Homeland Security is running a campaign to teach Americans how to “recognize the signs of terrorism-related suspicious activity,” and one of the signs to look out for is photography.
Here’s the alert the Department of Homeland Security Tweeted on Monday:
Know the signs! Did you know photography and surveillance could be a sign of terrorism-related suspicious activity? If you notice this, be sure to report it to local authorities. #seesay #protectyoureveryday pic.twitter.com/Xu9L6p5FcR
— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) July 9, 2018
“Did you know photography and surveillance could be a sign of terrorism-related suspicious activity?” DHS warns. “If you notice this, be sure to report it to local authorities.”
The specific warning is part of a larger new campaign called “If You See Something, Say Something,” which aims to train citizens in spotting warning signs and reporting those things to authorities. Here’s a larger campaign infographic with all of the “suspicious activity,” of which Photography is the second one listed:
Proponents of photographers’ rights aren’t happy with this latest warning, which is broad in its language.
“One of the real problems with this ongoing campaign is that by listing [photography] in a leading way as an example of suspicious activity, rather than just requesting citizens to report suspicious activities, [DHS is] planting a seed of fear and suspicion about otherwise innocuous behavior,” NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher tells Columbia Journalism Review.
“[This] is not focused on the right of photography or media filming itself, but more about what/how/when someone might be photographing or filming something,” Homeland Security tells CJR. “We are not asking people to file a report if they see someone taking pictures through the normal course of daily life, but rather if someone is filming secure areas or security protocols in a prolonged manner.”
After the Tweet was published, commenters (including Osterreicher) immediately began pointing out that the First Amendment protects the right to photograph in public places in most situations.
— FriendofTrees (@JamiaStarheart) July 9, 2018
Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right—and that includes transportation facilities, the outside of federal buildings, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties @instagram @Flickr
— Eric Nelson (@CommodoreNelson) July 10, 2018
How about Tweeting the part that "No investigative activity should be conducted based solely on a person exercising his or her First Amendment rights." See below for the complete directive pic.twitter.com/jrGUWJiGZp
— Mickey Osterreicher (@nppalawyer) July 9, 2018
This definitely isn’t the first time Homeland Security has issued public warnings about photography. Back in 2012, it funded a video that suggests photographers working stealthily could be potential terrorists.
“If you see someone trying to conceal what they are doing, taking pictures of exits, security or restricted areas, if they hang around for no apparent reason, ask inappropriate questions about schedules or the facility, or if they try to avoid security when approached, make the call,” the video states.
Thanks to Mickey Osterreicher for sending in this tip.