TSA Sows Fear of Photographers


There's a spot along the George Washington Memorial Parkway just outside of D.C. called Gravelly Point. It's a picnic and recreation area a few hundred feet from one of the runways at Reagan National Airport. It's a popular spot for photographers to snap shots of planes taking off and landing. It's part of the National Park Service, and the proximity to the airport is a big reason why the spot is so popular. I bring up Gravelly Point because of the absurd TSA poster to your right, spotted by Carlos Miller.

What should we find suspicious about the figure in the picture? That's he's carrying a camera near an airport? Maybe it's the hoodie. But then maybe it's cold outside. Point is, TSA is putting in our heads that photographers are people we ought to view with suspicion.

No wonder law enforcement officials around the country, including TSA workers, wrongly assume that they can stop, detain, arrest, and otherwise harass people who take photos in Metro centers, on AMTRAK, at airports, or in other public places.

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  1. 911 changed everything. If banning photographers makes us all safer, I’m all for it. What is the problem?

    1. Yeah, but what about E-911? I feel so unsafe now.

      1. E-911? Sure it’s cheaper, but it’ll also cut down on your mileage. Just stick with regular gasoline.

    2. This is a joke, right?

      1. A pretty bad one, apparently.

      2. E-911 is a joke… E-911 is a joke…

        Hey, we’re relevant in the 2000’s!

        1. No you ain’t, bitches…

          So get up get, get get down
          E-911 is a joke in yo town

    3. I’d be willing to lose a few people like you if it meant keeping our liberties.

    4. Please tell us you’re kidding.

  2. Hoodie = criminal.

    1. That has been my experience.

    2. We should follow the Brits’ lead and outlaw hoods.

  3. If banning photographers chickenshit cocksuckers makes us all safer, I’m all for it.

    1. Hey! You can’t ban us!

  4. Everyone with a camera is doing recon for a terrorist group whether they know it or not.

    Uh, yeah.

    I take that poster to mean if you see someone that is stealing a plane, take a picture of them.

    When we talk about planes in the wrong hands, I’m not worried about the guy taking photos, I’m more concerned with the guy actually in the plane.

  5. Never mind that the gap under the gate would allow just about anybody to crawl under.

  6. Funny.

    An episode on NCIS:LA started when some plane spotters were able to photo & video tape an attack on a government plane carrying a terrorist (who was being freed by the bad guys).

    If they hadn’t been there and hadn’t taken the photos/video, the good guys wouldn’t have had much of a lead catching the bad guys…

  7. It’s possible he’s an investigative reporter documenting TSA agents stealing passenger’s personal belongings…

    1. Better shoot the fucker, just to be sure…

  8. Has there been any documented case of otherwise legal photography helping terrorists? This is so stupid. What does a photo of a plane taking of offer to a terrorist? Much better photos and detailed technical information are freely available for civilian aircraft. You don’t need to send some guy in a hoodie to look all suspicious.

  9. I always wondered why a terrorist would need a picture of a landmark or plane to carry out the attack.

    “Fredo bin Ladin blew up breeches? He was supposed to blow up a bridges!”

    1. Especially photos of a well-traveled public place, like a train station or airport. Do they think that everyone walks around those places with their eyes closed?

    2. Sounds like it’s time to take Fredo on a one-way boat trip.

    3. It ain’t the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb… I’m smart and I want respect!

    4. If only he had Sprint PCS.

      (Pity they don’t have those cool commercials anymore.)

  10. Patrick Smith (an airline pilot) writes a regular column over at Salon. He tells of growing up fascinated by planes; hanging out at the airport observation deck; and photographing every aircraft he could.

    Now he writes about being hassled whenever he tries to take a photo in the terminal or on the airport grounds.

    1. Patrick Smith (an airline pilot) writes a regular column over at Salon.

      Wow, Picard sure has been keeping busy since The Next Generation went off the air. Seems fitting that he can fly a plane since he was captain of a space ship.

      1. Uh – Picard was Patrick Stewart, not Smith.

        1. Not a Picard fan, else Sage would know he’s been busy at the CIA.

        2. Oh sorry. So this guy blogs at Salon, flies a plane and is host of The Daily Show? What is he, on meth or something?

  11. LOL, do these goobers know what an “air show” is? I went to one at Andrews AFB just a few months ago. They let me take all of the pictures I wanted.

    1. Wow, this could be bigger than the “gun show loophole”…

  12. You know who else used photography towards evil ends?

    That’s right, just about every evil group on the planet. They’re notorious for using timepieces as well.

  13. Nano technology must have created the first camera stinger missile right after the cell phone gun.

  14. The real question here is whether the guy who took the photo of the guy taking the photo is a terrorist.

  15. I’m confused. Who would be dropping the dime here–the TSA or your neighbors?

  16. What are they going to do when everyone has the ability to capture or record everything they see?

    I guess people will have to be blindfolded whenever the TSA sees fit.

    1. What are they going to do when everyone has the ability to capture or record everything they see?

      Shoot their dog, of course.

        1. What a confusing grading system.

    2. I guess people will have to be blindfolded whenever the TSA sees fit.

      Usually after the strip search.

    3. Hey, SF, don’t give them any ideas. The full body scans and taking off half your clothing just to get to an airline gate is bad enough.

      1. I just cribbed off my wife, anyway. Her full quote is:

        “They won’t be happy until we have to fly hand-cuffed, blindfolded and naked.”

        1. HHS regs at that point would ban cloth seats. They would have to be plastic so you can hose them off.

  17. Hey, don’t be so snarky – that camera could actually be the infamous “stinger missile digital camera gun” that you can buy over the internet.

    Just ask your local cop about the technology – heck, we all know they already have cell phone guns, so it’s not a stretch to worry about camera rocket launchers.

  18. Aw, come on. What would you put in the picture on that poster? Anything they made a picture of would suggest they were sowing fear of some commonplace activity.

    How else would you suggest pictorially someone preparing to steal an airplane? You don’t want to show anyone’s features because then you’re suggesting “they” look “like that”. And isn’t it reasonable that someone casing the joint would take pictures? They might talk on a cell phone too, but if they put that in the picture, then you’d say it added to the paranoia about people talking on cell phones.

    1. What would you put in the picture on that poster?

      Bad question. Try: Why does this poster even need to exist in the first place?

      Anything they made a picture of would suggest they were sowing fear of some commonplace activity.

      Yes, that’s the point. This is a textbook example of government ginning up hysteria about a non-existent problem just to preserve jobs and funding.

      1. I would like give this some context: the poster is for the Airport Watch hotline, which is a post-9/11 “Neighborhood Watch” style program. Although I agree, the picture is a bit absurd, the point of the program is that airport “residents” are best able to identify suspicious/unusual activity at their home base, and have this hotline to report it.

        This is in lieu of much more intrusive DHS interference in general aviation — think background checks for every pilot, ID-controlled access to every tiny airport, TSA security screening for every single passenger, etc. All of these things were suggested in the aftermath of 9/11 and thankfully the GA community (AOPA in particular) was able to lobby the DHS to accept this program instead. So yeah, it’s a bit 1984-ish, but the alternative could be way worse (and employ way more feds).

    2. What would you put in the picture on that poster?

      The poster would make a lot more sense if the man was trying to slip under the fence or otherwise exhibiting suspicious behavior.

      And isn’t it reasonable that someone casing the joint would take pictures?

      It’s not reasonable to expect the average person to know the difference between someone casing the joint and someone taking pictures for X, Y, or Z.

      So either the poster is unreasonable, or the poster is intended to get people to call whenever someone is taking photographs.

  19. I’m more concerned that he’s using a real camera to take pictures, instead of an iPhone.

    1. Damn, forgot the link, but you’ve all probably seen it.


  20. http://www.marketwatch.com/sto…..2010-09-07

    The population bomb is back! Everybody party like it’s 1968!

    1. Everybody write HTML like it’s 1996!

  21. And when I first read the headline, I missed the “of” and thought that Balko was calling TSA workers “sows”…which wouldn’t have been completely inappropriate, but totally isn’t Balko’s style.

  22. “They won’t be happy until we have to fly hand-cuffed, blindfolded and naked.”

    You do recall the plan for ‘compliance collars’ on all the customers, right?

  23. And look at this lying-without-lying rhetorical trick Mr. Balko played: writing about Gravelly Point in cx with the poster. Not exactly writing that the poster was at Gravelly Pt., just that there exists a place where people take pictures of airplanes, and there exists this poster, somewhere.

  24. Even if a hijacker was wielding an AK47 the passengers on any flight originating within the U.S. will not allow it to be hijacked let alone flown into buildings. Never again!

    1. Once the folks on Flight 93 new the game, they took action. They died, but they died free and fighting!

      So rather than checking grandma for knitting needles, why not just require everyone between the age of 16 and 75 to carry a four-inch knife when they fly?

      1. Frak! too quick on the submit… *knew* the game…. sorry

      2. Actually, look at All in the Family, Season 3, Episode 1. Archie goes on TV with an editorial reply (remember those?) and recommends stopping hijackings by arming everyone when they get on board. That way when someone gets up to try something, they’re not going to get very far.

  25. Read the smaller print on the poster:
    “If you question it, report it”

    It does not say the guy has no right to take pictures. It does say he might be suspicious, and thus one should contact the authorities who can investigate and either vet the photographer or carry his sorry terrorist ass off to jail.

  26. I will take airline security seriously when they take the steak knives out of first class.

  27. I find it interesting that NONE of you disputed the basic thesis — that this is a non-suspicious person taking a photograph.

    Perhaps you’re all weapons experts, and can recognize all long-range weapons ever made, including when they’re disguised for covert operations. If so, you’re way ahead of me. All I can tell is that we see an unidentifiable person, AIMING A BLACK CYLINDER AT AN AIRPLANE.

    Do you want to tell me that that can’t be a weapon? I’m glad you’re reassured; I’m not.

    And if you think that long-range armed attacks against aircraft aren’t likely in the United States, then you’re missing the point… because TSA folks need to plan for such things and look out for them, all the time. Saying “it can’t happen here” is a recipe for disaster, and they know it.

    Folks, it’s childishly easy to make fun of the security people whose job it is to make us safe. Just about any security regulation can be made to look silly from the outside. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense; it may mean you’re not using your imagination enough.

    Go have another look at the picture, please. While you’re looking, imagine that you are a terrorist, hell-bent on wreaking havoc by destroying a commercial airliner or two. Imagine you must do as much damage as you can, while looking just like the person in the picture. What could you do?

    Daniel in Brookline

    1. Someone’s living in a world of fear…

    2. If I wanted to wreak havoc, I’d buy a gun and shoot people. But I’m just a guy who likes airplanes.

  28. I’m inclined to agree with most of Daniel from Brookline’s comments. I agree we’re in a post 9/11 world and need to be more aware of our surroundings.

    The key point on that poster is “If you question it, report it”.

    I live adjacent to a main line RR Track and nearby an international sea port and have seen “TSA” posters similar to this near each of them. I’ve also photographed traffic on each, on the railway as a long time railfan and at the inlet as a nice scenic background. I’ve also been questioned by the local police and have experienced no problems or issues as a legal and responsible photographer, native born U.S. Citizen, and U.S. Army veteran.

    1. After rereading that post I feel I needed to add to my comment … “I’ve also been questioned by the local police and have experienced no problems or issues as a legal and responsible photographer…”

      The ONLY time that I’ve had a problem is one time that I crossed the RR tracks (posted) to get to some public, State Preserve Land (not posted) behind my home to photograph the passing of the first “pure” Amtrac train on the FEC since the late 1960’s a few months ago. I received a warning from both agencies for trespassing.

      I could have “taken issue” with the “Park Police” but didn’t and could have “taken issue” with the railway police about crossing safely and with more than the ordinary citizen’s knowledge of railway traffic – but didn’t. I did knowingly (and safely) “tresspass” to get to the other side for a better and safer vantage point to photograph the passing.

    2. So you’re implying you were trusted because you’re a native and military veteran? Which soldier did you play in Starship Troopers?

  29. The real terrorists are often our own government

  30. I can sketch and draw maps really well. They should ban all art, not just photography, just to make sure.

  31. Government Mandated; Pornography or Molestation – FullBody Scan or Enhanced Interrogation Pat-Down

    Our Nation Once to Build Radiation Shelters and now we have Full Body Identification Radiation Chambers with Little Alternative to Travel

    Meg Mclain- ‘I’ve never had so man grown men with guns shouting at me for no reason.’



  32. Where do you draw the line with this type of thing? You could argue that anybody with a mobile phone is equally a threat to security as a person with a camera. It’s so arbitrary !

    Photography Poses

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