(Page 2 of 3)
"There are individuals that are taking photographs and are filming security sites for ill deeds, for terrorist activities," says senior media adviser for the LASD Steve Whitmore. "And so we are very vigilant about making sure that that is not happening."
The training the deputies received may have been similar to an August 2010 Deviation Assessment and Response Training (DART) instructor's guide used by the department to train officers who patrol the transportation hubs in Los Angeles. The guide lists a number "surveillance indicators" officers should be aware of, including:
Picture taking or video recording of or around your post, especially when coupled with high magnification lenses. Note-taking at non-tourist locations. Picture taking alone is not a suspicious activity unless the pictures are of railroad tracks, emergency exits, access roads, street signs, bus terminals, and emergency personnel during an emergency or a drill.
The FBI's "Hit List"
Even though the deputies couldn't find any reason to arrest Nee, Gylfie did end up submitting Nee’s name to the FBI. He submitted it through a suspicious activity report to the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a fusion center that pulls together information from a variety of law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering entities. Making that sort of report is in like with department policy.
"That raises concerns that people who are engaged not only in lawful activity but in constitutionally protected expression are in this database where they are identified as engaging in activity that may have a link to terrorism," says Bibring.
The LASD's Whitmore stresses that the department believes in protecting the constitutional rights of photographers but offered this caveat: "If we have probable cause, we are going to investigate that to protect the public. And most of the time, I submit to you: We're going to be right."
The ACLU of Northern California recently released suspicious activity report on Nee, along with over a hundred reports originating from LASD that have to do with cameras. Most record innocuous behavior, says Bibring, like taking photos of a building, a subway, or the skyline of downtown Los Angeles.
"If looking for terrorists is like looking for a needle in a haystack, we seem to be adding not just more hay to the haystack but more and more haystacks of information everyday," says Bibring.
The United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a report on fusion centers in late 2012 that supports Bibring's characterization. After looking at 13 months of material, the committee reported:
The Subcommittee investigation found that DHS-assigned detailees to the fusion centers forwarded "intelligence" of uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.
Whitmore provided Reason TV with a draft of a new photography policy. The draft document, which he says Sheriff Lee Baca supports, champions First Amendment but is skimpy at best on details about the Fourth Amendment rights of photographers.
Are Terrorists Everywhere?
"Everybody is weary of [the] 'where is the terrorism?' [mentality]," says Levenson. [But] local law enforcement [doesn't] want to be the one who's caught missing something."