Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Photography Rights Under Fire on Amtrak and Elsewhere

While this hilarious Stephen Colbert report makes light of the situation that Duane P. Kerzic found himself in on December 21, 2008, I don't think it's a laughing matter. 

The facts of the case are:

  • Kerzic bought a ticket and traveled to New York's Penn Station
  • He was there to take photographs
  • He intended to enter the photographs in Amtrak's annual photography contest
  • He walked around the platform between Tracks 9 and 10, taking some cool photos
  • He was handcuffed and detained for an hour by Amtrak security
  • He was issued a citation for trespassing
  • He wrote letters and emails to everyone under the sun

Now obviously I don't know how Kerzic behaved in the period leading up and after his arrest.  One might intuit from his website that he is a bit umm ... uhh ... how to put his ... obsessive.  But clearly he's got a point that he was in a public area of the station and Amtrak policy allows photos in public areas.

While this may seem to be an isolated case, Amtrak has a history of incidents like this.  There are a number of internet discussions, associations and even T-shirts that are evaluating the ramifications of the 'war on terror' on the rights of photographers to take pictures of public buildings, transportation systems and other 'sensitive' facilities.

I've actually been 'challenged' by a federal officer while taking photos in Washington, DC of the Federal Reserve complex.  While I was not asked to do more than provide my identification and wait while the tactically-armored officer ran my name through the terrorist watch list or something, it was still a sobering experience.

I don't doubt that there are people in the US who are here to do us harm.  What I do doubt is the value of diluting the freedoms that America says it represents in order to protect us from what ever potential harm is out here.  The actions of government in the post 9-11 period have eroded the basic freedoms of Americans.  From photography to protection against wiretaps and internet snooping, we live in a period where we can taking no activity for granted.  Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis states my point better than I ever could - 'The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.'

I have few hopes for the new Obama administration.  There's too much to do and too many people willing to let the mess fester for their own benefit.  One thing I am expecting from Obama and Holder and the rest is an end to the Cheneyist reduction of personal freedoms and a return to a government that honors all of the Bill of Rights, not just the second amendment. 


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