Police Harassment 8

Yesterday was spent making my way home for South Carolina. I spent the morning doing some work in the hotel and then headed out to Charleston Airport. As always I had my camera with me, but for the first time going through screening they took my camera out and swabbed it for explosives. Once we got settled into the terminal I started taking some pictures of planes taking off. In particular there is an Air Guard base that uses the same runways and there were even two pairs of fighters taxiing to take off.

Now I have been taking pictures in airports for years and have taken dozens if not hundreds since that fateful day in 2001. This was the first time I was asked to stop. Two policemen came up behind me on either side with a female TSA officer hanging back behind them.

I was told “Sir it is illegal for you to be taking pictures.”

I asked, “Since when?”

“Since 9-11.”

“Is it because of the Air Guard base?”

“No,” he said, “you are not allowed to take pictures anywhere in the airport.”

At this point I had put my camera away and was talking with my colleague about what had just transpired, commenting that I had never heard of such a thing and, in fact, knew that there was no such blanket law.

The policeman then said, “Did you understand what I just said?”

“Yes, English is my native tongue,” is what I wanted to say. Instead I simply replied, “Yes, I have put away my camera. Why?”

“You are still talking about it.”

Now, that floored me. “I am allowed to talk about it all I want.”

“Sir, if you take any more pictures you are going to miss your flight. Do you want to do that?”

And there is the rub. He had told me I couldn’t take pictures in an airport, something that is not true, you simply can’t take pictures in security areas.1 When I even talked about whether or not he was actually right he was threatening me with detention, perhaps even arrest. That is harassment, trying to bully me into certain behaviour.

I also never got the sense that he was really concerned with security. If I was not supposed to take and disseminate pictures then why did he not require me to delete the pictures from the camera? Heck, if it was really against the law he could have taken my memory card and perhaps even the camera itself (the main reason why I immediately put the camera away, that and I wanted to get home within 24 hours). My colleague suggested that due to my beard I looked like the “American Taliban” and perhaps they had profiled me. Perhaps. But if they were serious about it they should have taken me aside, frisked me, and questioned me at the security point. None of that happened. Instead some twenty-year-old with a gun bullied me. Somehow I don’t think national security was really at issue.

So here is one of the “illicit” pictures. Nothing you cannot find on many websites around the ‘net.


  1. Had he said I couldn’t take pictures of the military planes, I would have apologized immediately and been done with it. But that was not what he said. And that is also not the case, since the planes were common and out on the public airport. []

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8 thoughts on “Police Harassment

  • Chuck Jones

    Last summer, entering the US in Philadephia airport, I was pulled away from the baggage claim carousel by two uniformed and armed customs agents. They questioned me for abut 15 minutes about what I had purchased abroad. I’d been living abroad for three years, and well, I’d bought lots of stuff: Shoes, shirt, wallet, toothpaste, and so on. At one point they demanded that I show them receipts for two paperback books I’d bought from amazon.de six months earlier than that. It was extremely annoying. I had the sense that one of them was training the other using me as a subject. They were polite, but nonetheless agressive and threatening. It was not until after they targeted me that they saw the Iranian visa in my passport, but that had never even been mentioned by customs before.

  • Jim

    such things are annoying and really, really wrong. if we let this sort of thing go on without protesting, pretty soon no one will be really free.

    • Chris Brady Post author

      I will be calling the head of security at Charleston Airport tomorrow to find out more and register my complaint. (For example, if it is their policy, that is ok, but they should have stated it as such, and politely, not as law.)

  • Looney

    Your post got me curious about any posted regulations. A list from Austin Airport is here.

    It looks like the rules are more about collecting royalties than protecting security.

    Great pics.

  • Richard Wright

    1) I followed the link you provided Chris and although I do not dispute that “there is no such blanket law” I do not think PhotoSecrets by itself was persuasive. They make many claims but did not see specific cases/laws cited. (They may indeed be right – but they need to show that.)

    2) Several years ago a group of us were at BR airport to welcome two people arriving from China. We were asked not to take pictures in the security area. So right or wrong – *that* seems a bit consistent. (Why not? Not clear. May be silly.)

    3) It almost appears that the officer was more interested in intimidating and trying to establish control. You do what he asks, and he still comes after you. Might be a classic “mine is bigger than yours” situation.

    4) I agree with Jim – I think we are as a nation becoming less free. (Sorry about mangling the verb clause there.) But that is another larger conversation.

    • Chris Brady Post author

      Thanks for the comments Rick.

      1) If there is no law that says one can’t take pictures “here” then you are allowed to take pictures “here.” Now, they may have a local ordinance or simply an airport policy, but the police officer did not say that.

      2) Yes, taking pictures in a security area is, I believe, expressly stated by TSA (i have to look for it again) and anyway they usually have a sign up in the security area saying that you cannot take pictures there. That is fine with me.

      3) And that is the primary issue. I am not allowed to even talk about it? Sorry, freedom of speech is still in force. If I don’t he will detain me. He has the gun and the ability to make me miss my plane, so he wins.

      4) Indeed it is the question of how many liberties do we give up to protect our liberties?