Thursday, June 5, 2008


GUARDIAN, UK What is it with photographers these days? Are they really all terrorists, or does everyone just think they are?

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.

Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don't seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

Because it's a movie-plot threat. . .

Terrorists taking pictures is a quintessential detail in any good movie. . . The problem with movie-plot security is it only works if we guess the plot correctly. If we spend a zillion dollars defending Wimbledon and terrorists blow up a different sporting event, that's money wasted. If we post guards all over the Underground and terrorists bomb a crowded shopping area, that's also a waste. If we teach everyone to be alert for photographers, and terrorists don't take photographs, we've wasted money and effort, and taught people to fear something they shouldn't.

And even if terrorists did photograph their targets, the math doesn't make sense. Billions of photographs are taken by honest people every year, 50 billion by amateurs alone in the US And the national monuments you imagine terrorists taking photographs of are the same ones tourists like to take pictures of. If you see someone taking one of those photographs, the odds are infinitesimal that he's a terrorist.


At June 5, 2008 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The silliness of the "war on terror" and the costly, paranoid, and ultimately ineffective police state it has spawned is starting to hit home.

At June 6, 2008 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole War On Terror thing has been nothing but showbiz from the beginning. The actions being taken by the government are not at all intended to catch terrorists. The instant 9/11 gave them the pretext, the paranoid power-hungry elite decided this was the perfect excuse to create an SS/KGB-style police state in America by which everyone is made afraid of everyone else.

Fool of Eris

All honest people are expected to inform on anyone they see whose behavior does not match white middle-class social norms. Since the average is that which no one ever exactly matches, we can all be made suspects.


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