about the closest thing to a democratic-fascist state that we've yet seen, aside perhaps from Singapore.

Behave like good little subjects and there'll be no trouble...


This has nothing to do with terrorism - it's to legislate against people making photographic evidence of police brutality, in preparation for the anticipated riots.

Beuler says 'Can you please stop blaming the government for this? The government created the law, passed it, and is now enforcing it while all this time Englishmen have just sat there not doing anything about it. Who´s fault is it then? You can´t expect politicians to do the right thing, but they might if you just tell them to. And no, writing articles and comments on the internet does not count as a protest'

And misses the point completely. Many of us did indeed protest, both nationally and via our elected MP's. Sadly the Labour majority saw that the act was passed and we can only wait until the next general election to oust this particular lot. Before suggesting that we 'Englishman' sat and did nothing it would be worth checking the actual case beforehand.

Get a thousand fed up UK photographers to take pictures of the prohibited classes (constabulary, armed forces, etc.). Then all simultaneously turn themselves in at a police station, brandishing their photos, declaring their guilt, and demanding they each be arrested for their "crime." Invite the press.

Friedrich Hayek described the process in "The Road to Serfdom".

Reminds me of a quote...

On War and the People
"...But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Now who was it again......er......let me think. Ah yes, good old Göring at the Nuremberg Trials

Democracy and freedom is eroded one tiny liberty by one tiny right. No one bit is large enough to move the masses to uprising and by the time it is collectively registered how far it's gone...it's too late.

I'm ashamed of my government and disgusted by their behaviour in recent years.

I was stopped and searched in London a few weeks ago. You can see the 'suspicious pictures' I was taking over at this link.


London feels very different to the way it did 10 years ago. So many more CCTV cameras. Everywhere. Police stopping people and questioning them as terrorists in the streets. Not a particularly hopeful trip back as a result. It is depressing how much it has changed. I'd heard it had gotten worse, but I was still surprised to be stopped like that, within 48 hours of arriving in the city.

The inescapable conclusion is that Britain has handed the terrorists a win...
yes, that's the sad truth, and all our governments do, to the great content of a silent (at least) non-minority.

This law-backed creepiness already manifests, so was I told by a flickr colleage who was molested after taking a picture outside of a scottish shopping mall.

It only recently became legit to take photographs of train stations in the US. I bet the MBTA cops would still hassle anyone taking photos in the stations.

I'm sure such a thing could happen in the United States.

Amazing what the police will question you about. I've been hassled for taking pics in a cemetery, for goodness' sake, and that was before this silly law was passed.

And with regard to the passing of silly laws, I despair of our "elected representatives" actually representing us... Quite simply, they don't.

Mikeinmagog - I was thinking of people out there doing the slice-of-life type of street photography. You're absolutely right from the witness/journalism aspect; That only serves to make this law worse.

Mr. Collier states:

"Sadly the Labour majority saw that the act was passed and we can only wait until the next general election to oust this particular lot."

One of the problems in living in a democracy is that majority rules, and the majority ain't always up to the challenge. Keep the issue in the public eye (one might assume that the media would be all over this issue, but I'm on the other side of the pond so my assumption might be incorrect), keep the pressure on the elected officials, and rock the vote in the next election. Where is Guy Fawkes when you really need him? :-)

We've got silly laws here too - Amtrack only recently acknowledged that photographers do have a right to exist.

I have the feeling that the whirling noise coming from St. Martin's is Sir Winston churning in his grave.

I am truly sorry for your troubles.

Mike's argument would be stronger if his facts were correct. The allegation that "... it has never been demonstrated that actual terrorists use cameras or take pictures" appeared in Bruce Schneier's article as well. When you posted a link to it here, I commented at that time that, for example, the 9/11 Commission Report documents terrorists' use of photography.

So, why in this argument (which I agree with, by the way) does this erroneous statement have to be repeated?

I would like to see an argument of the form: Terrorists use photography to help them plan attacks, of course, but laws restricting non-terrorists from photography are wrong and ineffective because ______. (Fill in the blank.)


My understanding is that the terrorists USED photographs but that there is no evidence that THEY TOOK THE PHOTOGRAPHS THEY USED. Big difference.

Correct me if I'm wrong (but be sure you have your facts straight [s]).


The act passed in the UK makes it POTENTIALLY illegal to take a photograph of a police office, military personnel or member of the intelligence services—or a photograph which 'may be of use for terrorism. Police officers are NOT allowed by law to delete or interfere with ANY images stored on the camera or photographer. This act is window dressing and unenforceable. The secret for fighting this ridiculous law is to quite simply know your rights. I'd recommend that UK photographers take a look at this article :

My sympathy to UK residents.

This kind of law can be easily cancelled if all press and professional photographers would actually work together. Think about what happens if ALL photographers in the UK will just stop for a week. No TV, news, papers, trash magazines, celebrity photos etc. This will easily illustrate the problem with this kind of law and I have a feeling that it will be looked at quickly.

The (sad) reality is that as a society we chose the illusion of safety than our freedom. We don't want to fight for our freedoms or sacrifice anything. We are just busy doing other things instead.

By coincidence I have posted a photograph and comment on Flickr this morning (UK time) about this very subject.

See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30242067@N05/

I have just added a comment linking your post and comments. There is no evidence to support the view that terrorists have taken photographs in the UK prior to any attack on the state or its people! If the opposite were true, in extremis every photographic outlet would be shut and every camera confiscated! And freedom of speech (or other form of self-expression) would ceased to exist in the so-called land of the free!


To illustrate how stupid this whole law is, pull up a Google Earth shot of the Houses of Parliament. It's all there, inside and out, every street and alley around them, and using the scaling device at the top of the screen, you can actually figure out that your terrorist mortar is, say, 242 meters from Point Y, and also get the exact GPS coordinates of both points...and you can do that in Baghdad, no need to come to London to do it.

And if you were going to pull a Guy Fawkes, you really wouldn't have to shoot your own photos anyway. There are excellent ones just across the street in the kiosks, for sale at excellent prices

Bloody twits.


I vote we lock up anyone with photographic memories. Just in case. Forever.


There is evidence that the terrorists not only took photographs, but even set up a lab to develop them. I posted a link to the evidence on T.O.P. on 5-June-2008. Surely you remember the back-and-forth between me and Ctein?

Here's the link:


(I offer this only as an example that I came up with in just a few minutes. I'm sure many more examples exist. How much time did those who claim that terrorists don't use photography in their terrorism spend researching this "fact"?)

My basic point is this: Since the argument that most (perhaps even all) restrictions on photography are silly and in no way improve security is a sound one, how does it help advance this argument to make the implausible (and provably wrong) statement that terrorists don't take photos to aid in their activities?

Surely such a powerful argument (freedom of photography) can be made with true facts instead of made-up ones?


Mmm -- I for one remember Marc Rochkind's objection to Bruce Schneier's article last time.

The "evidence" did not make much sense then -- it still doesn't now!

The link mentions another event (Nairobi bombing) and Massoud's assassination, but no photo surveillance activity around 9/11...

This is not to say that terrorist did not take photographs or use them, but if they did it does not seem to be in the report. Who is "making up" arguments here?

When I've first heard about this ridiculous law a few weeks back, I had to respond somehow, as it really angered (and saddened) me. So, I've created a faux post on my blog describing "my latest trip to Britain" (with a small, somehow hidden link to the news story about the law), which included link to a gallery of "a few snapshots from the trip" - which were just black rectangles, no actual pictures (but captioned as if there were pictures in place). I'm not sure how many of my very few visitors did get it, though...:/ But, sadly, that's how many of the pictures from UK WILL look like soon, should this madness continue...:(

I'm furious about what is going on in the UK, but sympathy? No. We let it happen, plain and simple. We are doing the same in many urban areas of America, and unless we stop it we deserve what we get. How many people in America have actually read the Patriot Act and related law? Exactly. The writing is on the wall, or at least on the web.

In London there is a surveillance camera for every 12 people...at least that was the number a few years ago. The police know the power of images, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that they have finally edged this close to totalitarianism in 'free' western countries. After all, we wrote laws to make it possible, and ignored the ones that were meant to protect us from this kind of nonsense.

Was it Nietzsche who said that if you stare into the abyss for long enough, the abyss starts to stare back at you? In other words, this was a long, slow, steady creep. People watched it, accepted it as part of daily life, and now are becoming it. Random people in a park attacking a photographer for making pictures? This isn't just paranoia, it is a new way of being...and it sucks.

Here is a link to similar garbage in my fine city: http://allnarfedup.com/2009/01/19/encounters-at-the-photographers-rights-protest-in-la/

You seem very convinced of your evidence and I'm not at all convinced of mine. Of course it's harder to prove a negative. Let's just say that it's never been demonstrated conclusively that taking original photographs is an essential part of the modus operandi of terrorists prior to an attack. At least not so that it convinces me that there's any reasonable connection.

The fact that they found a darkroom and a video camera in Nairobi doesn't mean anything at all to me. That's like saying they found a another of those damned incriminatory toilets, if you get my drift.


As to the Nairobi bombing, here's some more data:

He did some last-minute surveillance of the embassy. He reviewed some photos and some sketches of the embassy. He learned all about the plan in Dar es Salaam, and then he was given his instructions. And what you know is he carried out his instructions.
From the transcripts of USA vs. Usama Bin Laden, emphasis mine. Let's crack down on pencils and paper.

Or... Terrorists recruit using social networks. Let's crack down on social networks.

Or... there's a possibility that terrorists train using Second Life and Pentagon's researching a possibility of terrorists using World of Warcraft to plan attacks. Let's crack down on computer games.

Nothing but scare-mongering. Weapons of mass distraction. As John Hanke, the head of Google Earth and Google Maps, said: "The evilness is in the philosophies and the desires of those that want to do evil. They will use the tools at hand to do that, whether it's throwing a Molotov cocktail, or shooting a rifle or using some piece of technology as part of the process."


Er, me again.

re this item, two things. I am English and live in England, by the way.

Firstly, with this law, you are guilty until proved innocent. If you are accused of or even being prosecuted for taking a photo which 'may be of use to a terrorist' how can you possibly defend yourself? What on earth do you say? You will be punished just because a policeman says you are guilty.

Secondly, I do think that this is a move to cover up certain police activities, and not the first. If you look again at Don McPhee's 1984 photo in your entry 'the Miner and the copper', (25th February) you will see that none of the police officers have their shoulder number on their coats. They would not be local men and so could not be identified. Gives them a certain freedom of action, if they are inclined towards violence.

Roger Bradbury

I 've already commented in this thread, but this point just struck me.

The little point-and-shoot (preferably pink or baby-blue) in the hands of a happy-seeming young person pretending to shoot snaps of his/her friends is a ubiquitous sight at ferry terminals, airports or train stations. While us poor saps, with our lenses and camera bags, are being chased down by security professionals, a miscreant disguised as a tourist could be hiding in plain sight and up to no good only meters away.

I just had a vision of a 45-gallon plastic drum filled with confiscated pocket cams.


I am not arguing that the 9/11 terrorists used photography. Rather, I am arguing that Bruce's and Mike's flat statement that terrorists don't use photography is false (in addition to being implausible), and I used one piece of evidence in the 9/11 report to prove this. One only needs one counterexample to disprove a negative statement. (That report is about much more than the events of 9/11.)

If terrorists were planning an attack on a marketplace, or a police station, or a train, or a school, isn't it likely that they would use photography (in addition to, say, maps, blueprints, and personnel schedules) to aid in their planning? Why are photographers so defensive about this?

As I said, the problem with the argument is that it seems to imply that if terrorists did use photography, then the government would be entitled to take away our rights to photograph. By denying that terrorists use photography, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, the proper argument against losing our rights is not being effectively made. Instead, a much weaker argument is being made: "Don't restrict our rights because terrorists don't use photography."


Welcome to our world. There is a serious sense of paranoia in the uk and our freedoms are daily curtailing. We cannot photograph with any freedom but are constantly under surveillance by multitudes of cctvs monitored by the police and, more sinisterly, by private security firms. Bless George Orwell, it didn't quite happen in 1984 but is pretty much here in the 21st century.

"If terrorists were planning an attack on a marketplace, or a police station, or a train, or a school, isn't it likely that they would use photography (in addition to, say, maps, blueprints, and personnel schedules) to aid in their planning? Why are photographers so defensive about this?"

Because the arguments of the anti-photography blackshirts almost always boils down to "isn't it likely that...," which is a very poor reason to persecute all photographers.


Why don't people do anything about this? Well I suspect that most people out there are far more concerned about [celebrities] than they are about any threat to their liberty. Unless it happens directly to them.

Let's face it, the demonisation of the photographer has been taking place in the gutter press for years - Photographers killed Princess Diana. Photographers are all paedophiles. now Photographers are all terrorists.

The tories would be just as bad - it's government for the Mail and the Express and the Sun readers.

I am of course leery of how I'll be treated in the UK when I have my camera around my neck.

No one will notice or care. Please carry on as before.

Antony, just on the contrary - they do have a place for photography. All those Page Threes... :-)

I was in England, Ireland and Scotland last June. I have never in all my travels, seen people more paranoid about photographers then those I met in England. I was able to photograph at will in Ireland and Scotland, and no one paid any attention to me, other than offering suggestions on spots to visit. Unfortunately this is no longer true in England.

Last Friday evening, while shopping in Beirut, I wanted to take a photo of a newsstand on the street. For the weekly talk show of world journalists, "Kiosque", on the french network TV5, which every week shows a newsstand photo from somewhere in the world.
I'm not going to say I got into trouble. But people's reactions made me feel like I was uneasily granted exceptional permission and trust to do something which is usually associated with terrorist assassination plots.
In Lebanon we didn't have 9/11, we had Feb 17th (2005), the Hariri crime. And several others that followed.
But I'm ready to bet none of these car bombings or drive-by shootings involved planning through photos taken openly and in broad dayl... streetlight!
Nothing would've been easier than taking that photo without anybody noticing me. But because I didn't even try to hide or anything, I was viewed as a potential suspect.
A guy buying a paper at that moment said he didn't want to be photographed because he's a military. I assured him I never publish any photos of people's visible faces without receiving their consent.
Even the salesman... well, in the end I was allowed to snap the newsstand with nobody in it. (Thank my baby face.) Let nobody say the Lebanese aren't helpful, three people moved out of the way to oblige me. Turns out the empty kiosk was the best of the three photos I had taken, and the one I'll send to that TV program.
That was close, but all's well that ends well. :-p

I'll soon be blogging this story with the photo I took. Whew, what an adventure!
Next week, I'm going skinny-dipping. Yes, in Lebanon! More specifically, in my bathtub. Yes, I really love living dangerously.

Here's the deal... Britain ceased to be a free country after WWI. The majority of Britains have always been willing to trade liberty for security, and the seeds were set during the post-war period by the fear of 'Communists' (actually, the fear was of soldiers returning from the war to a society where you were born into a class and upward mobility was limited, and those soldiers not being afraid to take a rifle and use it to remove the yoke of serfdom). The British prize many things, but it seems they prize stability over everything else. The feared revolution never happened, but the laws remained, and the result is Britain today... a caricature of what was the birthplace of recognition of individual rights and the limits of the sovereign.

Alan Dershowitz once wrote about creating a Bill of Rights Club... but that you couldn't be a member unless you agreed to protect the most disagreeable excesses illustrating others' rights. Too many Americans are willing to trade liberty for stability, whether it's the imposition of speech codes on campus, the violent disruption of unpopular speakers on or off campus, or the desire to re-impose the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine.' The Left is as guilty as the Right.

The difference between supporting liberty and opposing it is the difference between despising the 'n-word' and pushing for rules against its utterance, hating flag-burning and pushing for a law against it, disagreeing with someone and wanting to criminalize those disagreements.

America was founded on the idea of enlightened self-interest, not social justice or freedom from hateful words. How many people today, even on this list, are willing to defend others' exercise of their rights even if the expression is distasteful?

Just to add to Jeffrey Hornaday's comments about his experience in Belfast - the police are very jumpy in Northern Ireland after a couple of terrorist attacks two weeks ago. It was reported [I think by Tommy Gorman for RTE - reporter for Irish state TV] that police officers were asking TV and press photographers not to show their faces [a request that was roundly ignored, judging by the media coverage].
The reason for the request is simple - since the PSNI [Police Service Northern Ireland] was formed, there are members from what are termed Nationalist areas, as well as from the Republic of Ireland. There's a good chance that, for those members, their neighbours don't know what they do for a living, and might not be so well-disposed towards a PNSI member if they did know. The recent attacks [which killed a policeman and two soldiers] are the work of a small but lethal republican splinter group, who have vowed to carry out more attacks. So I doubt if the police there will be any less paranoid in the near future.

Marc Rochkind:

I believe I understand your point, but I think you may be taking the original «no photo» argument a bit to literally.

I don't think anybody really believes the bad guys never ever used photographs in their entire life.

It's just that there is no really compelling evidence that photography was instrumental in planning 9/11... no more instrumental at any rate than computers, cell phones, maps, pencil sketches or the toilet that Mike most unjustly singled out in this post!

Systematically opposing those who oppose this madness does not seem very constructive...

This is an argument for using smaller, more nondescript cameras when photographing anywhere close to UK police, then posting them online in a very public way, and challenging any prosecutions or persecutions in court, and the court of public opinion.

The alternative is for professional photography organizations and/or famous pro photographers to call publicly for a boycott of the UK until this law is repealed.

Sign Please!

may be, just maybe.... something works...


To the Powers in charge, may be not all Photographers are Terrorists but all Terrorists are Photographers!
All this has a "common purpose" I guess...


Five years ago, some colleagues of mine from Germany were in Washington DC on a business trip. They had some spare time, so they toured the city, taking pictures of the historic buildings.

They were stopped twice by police.

On one of those occasions, the police officer obliged them to delete several pictures from their cameras.

This, in the capital city of the so-called Free World.

Someone please refresh my memory--which side "won" the Cold War?

Statist government have always reduced liberties. As a good man said: "The government is not the solution. The government is the problem."

Now we whine bout our photography rights. but last week, the few countries that allowed privacy on your bank account got internationally denounced and forced to promise they would let go of the privacy. Did anyone mention it on a photography forum? No. But it is exactly the same phenomenon. CCTV cameras, ID cards, punitive taxation, speed cameras, so-called anti-terrorist laws, so-called health and safety regulations, all these devices serve only one purpose: reinforce the government control on individual lives.

Of course some of these laws participate to the general well being. but those are few exceptions and tend not to be recent.

If terrorists were going to use photographs why would they waste their time taking their own photo's when Google already did the hard work for them!

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