Targeting photographers as potential terrorists

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I read something disturbing the other day about a hobbyist photographer who was harassed by guards at Disney World for taking pictures. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of such a thing, but it’s just as depressing each time I read an account of people being targeted as potential terrorists for photographing something just for the love of photography.

You can read the full story over here on his site but the basic gist is that he was using a dSLR camera, had it on a tripod, and was working on some HDR photography which required him to really take his time. On top of that, he wasn’t even photographing people, he was taking pictures of a building and enjoying the light. It ended with a lot of questioning until he finally left of his own free will – but was escorted out.

It bothers me tremendously to think that photographers are continually suspected of being potential terrorists. I understand that people want to feel safe and that precautions do need to be taken, but does anyone honestly believe a band of terrorists are going to walk around with big, hard-to-miss cameras, tripods, and take a lot of time to set up shots? I would assume that a terrorist would be more interested in remaining inconspicuous and would take shots as quickly as possible if they were bothering with photos at all.

I’ve also had friends harassed for taking pictures even though they were out in public. To date I’ve been lucky to never get questioned in any way (other than the “what the heck are you doing?!” type of curiosity questioning, but that usually only happens when I’m lying on the ground with my camera), but I wonder whether it’s just my good fortune or perhaps because of the laws in Canada. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

If you’re curious about your own rights as a photographer here are some links:

In the U.S.
In the UK
In Canada

Some of those provide links to handy PDF files as well which is great, because you can print them up and carry them in your camera bag to use as a reference should a situation arise. If I’ve missed your location you can also go to Google and type in “photographer rights in [your country]“.

You should also do a quick search on rights and laws if you’re planning a trip to another country just to make sure you know what you are and are not allowed to do.

Have you ever been harassed for taking photos? How did you deal with it?

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  • kdastonjr

    I am a civilian photographer working for the US Military( photographing USO,MWR and Military events) and on occasion I have been questioned and we have an authorization letter that allows us to photograph on base. The weird thing is that the military members can purchase cameras and capture images during the shows as well as take photos on base and they are never questioned or “harassed”. Once the MP or security forces see the DSLR they FREAK OUT and don’t know why?
    A camera is a camera no matter the size! I think a DSLR is just more intimating than a phone or a point and shoot camera.

    I totally agree that a terrorist is going to keep things low key to avoid detection and would not take time to set up a shot.

    Here is a site that has a lot of helpful information as well

    Keep shooting