Police are now telling photographers whom they accost, and from whom they obtain IDs — photographers who are acting entirely legally — that their names will “be added to the Terrorism Data Base.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again: if you don’t have to hand over your ID, don’t.
I’ve also written about the a-buildin’ database before, but here’s another article worth reading for its comprehensiveness:
Federal officials are closer to establishing what amounts to a nationwide database of so-called “suspicious activity reports” that describe possible evidence of terrorist attack planning. Reports will be submitted not just by state and local police and agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, but also private corporations that control economic and infrastructure assets considered high-profile targets for terrorists. A required public notice surfaced one day before the nine-year anniversary of Sept. 11 confirming that DHS would be finished implementing its own internal database of suspicious activity reports by mid-October. Contents will flow in from DHS personnel at the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration and other agencies housed in the department.
The definition of “suspicious activity,” however, remains under fire from civil liberties advocates who worry that the legal basis is shaky for tracking behavior that merely happens to resemble what a terrorist might do prior to an assault.
Federal authorities piloted a suspicious activity program in several states and issued findings earlier this year. They showed that of more than 5,700 reports compiled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, only a dozen met the standard Washington is promising to enforce for inclusion in the nationwide portal. In Virginia, only seven of nearly 350 met the standard.
Photography is specifically mentioned as a “suspicious activity.”
A Federal Register filing makes clear the kind of information the Suspicious Activity database will contain: Passport number, Passport Expiration date, Issuing country code, Age, Date of birth, Ethnicity code, Tax identification number, First name, Last name, Middle name, Eye color, Hair color, Height, Weight, Gender, Race, and Clothing (only a few items in a very long list of other characteristics).
Finally along these lines, this commentary by Michael German of The American Civil Liberties Union (a policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI Special Agent), on how these SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports) and their associated databases and data collection and analysis efforts threaten our civil liberties:
SAR programs not only pose civil liberties threats, but they also subvert counterterrorism efforts, as the extraneous information collected only pollutes the intelligence system and makes it less useful and reliable for law enforcement.
From what I can tell, to date the SAR programs have not resulted in apprehension of a single legitimate terrorism suspect.
The civil liberties dangers posed by SAR programs are significant. Under SAR programs, engaging in everyday activities like taking photographs, drawing diagrams or taking notes or measurements could result in a policemen, FBI or Department of Homeland Security agent stopping you, demanding ID and detaining or arresting you.
After that, your information could be entered into a database of “suspicious” potential terrorists — despite the fact that you’ve done nothing wrong — simply because the government has determined that a small number of terrorists might also engage in these same ubiquitous activities.
Evidence the ACLU has documented around the country reveals that, under SAR programs, wholly innocent people have been stopped and harassed by law enforcement officers for engaging in First Amendment-protected activities.
The ACLU position paper on the subject — useful comments there regarding SARs’ focus on photography and photographers.
The Other Side Department
Hitherto unknown to me, it appears that Ansel Adams not only did his landscapes and nature photography — for which he is justly famous — but also a period of street photography, in Los Angeles ca. 1940. A collection of twelve may be seen on the NPR site. Judging from the square format, they may have been taken on 120 roll film, so perhaps with a Rolleiflex — not quite as good as a Leica for surreptitious street photography, but really, really quiet.
Worth a Chuckle Department
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday hailed [Advanced Imaging Technology machines] as an important breakthrough for airport security and the fight against terrorism.
Yet when it came to testing the devices – which produce chalky, naked X-ray images of passengers – she turned the floor over to some brave volunteers. [Emphasis added]
So You Want to Go to Yale? Department
Problem is, Yale is in New Haven, Connecticut. And New Haven apparently has a SWAT team that has an institutional over-active thyroid. Radley Balko’s summary.
So Hard to be an Objective Journalist Department
Guidelines from the Washington City Paper regarding attending the John Stewart/Stephen Colbert “rally” in Washington, D.C.:
- You may attend the rallies in a non-participatory fashion.
- However, because the rallies are comic events, you may not laugh.
- The act of not laughing, though, can be just as politically loaded as the act of laughing. Therefore, staffers are advised to politely chuckle, in a non-genuine manner, after each joke.
- To avoid any perception of bias, please make sure to chuckle at all jokes, whether or not you find them funny. As journalists, we must make sure to not allow our personal views of “humorous” or “non-humorous” to affect our public demeanor.
It only gets better from there.
For My Eyes Only Department
Went to have my eyes checked a couple days ago. If anything, my distance vision has improved (20/20 in both eyes), and there’s no sign of eye problems associated with diabetes. So far, so good.
Ah, those tattoos — one sort of had to get beyond them to work with her successfully.