Homeland Security did its best impression of the Party from 1984 this week after taking to Twitter to claim that photography can be a sign of terrorism.
It's no secret that photographers regularly have to cite their rights when being told they are not allowed to photograph certain places or buildings, even when they are perched safely on public land. Time and time again we have posted videos and court cases of everything from overzealous security guards trying to usher away a photographer from the building they have been ordered to man, through to the seizure of camera equipment for the crime of only appearing suspicious. It's a dangerous precedent and the Department of Homeland Security for the United States has now made steps to formalize that notion.
While awareness of suspicious behavior is undoubtedly important, the net cast here by DHS is so wide it's likely to return to the boat with far more than just fish. Frank LoMonte of University of Florida's Brechner Center for Freedom of Information gave the Columbia Journalism Review a tongue-in-cheek but powerful summary: “When you look at what DHS identifies as the signs [and objects] of suspicious photography—‘personnel, facilities, security features, or infrastructure’—it basically leaves squirrels as the only thing that’s safe to photograph ... That's a pretty breathtakingly broad inventory.”
It's an exaggeration to say that this sentiment is similar to that of a totalitarian state, but only a little one. Christopher Hitchens on a talk about the Axis of Evil and Saddam Hussein's regime pointed out a culture of fear whenever you mention their leader's name, as if anything could happen next. In more contemporary comparisons, we are watching live as Dong Yaoqiong — or "Ink Girl" — has gone missing after throwing ink over Xi Jinping's face in images of him in public, in China. Feeling fearful of having your camera out or taking pictures of or near government buildings is just a stone's throw away. Whether directly intentional or not, this tweet is aiming to dissuade photographers from taking photos in certain public areas. I needn't unpack the conflict this causes with the U.S's First Amendment and constitutional rights and its patent infringement.
What are your thoughts on the DHS's message here? Do you think it's a fair and reasonable measure to combat terrorism, or is it Orwellian and invasive?
Thank you to Kat Moore for bringing this to our attention.