Monday, September 13, 2010

TSA to Photogs: Only Terrorists Hang Around Airports with Cameras

If you take photographs of private planes at or near smaller, local airports (known as General Aviation facilities), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) considers you a terrorist, not a photographer.

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from a new poster distributed by the TSA to GA facilities across the country. The poster depicts a hooded figure with a camera, standing outside a chain-link fence. Beyond the fence is a small, private jet. The poster encourages people to report suspicious activity to the police

The TSA's stance is pretty ironic considering it does not have jurisdiction over these facilities. These GA facilities are non-commercial, locally run facilities, not federal. The TSA just advises them on security.

A TSA spokeswoman said the posters were given to GA facilities across the country, but they are under no obligation to hang them. She also said she did not know why the posters depict a photographer, rather than, say, someone trying to break into a local airport facility with burglar tools.

The spokeswoman also said she suggests that photographers wanting to take photos at a local airports should check with the press office at the facility and get permission beforehand.

This sounds reasonable, but there are two problems with this advice.

For one, many small GA facilities don't have press offices. In this case, there is no one to go to for permission.

And more importantly, a photographer does not need permission to take photographs of anything from public property. So standing on public property taking photographs outside a fence that just so happens to have a bunch of airplanes behind it is not illegal.

Despite what the TSA may be trying to say in its posters, this does not make you a terrorist.

What the posters may end up doing is giving more headaches to photographers. It encourages average citizens to report suspicious activity. It depicts a hooded figure with a camera in a suspicious light. What conclusion do you think the average citizen will draw from this? That when the weather gets colder and you go out wearing a hooded sweater to take pictures near an airport, you'll most likely have the cops called on you because someone thinks you're suspicious.

Besides, real terrorists don't need to hang around airport fences in hoodies with cameras to get their intel on the facility. They can probably get all they need from Google Earth.