A group of Boy Scouts from Central Iowa received a lesson they won't forget in federal manners at a border crossing from Canada into Alaska. According to the scoutmaster, a casual snapshot of a Border Patrol agent got the group of about two dozen scouts and volunteers detained, searched—and one of them ultimately held at gunpoint.
According to Marcus McIntosh of Iowa's KCCI:
Boy Scout Troop 111 Leader Jim Fox spelled out what happened to him and the Mid-Iowa Boy Scout Troop 111 as four van-loads of Scouts and adult volunteers tried to drive from Canada into Alaska.
Fox said one of the Scouts took a picture of a border official, which spurred agents to detain everyone in that van and search them and their belongings.
"The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison," Fox said.
Fox said he was told it is a federal offense to take a picture of a federal agent.
Not wanting things to escalate, Fox said he did not complain.
Another of the Scouts was taking luggage from the top of a van to be searched when something startling happened.
"He hears a snap of a holster, turns around, and here's this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man's head," Fox explained.
Charles Vonderheid with the Mid-Iowa Council of the Boy Scouts of America is getting a lot of grief for referring to the incident as a "lesson in civics." But he told me that he made the comment after getting blindsided by reporters before learning any details about the encounter. He assured me, though, that he and the Boy Scouts are concerned about scouts' safety and support them. He also said that Troop 111's Jim Fox, who led the group that endured the gauntlet at the border, is "a trusted scoutmaster who cares about his boys."
I've been unable to reach Fox, and I'll update once I hear from him and Customs and Border Protection (see below).
For the record, federal rules specifically permit photographing federal facilities, at least for "news, advertising, or commercial purposes." There don't seem to be any special limits on just-because snapshots.
Except where security regulations, rules, orders, or directives apply or a Federal court order or rule prohibits it, persons entering in or on Federal property may take photographs of—
(a) Space occupied by a tenant agency for non-commercial purposes only with the permission of the occupying agency concerned;
(b) Space occupied by a tenant agency for commercial purposes only with written permission of an authorized official of the occupying agency concerned; and
(c) Building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors, or auditoriums for news purposes.
The American Civil Liberties Union offers guidance, too, including the photography of federal agents:
Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.
But, adds the ACLU, "there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply."
Relatively isolated border crossings in Alaska might be the sort of place where you'd run into that pattern.
Update: Customs and Border Protection responds to inquiries with a statement:
CBP takes any allegations of wrongdoing very seriously. CBP's review of this group's inspection, including video footage review, indicates that our officer did not un-holster or handle his weapon as stated in the allegation. The review revealed nothing out of the ordinary. We have reached out to the Boy Scout troop for additional information in reference to the allegation. The video footage has been referred to CBP Internal Affairs for further review.
Whatever else this means (and believe as much of it as you like), clearly border officials have no objection to photographing the public.
Update 2: Allegations that a CBP official pulled a gun on the Boy Scouts are "unsubstantiated" insists the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General. However, CBP did order a scout to delete a photograph of the port of entry, cuz the fact that the U.S. shares a border with Canada is super-secret. And they tossed the kid's luggage after finding a photo of a marijuana bud on his phone. They also forced the rest of the scouts to remain in their vehicles during the fruitless search for that bud under threat of detention. So all is well, say the feds.
Below, more fun with the Border Patrol, from Reason TV.