Terrorism Prevention Video Asks Public to Report Photographers to Police

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.

  • derekdj

    I’m more concerned about Police abuse of power than terrorists.

    This ridiculous rationale of prohibiting photography because of terrorists displays the dumb nature of post-9/11 paranoia. If anything I would want more photography, more video. I love how whenever there is an unsolved crime or event the first thing the authorities do is call on citizens to provide photos, videos or tips. Let’s not forget it was amateur videos that provided the most evidence in the Seattle bombing.

    In case the DHS forgot spies have been relying on visual memory forever, before the advent of digital cameras. Spies were selected for their memories, US sharpshooters are trained in sketching landscapes and noting details. The hilarious thing is our military advisors in Afghanistan and Iraq train their soldiers in these techniques. What are they going to do blind fold people before walking pass a secure building? how about just constantly emitting a smoke screen in front of sensitive buildings. Or better yet, change a building’s architecture every six months so terrorist won’t know where to attack.

  • Mike

    Oh, how we’ve become such a nation of scared wimps.

  • Big Bro Eye

    “Hello, it might be nothing, but I just saw a man in a very puffy jacket. What’s that? Yes, he looked nervous and sweaty. His whiny friend kept calling him ‘Costanza’, which sounds foreign and really terroristy to me…”

  • Scott Hutchison

    Need a photo-vest that says “PHOTOGRAPHER don’t taze me bro”

  • branden rio

    What about Google Maps and Street View? There’s all the photos any terrorist would ever need. And in the video the woman was writing down the bus schedule? Just go on the bus’s website… Everything’s online.

  • Pablo Vernier

    Well, the photographer terrorist is pretty cute.

  • fuzzywuzzy

    Did I just watch Captain America 2? That was a Americana to cheesiest degree.

  • Anshel Sag

    That’s one hot terrorist.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    “terrorists use cameras” is the most BS reason to harrass photographers and yet I have had people say these things to me. do terrorists bring models and use studio lighting too?

  • Happy_Tinfoil_Cat

    Perhaps the people of Houston should start reporting people just like the video requests. “There was a non-white person taking pictures in public, and it felt wrong.” or “Some guy I don’t know let me into the building because my arms were full. Can you send a patrol around to question him?” or maybe “911, my emergency is I saw a car parked illegally”

  • goofer

    If I was to forget my bag somewhere, I must be a terrorist.
    This is propaganda. My guess is you are probably more likely to win the lottery then to die in a terrorist attack.

    If we were to use the money for fighting terrorist to do good in the world, maybe we wouldn’t have terrorist in the first place.

    Or consider the fact that maybe if we were to take care of ourselves and live healthy would be far more beneficial.

    anyway guns kill roughly 10.000 each year in the US. Terrorist don’t even reach those numbers in 9/11 “only” 3000 died. You are far more likely going to be stuck be lightning the to ever die in a terrorist attack.

  • john

    be very AFRAID!

  • Happy_Tinfoil_Cat

    Drunk drivers kill far more, too.

  • Mansgame

    This angers me.

  • Tanja Schulte

    america.. “land of the dumb”….. LOL….. do i have to say more?

  • ennuipoet

    It would be one thing if people had the critical thinking skills to differentiate blatant furtive gestures versus someone engaged in open and obvious photography. They don’t, indeed healthy portion of America would read that sentence and say: “Huh?”.

  • Tomas

    with all respect for you people from USA, that is why the rest of the world look at you like paranoiac freaks and full of fear of everything.

  • mredr81

    OMG!! Stupid people. These days I don’t think terrorist would even bother with taking pix anymore with the offers like google maps.

  • bneg a tive

    You must shoot film, because you’re so bloody negative.

  • joushikijin

    Quote from the YouTube site:
    “Every U.S. resident should be aware of the threat of terrorism and how to handle this threat. Such knowledge is all the more essential when you live in a major metropolitan area. Large, heavily populated urban centers all over the world have long been the favored targets of terrorists. If you see suspicious behavior, Make the Call.”
    Shouldn’t they show videos of American soldiers bringing terror to thousands of people everyday instead of this completely distorted and biased material?

  • Mike Handy

    this is sheer insanity. talk about the terrorists winning! Good job Homeland Security and the New World Order. Making slaves of us all. Slaves upon fear.

  • Norm Cooper

    next Global Photo walk I’m Ratting ya’ll out.. great way to get rid of the competition!

  • Gregg

    You are just as likely to be killed by your TV (or killed by bee’s) than terrorism … not saying it’s not a threat, but having grown up in Houston and currently living as an ex-pat abroad, these sort of videos make it harder for people to take Americans seriously. I can’t imagine the hours and taxes waisted (and civil rights abuses) caused by irrational fear by propaganda like this.

  • nick JH

    If I was a terrorist I wouldn’t be using a conventional camera for this reason, in fact I wouldn’t expect terrorists would, they would want to blend in. Whenever I take my 5d II out in public I always feel like others are looking at me and wondering what I’m shooting, or why a 21 year old is taking pictures with “one of those professional cameras”. Yet no one notices me snapping shots off on my iPhone as its pretty normal, I know if I was personally a terrorist a smartphone would be my weapon of choice for gathering intel in which case especially in cities where lots of tourists are now using smartphones for photos will make it especially hard for people to detect potential terrorists, and things like this make the public ill informed and rubbing off badly on tog’s, I’ve already been stopped before for taking night shots of an industrial site by police and questioned on my intentions with their use, luckily I had my college ID on me and they reluctantly accepted that it was for a project.

  • Buzzerfly

    You had me ging until “Carlos Miller” was mentioned. That hack just wants to keep his name in the news, and in my opinion, intentionally attracts the attention of law enforcement agencies in an effort to have his camera confiscated so he can point his finger at the police and say “Look! Those fascist pigs took my camera!”. After seeing his flailing attempts to garner more and more attention, I now just automatically discredit anything he says.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    I watched the video and completely lost all faith in humanity, then I read the comments in this post and regained some of it. Thank you all for still being critical and not buying this absolute bullshit.

  • shahnyboy

    Right, leave it to Mr. & Mrs. American Joe to decide who is/isn’t a terrorist.

  • Renato Murakami

    Very stupid recommendation to do, and it’s not only because it’s plain useless, but thinking like that can also be harmful.
    It’s not like the police doesn’t have to deal with enough prank calls already.
    Getting everyone paranoid to the point of making calls because they think “something is suspicious”… and said suspicious things being something as stupid as someone taking photos and notes in public, or people with “stuffy clothing”, or the tens or hundreds of douches who park cars where they shouldn’t… this would generate so many fake warnings to the police they’d eventually start ignoring all of them.
    It might even divert the attention to trivial stuff when actual terrorist actions pass under the radar, if you want to be paranoid about that.
    But of course, this is just another way of politics, police and intelligence agencies to:
    1. Boast they “are doing something about it” – same false sense of security given by the TSA;
    2. Putting the blame on people who does not have experience and is not prepared to identify terrorist threats (namely the common citizen) which would relieve them from doing their jobs.
    On the other hand, here’s what tactics like these would be awesome to:
    1. Reinforce prejudice and stereotypification;
    2. Provoking mass paranoia;
    3. Rendering the police useless for anything other than attending calls;
    4. Creating a perfect situation for real terrorists (they only have to avoid doing anything listed on the stupid recommendations).

  • Brisbane Photographer

    We used to laugh at and feel sorry for the Soviets in 70s and 80s. However, it seems that we should feel sorry for our friends in the USA these days, as the nature of the totalitarian governing in their/your country has surely surpassed the freedom limitations that communists used to have in the last century.

    The incredible ignorance and the total lack of respect for own population, particularly photographers’ and artists’ freedom has come to its highest level in the ‘land of freedom’

    Goethe’s quote “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free” sadly comes to its true meaning in today’s USA. It’s a shame that such a great nation is ruled by such a bunch of corporate slaves, otherwise known as ‘true morons’.

  • James Smith

    Do we really need more proof that the USA is no longer a free country? Turning citizen against citizen with scare tactics and propaganda (lies) has been the favored technique of totalitarian governments for centuries. See the attached image.

  • Alex Cruceru

    The land of “freedom” is so funny.This is how you keep your population in permanent fear.They got to them with war on terror for 11 years now they say anyone with a camera it a threat.This makes me laugh so hard.How come in Spain and in Britain, countries that had so many bombs and killings don’t react like this? What is wrong in USA? are they so docile? The gov. sure does know how to put a leash , no kidding around.People should wake up a little bit.

  • thejudeman

    Why would these terrorist even bother using a P/S when they can use their phones to instagram the location and send it directly to their HQs.

  • CodourFather

    I am Rick Perry and I approved this message.

  • Ken Jones

    I wonder if folks in Israel, or even London or Belfast 20 to 30 years ago, if one shouldn’t worry about out-of-place bulky jackets, illegally parked vehicles, or abandoned packages.

    Let’s hope it never gets that bad here.

  • Tnep

    Make the call. Call ghostbusters.

  • fail

    actually it’s the opposite. terrorists do not like, when someone takes picture of them. in this scene the woman in pink who is reporting, is more potential terrorist than photographer.
    besides terrorist use society responses/interaction as their tool, that’s why it is called terrorism. it is really easy to draw off attention when it is announced what exactly is suspicious.

  • newamericanclassic

    solution? never leave your house, and always be suspicious of your neighbors.

    reminds me of that 30 rock episode where liz reports her new middle eastern neighbor for recording videos–which turns out to be an audition for the amazing race.

  • Timmy

    This is just stupid. My fellow american friends, I am very sorry that your money is used for such things.

  • dilman

    Just found this vid on the net…what madness! Every time I attend a motor sport event I find entire spectator ares simply full of “terrorists”. And there is always a host of “terrorists” around the tourist sites in London. Surely Buckingham Palace (I’m not at liberty to divulge who lives there) should have protective screens erected around it and a sign on the roof for airborne terror reconnaissance suspects saying “This is not Buckingham Palace”. Switch on your brains, switch off your paranoia.

  • Russell Kord

    I’ve spend a good part of my life standing on sidewalks around the world. I’ve been asked to stop shooting buildings by law enforcement, and been supported by law enforcement who tell property owners I have every right to be there. In the end it depends on the LEO and the kind of day they’re having. After Princess Di’s death
    people came up to me and called me “Killer!” while I was standing by a view camera
    on a tripod. So logic takes a second place to fear and anger, and sadly there’s a lot of that out there right now.