Shooters beware: The risk of taking photos in a Post-9/11 world

The world is full of so many cameras in so many forms these days that there are bound to be those who misuse the technology. With the proliferation of camera phones and smaller and smaller point and shoot type cameras it is almost a guarantee that in any public gathering place there will be dozens of cameras policepresent. Here in the states a few months ago there was a major bridge collapse in the state of Minnesota that happened right in the middle of the evening rush hour. In a matter of minutes after the collapse people were already sending in on-the-scene photos of the disaster from their cars and the surrounding apartments. The abundance of photographic tools is so great that the major news organizations of the day like CNN, and MSNBC routinely ask their viewers to send in any photos they might have of newsworthy events to their websites. This makes a lot of sense, especially from a news company standpoint, because they not only get more up-to-date photos but they also don’t have to pay anyone to do it, it’s all on a volunteer basis. And people love the idea of having their blurry little camera phone photo flashing around on CNN all hours of the day!

But this abundance of cameras also has a down-side to it because of the heightened threat of terrorist attacks throughout the world. Government agencies, corporations, and people in general have become more and more suspicious of photographers. You already have to have written permission to take photos in most public buildings like museums or offices (and even then, you can’t shoot with a tripod while in the building). But more and more people are reporting being harassed by security officials while taking

pictures in front of or even near government buildings, airports, and public areas. Even tourists in the major cities like London and Paris are starting to get frowns from the police as they take smiling group photos in front of Big Ben and the House of Parliament. The ironic fact is also that the people most likely to getplane “busted” for their photographs are the ones with the nice professional looking camera rigs, which goes against reason since a terrorist would probably be more interested in subtlety and would avoid the attention a nice fat camera and lens would bring.

So what are the world of photogs doing about this apparent crack-down that is starting to crop up in major cities around the globe? In the United States, according to some sources, there is nothing in the Legislation known as “The Patriot Act” which prohibits taking photographs of anything. So, as to the legality of such harassment there are a number of organizations out there who have started to disseminate what exactly are the rights of photographers when they’re out and about with their cameras. They’re trying to let people know that they don’t have to be intimidated by guards or policemen who try to frighten them out of taking perfectly legal photographs. An excellent source for the rights of photographers can be found at the following link; The Photographer’s Right. I recommend checking it out, because more than likely you might have to explain yourself someday, and it would be nice to know what you’re rights really are.

So, as avid photographers in an age where there is a rising edge of paranoia around our hobby, make sure you know what’s ok to shoot, where, and when. And even then, be prepared to stand up for yourself if the need arises.

April 18, 2008

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