One of the common reasons given for being wary of photographers is that terrorists commonly use cameras as part of their information gathering tactics prior to devastating attacks.
The disconcerting video above is a terrorist prevention video that was funded by the Department of Homeland security and uploaded to Houston’s city website back in January 2011. Starting at 1:42, it attempts to convince people that photographers may be potential terrorists, and that the police should be called if one appears to “hang around for no apparent reason.”
Here’s a transcript of that section:
Cameras and recording devices have gotten so small, that most of us seem to have one with us all the time. It’s not unusual to see people taking pictures or video almost anywhere.
But surveillance and information gathering is a common practice used by terrorists prior to an attack. If you see someone trying to conceal what they are doing, taking pictures of exits, security or restricted areas, if they hang around for no apparent reason, ask inappropriate questions about schedules or the facility, or if they try to avoid security when approached, make the call.
Carlos Miller of Photography is Not a Crime came across the video recently, and writes that the claim is bogus. He points to a 2008 article titled “The War on Photography“, in which security expert Bruce Schneier writes,
Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.
Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.
The article is definitely worth a read if you haven’t come across it before.
After seeing videos like this one, it’s no wonder that we often hear about law-abiding photographers getting harassed and stopped by law enforcement. It’s public perception that needs to change.