Rights fading away

If you hadn’t already noticed, I am a keen hobbyist photographer. I love going out with my family and taking pictures of everything around me. This is pretty harmless and it gives us nice pictures to hang on the walls or foist off on relatives in place of Christmas and Birthday presents. As a pastime, there could be much worse.

Being interested in photography, I always considered myself lucky that I was born in a democracy where people are basically free to indulge in their hobbies and predominantly interested in landscape photography where you dont have to ask someone to smile.

It seems, however, I was actually quite wrong and it is only my tendency for landscape shots that keeps me on the right side of the law. Despite our “evil freedoms” being abhorrent to the nutcases like Usama Bin Laden, we actually have a lot less than you would think. Actually, that isn’t true (yet) but I will come back to this.

Two news items from this weeks Amateur Photographer magazine give pause for thought about our “rights” and freedoms. The first is a worrying incident in the land of the free:

A TV crew filming a story about photographers being harassed at a US railway station were stopped by security and told to switch off their cameras. (…) Tom Fitzgerald, a reporter for Fox 5 television, was interviewing the chief spokesman for rail operator Amtrak when a security guard ordered the crew to stop filming. Ironically, the spokesman had apparently just confirmed to the reporter that photography was, in fact, allowed.

It continues to mention that this is not an isolated incident (flickr discussion) and the madness that “moves are afoot to introduce draft legislation designed to protect the rights of photographers to take pictures.”

It is doubly ironic that they tried to put paid to the film crew filming the company spokesman saying filming was allowed. What better example of corporate non-communication could there be?

The Amtrak Goons are insane, but are not alone. We have a similar problem in the UK:

Olympics 2012 bosses have apologised to photographers who complained about heavy-handed treatment by security guards at the East London construction site. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) came under fire after two amateur photographers complained following a confrontation outside the site on 3 May. Louis Berk and Steve Kessel say they were left feeling intimidated after guards demanded to see their identification. ODA spokeswoman Laura Voyle said the guards approached the photographers ‘to investigate a report that they had been seen within the Olympic Park boundary’. However, the pair insisted they had been on a ‘public pavement’ and had not ventured onto the Olympic site itself. (…) And [Olympics Security Manager] promised to conduct a ‘review of instructions on how they will deal with issues relating to photography’.  (…) However, [Louis Berk] does not feel reassured, telling us: ‘What concerns me is that I still don’t know if the ODA realises that suspicion of taking photographs of their property from a ‘public place’ is not a cause for intervention by the guard force.’

There is more madness around the 2012 London Olympics but this highlights the current problem.

In a nutshell, both instances were the result of private Security Guards not being aware of the rules regarding their location. This is down to poor education by their employer. In the UK you can photograph almost anything (some locations are exempt under the 1911 Official Secrets Act) from a public place. If you can see it, you can photograph it. Kind of makes sense really. It is different if you are on private property, but 90% of the time the property owner will give permission. Again, it makes sense. I can only assume the law is similar in America.

What is worrying is that both instances show people have a default setting of STOPPING photography. I will be charitable and say neither organisation put out instructions to annoy members of the public (including tax payers who paid for the bloody Olympic-farce) so the security guards must have assumed the camera was a security threat. Over the last few months there have been lots of occasions where over zealous guardians have taken offence at people trying to take photographs, even in (weirdly) popular tourist destinations like Trafalgar Square. I have read claims that people were questioned because they could be “terrorists doing reconnaissance” (with an overt camera and tripod – good job Johnny Foreigner isn’t clever enough to use a mobile phone camera…) or other equally spurious risks (there were children present etc..).

The problem is, these fears (and certainly this one in particular) are nonsense. Bruce Schneier, BT’s chief security technology officer, recently wrote an excellent article for the Guardian where he dismisses most of these fears. The article is really, really worth reading even if you aren’t a photographer – there are many more “freedoms” at risk from our apathetic approach to them and “terrorism.” Schneier has an interesting theory that this madness where we fear long-lens cameras is because it is a “Movie Plot Threat.” Also worth reading.

Sadly, it may well be too little, too late for our society. We fear that the evil Islamic terrorists will destroy our culture, so to “beat” them we destroy it ourselves. Well done us.

Says it all

A competition in the Metro – to rearrange the shapes in the LOndon Olympics logo produced this great image.