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Friday, August 15, 2008

Photographers are terrorists

Slashdot has just published a link to some blogs/articles regarding photographers who have been harassed, ejected, threatened, etc for doing nothing other than taking what I believe most would argue are benign pictures. While the Slashdot posting doesn't contain any specific references to aviation photography, this type of nonsense is par-for-the-course for planespotters, especially post-9/11. I mean, holy crap! That guy has a (gasp!) CAMERA! Quick! Call out the National Guard!

I've been lucky (if that's what you want to call it) so far in that the only harassment I've gotten whilst planespotting is from the courtesy officers at the south parking deck at ATL. I was told several times that I could not photograph planes from that location for "security reasons". I'm not sure what leg they have to stand on: I'm a paying customer, I'm not breaking the law, and they usually have no problems with people who just stand there watching. I guess legally I could be asked to leave at the risk of a trespassing charge if I persisted, but I've never pushed it. I do know what would likely happen if they called the cops though. A friend relays this from an August 10th, 2006 outing:
[A friend] and I were taking pics from the top level of the South Daily parking deck at Hartsfield. I was there all of about 10 minutes before we were confronted by the cops. We were not aware of the happenings of the day nor of the terror threat level being raised [admittedly, this was the day a plot to bomb transatlantic flights using bombs made from liquids was revealed to the media], so we were happily talking and taking pictures. This did not please the cop, and we were told to immediately stop our picture taking. He had asked us if we had obtained a letter of permission to take pictures, and we told him we did not know we needed one.
As for me, I did ultimately end up getting written permission from Airport Ops, and that seems to satisfy them every time now.

Still, I've often wondered what it must look like to people driving past me on the side of Sullivan Rd. There I am on the curb with my camera and 300mm lens, scanner, chair-in-a-bag, and a bottle of water taking pix of planes landing 9R. But seriously. Is what I'm doing not obvious? Do drivers feel it totally necessary to call the cops? And do the cops feel it totally necessary to check your background, take your fingerprints, and arrange a visit from the FBI? Same friend as above, this time in Feb 2007:

Well, another off day for me (from work), so I decided to go down towards ATL to shoot pictures of airliners. Find a great abandoned warehouse with a large parking area, so what do I do? I park and start shooting. Time until Forest Park Police Department shows up? About 30 minutes! Not one, not two, but THREE cars come to investigate me! Two officers and a sergeant! Pretty thorough check on me! Complete NCIC check (full background history), check out the truck, take my photograph and a fingerprint! Good thing was that they let me continue to take photo's....

And then from the same person a few weeks later....

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Wife calls me today to let me know the FBI showed up at our house to interview me! Way Cool was my expression (she said she told the agents that is what I would say!). Then visited me at work and conducted an interview with me concerning my taking pictures of airplanes. Lasted about 20-30 minutes....

I guess my time will come. But I wish aviation photographers and planespotters didn't have to deal with this kind of nonsense. I suppose I have the real terrorists to thank.

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