After more than a decade of profiling citizens with cameras as potential terrorists, law enforcement officials are now hoping these same citizens with cameras will help them nab the culprits behind the Boston Marathon terrorist explosions.
Adding to the hypocrisy is that these same authorities will most likely start clamping down on citizens with cameras more than ever once the smoke clears and we once again become a nation of paranoids willing to give up our freedoms in exchange for some type of perceived security.
After all, that is exactly how it played out in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks where it became impossible to photograph buildings, trains or airplanes without drawing the suspicion of authorities as potential terrorists.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security along with the FBI routinely advises that photography in public must be treated as suspicious activity – even after a federal lawsuit forced DHS to acknowledge there is nothing illegal about photographing federal buildings.
The truth is, there is no evidence that terrorists use cameras to plan their attacks as security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in 2008.
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 towatch 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 plotsthat 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.
The Boston Marathon explosions, which so far have claimed three lives, took place less than 24 hours as of this writing, so there is still a lot of speculation, even though no suspects have been identified or arrested nor has a motive been determined.
But that didn’t stop an alert citizen from tackling a 20-year-old Saudi man as he was running from the scene – as you can imagine countless others must have been – and detain him for Boston police who determined that he was a person of interest.
The man was taken to the hospital because he had suffered shrapnel wounds where he remained under heavy guard because he smelled of gunpowder – as surely many others did who did not happen to be from Saudi Arabia.
And by nightfall, the FBI and other law enforcement officials had raided his apartment in Revere, Massachusetts looking for some type of evidence to tie him to the crime.
But considering most of the authorities had left the apartment by midnight, it is safe to assume he had nothing to do with the bombings, which goes to show us just how easy our First and Fourth Amendments can be violated in the wake of terror.