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July 22, 2008

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton basts DC Union Station Mamagement

The following is the text from a blog post originally posted here. For full text, links and images see the original blog here

Norton Schools Union Station Management on Photo Rights, Other Issues

norton2.jpg Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) used her perch as chair of a House Transportation subcommittee today to blast management for Washington DC's Union Station over their treatment of photographers, and LightboxDC was on the scene.

The hearings were sparked in part by harassment of photographers at the historic train station, and led to an hours-long grilling of station management regarding inconsistent policies on photography and a raft of other issues.

Norton kicked off the hearing with an opening statement that read, in part:

"Reported first amendment violations and denial of access by the press and public as well as inconsistent messages by Union Station personnel are especially troubling. In June, a photographer was detained by Union Station security personnel for taking non-commercial photographs. A real time display of the confusion about access came when Channel 5, a major television outlet here was shut down by security personnel while interviewing the chief spokesperson for Amtrak, who was explaining that photography was allowed. Although management officials asserted that a ban on photography was not the policy, Channel 5, National Public Radio, tourists and a host of amateur photographers have been shut down or given inconsistent direction on photography at Union Station. The evidence of confusion and arbitrary actions by security personnel reflects the continuing absence of clarity concerning public access. Union Station appears to be a case study for the necessity of my bill, H.R. 3519, the Open Society with Security Act, to assure public safety while maintaining the highest level of free and open access to the public."

Norton also reinforced the fact that Union Station, while hosting a mix of retail and other uses, remains public property. "The overriding public interest has never been in doubt: to provide the public access to a federally owned facility," Norton stated.

Incredibly, representatives for the entities that manage Union Station offered prepared statements that sidestepped, entirely, the very issue that helped initiate today's hearing.

Photographer Erin McCann came prepared to remind them of her long and frustrating chronology of attempts to communicate with them about their policies. "Often, my calls and e-mails have resulted in being given conflicting information, sometimes minutes apart by people in the same office," McCann testified.

Station managers said they're working to fix the problem, but Norton branded management's approach "pathetic" and demanded immediate removal of their signs claiming Union Station is private property and that photography can be banned at their discretion. Norton also mandated that management submit, within thirty days, a new draft policy regarding the rights of photographers and other public access rights within Union Station.

Tom Fitzgerald of DC's FOX5 covered today's hearing. His report, along with other videos and links, is here. Washington Post coverage here.

July 21, 2008

Arrested for photogrpahy

Meet Carlos Miller, a photojournalist in Miami, Florida. Carlos was recently arrested for disobeying an unlawful order to stop taking photos on a city street.

July 18, 2008

A few questions for my aviation photogrpahy buddies

I received an email from someone that appears to be an Air Force officer. His email came from a Gmail account, so I cannot verify who or where he is ... but he seems genuinely helpful and honest.

His email came with the following disclaimer: "I do not work with Nellis AFB, I'm at a different base, so I'm not authorized to tell you these things, but they are mainly public knowledge, also, I can not completely speak for them, due to their regulations may be a bit different than ours, that being said, let me go through these questions."

So anyways, without quoting his entire email I will just sat that there are two points that were made many times over as he answered my now famous "seven questions"

In many of his responses he made reference to the military police's jurisdiction extending off base to any location that is withing LOS (line of sight) of the base.

Also in many of his responses he referenced increased jurisdiction/rights on the part of the MPs and decreased civilian rights "around military bases" while we are in a "state of war".

My questions are these:

1. Does anyone know for sure if the MPs jurisdiction extends to any location within line of sight of the base?

2. Is the US actually in a "state of war"? (The USA has not declared war on a country since WWII)

3. Does a "state of war" increase the MPs jurisdiction over civilians and/or reduce our rights "around military bases"?

Note: A later email from this person states "due to a majority of US military assets being deployed to Iraq and other countries, the Department of Defense has declared that the US military is in a state of war, even if congress has not actually declared war on a country"

A Google search for "DoD declaration of state of war" turns up nothing.

Does anyone know if the DoD has declared a "state of war"? And if so, what does it mean?

Ive said this before many times but I think it's worth repeating.

I have no interest in being a troublemaker or a pain in the ass to the Air Force. I have no interest in finding out what the law is so that I can "get around" the law. I want to know what the law is so that I can be sure that I never violate it and I never do anything to jeopardize my nation's security. And I certainly do not want to end up in jail for taking a picture of something that I should not have. ..and I want to pass this information along to other photographers as well to keep them out of trouble.

I'd really like to know if my passion for aviation photography can co-exist with the laws of our land. ... but sadly nobody in a position of authority is willing to say what the law is. I'd like to make sure that we can all stay safe and legal when we go out photographing planes.

The laws regarding aviation photography in the proximity of a military base (if any actually exist) are our nations best kept secret it seems.

July 14, 2008

Request to fellow photographers

If you think that what happened to me at Nellis was wrong (Details here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/allenrockwell/2444562197/) and you do not want the same thing happening to you some day, please help me by expressing your opinions to the Las Vegas media and the authorities at Nellis AFB.

This is a matter of protecting your rights as a photographer.

I think it's important for these people to realize that I am not just one lone wacko out here writing letters ... there are several of us wackos Laughing <-- that was a joke.

What we need from Nellis (or the Air Force) is answers to the following 7 questions: (feel free to cut and paste these into your emails)

1. Do the Air Force police have jurisdiction over civilians outside of the air base?

2. Do the Air Force police have the authority (without a court order) to look at my photos? If so, under what authority?

3. Do the Air Force police have the authority (without a court order) to force me to delete my photos (Seizure of my private property)? If so, under what authority?

4. Do the Air Force police have the authority to detain and question a civilian on public or private property that happens to be in the proximity of an Air Force base?

5. Do the Air Force police have the authority to force me to move from private or public land just because I can see the air base from where I am standing.

6. Does the Air Force in fact have regulations regarding photography of “less common” aircraft? I’m not referring to secret or classified aircraft, but rather aircraft in the USAF inventory (as the officer stated) “in lower numbers”.

7. Does the Air Force have regulations concerning civilians photographing aircraft from public or private land outside of air bases?

You may submit your opinions on this matter to any or all of the following:

Las Vegas Sun Newspaper
[email protected]
[email protected]

KTNV ABC 13 Las Vegas
[email protected]
[email protected]

KVBC NBC 3 Las Vegas
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Nellis AFB Public Affairs Office
[email protected]
[email protected]

Col Howard Belote's office, Commander Nellis AFB
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Here is a sample letter that you may want to use as a starting point for your letter to the people at Nellis AFB ... feel free to modify it any way you see fit  http://www.allensphotoblog.com/Sample.txt


Man Arrested for "Unlawful Photography"

Originally reported at tricities.com

By Darius Radzius
Reporter / WJHL
Published: July 11, 2008

Nearly everyone carries a cell phone and it’s hard to find one without that camera feature.  It’s convenient when you want to take that impromptu photo, but a Tri-Cities area man ended up behind bars after snapping a shot of a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop.

The cell phone photographer says the arrest was intimidation, but the deputy says he feared for his life.

“Here’s a guy who takes me out of the car and arrests me in front of my kids.  For what?  To take a picture of a police officer?” said Scott Conover.

A Johnson County sheriff’s deputy arrested Scott Conover for unlawful photography.

“He says you took a picture of me.  It’s illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer,” said Conover.

Conover took a picture of a sheriff’s deputy on the side of the road on a traffic stop.  Conover was stunned by the charge.

“This is a public highway,” said Conover.

And it was not a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy as Tennessee code states.  The deputy also asked Conover to delete the picture three times.

“He said if you don’t give it to me, you’re going to jail,” said Conover.

Under the advice of the Johnson County attorney, the sheriff would not comment and the arresting deputy said he didn’t want to incriminate himself by talking to us.

In an affidavit, the deputy said he saw something black with a red light which he thought was a threat.  Conover was also arrested for pointing a laser at a law enforcement officer.

“At no time did I have a laser.  I had an iPhone,” said Conover.

When you take a picture in the dark with Conover’s Apple iPhone, there is no flash or any light that comes from the phone that could be mistaken for a laser.

In a witness statement by a Mountain City officer, is says the deputy asked about the picture rather than looking for a laser.

“If you arrested me, wouldn’t you take the laser?  If you arrested me, wouldn’t you take the camera?” said Conover.

He expects these charges to be dismissed.

“This guy maliciously arrested me, charging me with phony charges that he don’t even understand himself,” Conover said.

The American Civil Liberties Union would not comment on Conover’s case without fully reviewing the allegations, but told us there is no law that prohibits anyone from taking photographs in public areas, even of police.  Taking photos is protected by the First Amendment.  Conover is ordered to appear in a Johnson County court on August 6th.

July 09, 2008

Another photographer harassed for no good reason

Today I was looking though the latest images from my contacts on flickr and I came across this one from Josh.

So today I was at a small nature park with some of my family. I'll spare the boring details since I'm sure everyone has been to such a place. So I was sitting on a pier on the lakeside, when some County police officer pulls up in his golf cart, and asks me "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

So I told him I was a visitor to the park and was a visitor. While this sounds like I was talking back to him, he did not at all ask in a tone or a way that was wondering my name. Even when he asked a second time, it did not occur to me he wanted my name... Eventually I asked him if he wanted my name since the guy was apparently too much of a dunderhead to just ASK that. He said eventually someone had seen me walk by the beach area with my camera, and that they called it in, no joke, that was the complaint apparently. He then proceeded to tell me that any photographs where you can zoom in and recognize someone was not allowed, against their privacy rights, and required a signed paper from everyone in the picture. I think I stared at him in utter disbelief here for a moment, but I don't really recall. I didn't even take any photos at, or near the beach...

Then Mr. Power Trip wanted my License (this might have been prior to the previous line, actually). Unfortunately I caved in, which I really regret since he took down all my information, from the license in his little book. They don't list weight on the license, so he decided to ask me what I weighed, I asked him why, and he asked again, and I told him to take a guess. Next he said he was going to run my name through "all the lists" and he bets I'll "show up on at least a couple" (THAT is a direct quote)

I told him several times he was free to look through all my photos if that would please him, but of course, this really wasn't about the photos, is my guess, and more about Mr. 5'5 trying to boss around someone twice is size.

After he told me I had to leave immediately and was not welcome back, "especially with a camera" (ooooh). Around this time I asked to speak to his boss, and luckily enough the park manger was just about 30 yards away, I guess not really his boss but I figured it would do for a start. So I went over to him.

He was a somewhat nice guy, and I don't want to make him sound like a total ass when I don't believe he really was. First he told me, after I gave him an explanation of the events, that the cop was allowed to do whatever he pleased in the county because he was a county officer. Of course, I told him this was utter nonsense, and he can't just accuse and take peoples stuff at will. The manager agreed with me, and told me that they don't allow any professional photography in the park, I guess that's what he thought I was doing, it sounds like nonsense anyways... or are any photos of people allowed where you can recognize them as it's against the law (again. W!T!F!). Now in an effort to remedy his situation as fast as possible I just said I think you're wrong regarding that" and offered again to show my photos, and told him I offered the cop the same several times already. I think at this point he realized that I wasn't doing anything wrong, even by his distorted view of the law and rules, and he told me essentially to enjoy my current and any future stays to the park. (which, by the way, there won't be any...)

While I did write to a friend because I know they've encountered similar, if anyone knows of the best person, place, agency to write regarding this type of crap, not only the photography part, but the accusations and tone he talked to me with, I would really really appreciate it. Thanks! Really wish i remembered the guys name. I am horrible with names...

The original post on flickr:http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshschwartz/2653474865/



July 02, 2008

Coral Gables Police Delete Ladies Images

Original Story and images here


In a sunny morning of June 10, 2008, I was taking a walk on Coralway in Coral Gables, just several blocks from where I live. It had rained earlier and all plants were wet and shiny under the bright sun light, so I took a camera with me. I put a big yellow straw hat tied up with a bandanna so the hat wouldn't get blown by wind. (scroll down to see photo) This hat thing was to protect my face from the intense sun light as I easily get sun spots on my face exposed to the sun. I simply grabbed this piece of fabric to attach the hat to my head to keep the hat on my head. It never occurred to me that my outfit was too exotic for some xenophobic Coral Gables police officers.

In retrospect, the problem started the very moment the officer saw my outfit. But the more apparent problem started when he saw me taking a picture of the police motorcycle. Immediately I was treated like a terrorist/criminal/illegal/lunatic, with a series of interrogations. He ordered me to hand over my camera, just to discover that all display on the camera was in the Japanese language. This offended the police officer, not being able to read a thing, in a great deal, fueling to his xenophobia. He had me help change the language setting to English, and after that he would not let me see what he was doing with my camera. He actually ordered not to move.

I kept saying to him that he could delete only the pictures with the motorcycle but other digital images should be left alone. He kept saying he wouldn't delete the other images. Before giving me back the camera, he opened up the camera, took out my 1GB (one gigabyte) memory card, and threw it to the ground. At that time I was just coping the situation because I was frightened with this big officer with abusive attitude. I said, "Would you please not to do that?" as I picked up the memory card from the ground. I offered him to put the memory card back to the camera, but he still didn't allow me to touch my camera.

Finally he handed my camera to me, and again, scared me by shouting "Leave now!" Naturally I left the area in shock. I had walked about a block away from the site when I discovered that my 1GB (one gigabyte) memory card was totally erased. I am a visual artist and there were large number of high resolution images of my work and also my personal pictures in the memory card. All gone. For what?

I will not be quiet about this. Abuse of power by law enforcement officers is an ongoing national problem. I don't care how small and trivial my problem may seem. I refuse to accept police abuse of any scale and any content.

Feds Use “Terrorist Liaison Officers” in Colorado

Hundreds of police, firefighters, paramedics and even utility workers have been trained and recently dispatched as “Terrorism Liaison Officers” in Colorado and a handful of other states to hunt for “suspicious activity” - and are reporting their findings into secret government databases.

It’s a tactic intended to feed better data into terrorism early-warning systems and uncover intelligence that could help fight anti-U.S. forces. But the vague nature of the TLOs’ mission, and their focus on reporting both legal and illegal activity, has generated objections from privacy advocates and civil libertarians.

“Suspicious activity” is broadly defined in TLO training as behavior that could lead to terrorism: taking photos of no apparent aesthetic value, making measurements or notes, espousing extremist beliefs or conversing in code, according to a draft Department of Justice/Major Cities Chiefs Association document.

All this is anathema to opponents of domestic surveillance.

Yet U.S. intelligence and homeland security officials say they support the widening use of TLOs - state-run under federal agreements - as part of a necessary integrated network for preventing attacks.

“We’re simply providing information on crime-related issues or suspicious circumstances,” said Denver police Lt. Tony Lopez, commander of Denver’s intelligence unit and one of 181 individual TLOs deployed across Colorado.

“We don’t snoop into private citizens’ lives. We aren’t living in a communist state.”

From the Denver Post