Photographers Hassled By Police Might End Up On ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’

People should not have to worry about being hassled by law enforcement when they are out taking photos with their camera. But in the total fear zone known previously as the United States of America, you not only face questioning by police officers, the government might be keeping records (known as Suspicious Activity Reports) on where you’ve been and what photos you’ve taken.

ACLU Posts Fed-Collected ‘Suspicious’ Activity Reports Online : NPR — With all the talk of spying by the National Security Agency, it’s easy to forget the government engages in off-line surveillance, too. In the last few years, the feds have expanded efforts to collect tips about people’s behavior in the real world; they’re called suspicious activity reports.

Hal Bergman, a freelance photographer in Los Angeles, has a fondness for industrial scenes, bridges, ports and refineries.

“They’re large and they’re hulking and they’re utilitarian and they look interesting,” he says, “and they are spewing steam and I find that visually fascinating.”

The problem is Bergman’s fascination raises suspicions. He’s routinely challenged by security guards and police officers — even when he’s shooting on public property. Most of the time, the officials accept his explanation, but every now and then, they report him to the feds.

And then there is this account from a Reddit user:

Reddit — A few years ago I was waiting in line to get my car onto a ferry boat, and noticed a neat looking building maybe a mile off in the distance. The sun was really nice, so I got out and took a picture.

Then a guy in a Port Authority uniform came up and said, “You can’t take pictures.” and said something into his radio. Two more PA guys came and asked me pretty much everything.

“Why did you take a picture of that building?”

“I dunno, it just looked cool.”

“Because it looked cool?” with a serious I don’t believe you stare.

“Yeah… I thought the smokestacks were kind of neat.”

“Are you aware that that building is a power plant? It is vital infrastructure.”

So the interrogation continued — Where do I live? Where am I going? What are all these other pictures in my camera of? How long have I lived in this country (I’m Asian-American, born in NYC)? Where did I go to school? What do I do for a living?

Let’s go through a few of these questions.

“Why did you take a picture of that building?”

– Well sir, none of your business, but if you must know…because I felt like it.

“Are you aware that building is a power plant? It is vital infrastructure.”

– I can’t really say I thought it through that far, but now that you mention it, I guess it could be a power plant.

“Where do you live?”

– None of your fucking business.

“Where are you going?”

– Your mom’s house.

“What are all these other pictures in your camera of?”

– Pictures of my penis…for your mom.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist a bit of juvenile humor to go along with similarly juvenile behavior by law enforcement. But back to serious business.

This police state overreach is a direct result of the panicked overreaction to the terrorist events on 9/11/2001. They say 9/11 “changed everything,” but it was not the terrorist attacks that changed everything, it was our fear. These were one-off horrific events that shook us to the core. Our desire to make sure something like 9/11 never happens again blinds us to the reality that we ultimately cannot fully protect ourselves from people determined to do us harm. But our fear so grips us we are powerless to do anything other than continue to strip away our freedoms in the so-called land of the free. — 9/11 was the day freedom died in America.

Shadow photography


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