DOT response to the ACLU regarding photo harassment

This letter is in response to this one, sent three months ago from the ACLU to the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a series of incidents in which DOT guards harassed photographers. The ACLU demanded that the DOT lawyers explain the guards' actions, and after several prodding reminders over the course of the summer, the lawyers finally replied with this letter.


The DOT response also included a 2004 letter from the Department of Homeland Security regarding photography and federal buildings. I've not seen this policy posted online before, but it's the most recent official guidance any federal security force has regarding photography. Anyone would do well to print it out and put it in their bag next to the Krages document. I've pasted it in the first comment below.


And it's unbelievably lame.


First, in response to the DOT's letter:


The guards were very clear in my interactions with them that there were no circumstances under which they would allow me to photograph the building. I'm a bit disturbed and annoyed that their response to the ACLU failed to directly address the systematic actions of the guards; they seemed to think my incident was unique, when we've established that it's a patten of harassment. (And they lose MAJOR points for their assumption that the complaining photographer is a man.)


I'm asking other photographers to approach the area again to see if the response from the DOT guards is any different. It's my understanding from their response to the ACLU that no re-training is to be expected. It took three months for the DOT to respond at all, and I think it's pretty clear they don't take the harassment of photographers by their ill-trained guards all that seriously.


And as for the DHS security bulletin:


They claim that a "widely known reconnaissance activity of criminal and terrorist organizations has been to gather photographic information about prospective targets." Before my congressional testimony last year, I did a fair amount of research on recent major terrorist attacks around the world, and in NONE of them was there evidence that the terrorists had bothered with photographic reconnaissance. Why would they when such evidence is widely available via Google maps and other public sources online? It's a frustrating point that anti-photography officials have been arguing for years, despite there being little to no proof of its validity.


[to keep everything in one place, I'm putting all three pages in the same post. Feel free to flickr mail me if you want the full pages]


  • swatch trm 6y

    photography on bridges is great, esp when you catch em sleepin
  • Jennifer 6y

    I'll make my way over there a few times this week and see what they do (Samer, or anyone else, if you want to join forces and see what happens with a group, count me in).
  • maisa_nyc 6y


    you know you're my hero(ine), don'tcha? ;)

    Very nice work (not the scanning, the following up; your scanning definitely needs some work).
  • DanMacMan 6y

    Photography is not a crime. Fuckers.
  • ►►►Felix Berndt - Photography◄◄◄(back) 6y

    Congrats On Explore ! ! !

    Awesome Capture ! ! !

    Have A Happy Tuesday ! ! ! !

    Please Have A Look at my latest pic it will be the last for some time
  • Señor Jaime 6y

    amazing stuff...I am going to keep a copy of this letter and put it in my wallet....and I just want to know how the average $12.00 an hour security guard is going to be able to tell an impending risk to the security of this country vs. the average photographer trying to get into Explore.
  • Aaron Webb 6y

    Including Special Security Bulletin is complete nonsense, and not germane to the original complaint at all, as the bulletin is very clearly discussing photography "on or in federal property", which is a separate issue from taking pictures of federal property from public sidewalks off federal property...

    Between that and the lack of a commitment to retraining, I hope the ACLU follows-up.
  • Phanatic 6y

    IHNTA, IJLS "Federal Protective Service MegaCenter."
  • Ilia Alshanetsky 6y

    wow..very nice
    Wonderful shot!
    So wonderful please accept this invitation to

    Flickr Bronze Award

    Post 1, and award 5
  • DCist 6y

    DCist's Photo of the Day for September 2, 2009.
  • Amanda 6y

    Wow, Erin. Thanks for compiling this, and thanks to DCist for broadcasting it... around DC, where nearly everything seems to be a federal building, it will be nice to have a document to point to next time I'm hassled by a security guard for taking exterior shots.

    If nothing else, I'd like to hear them come up with an argument as to how I represent "criminal behavior or a terrorist reconnaissance threat". Ha! I know I'm an imposing figure behind a camera and all...
  • p_squared 6y

    Glad to see this. I've had problems with the Capitol Police who stopped me for photographing a street barrier while I was standing in the street. Hmmmm.

    As for Jaime's comment regarding security guards, I think it's unfair to characterize abilities based upon wages. It's also an unfair generalization.
  • NoHoDamon 6y

    I wonder if this is a candidate for a
    National Archives and Records Administration Information Quality Correction Request.
  • erin m 6y

    A huge, huge thank you to everyone who's commented, favorited, tweeted, blogged about, linked and shared this document. Boing Boing picked it up, and it's actually reached No. 1 on Explore (I'm not sure which excites my little geek heart more).
  • The Blackbird 6y

    I feel like making a crank call to 202.708.1111. Can you order a Quarter Pounder w/cheese and a coke for delivery from Mega Centre? I sounds like they have everything you could ever want there. Can I sleep there? I want a Mega Centre in my home town! ME-GA! ME-GA!

    As if a terrorist is going say, "Well, yes sir (or ma'am, or miss, or ms.), my intent in taking these photos is to send them to my brothers in Pakistan who are planning an assault on your fucking infidel nation you fucking infidel asshole!"

    So awesome and thank you for having the guts to post these documents. We're with you all the way.
  • Slick 12 6y

    Good work on getting a response. It's not getting any better in the UK so it's good to see folks making a stand.
  • ⓋⒾⓅ №❶ 6y


    comment me
  • discarted 5y

    hi erin

    i sent you an email too. can i get a copy of the federal memo. i need it for our photographers' rights database. thanks.
  • Eric E Johnson 5y

    Thank you for a great post.
  • George Donnelly 5y

    I read relevant sections to marshals in Allentown, PA and they took my cameras and arrested me anyway (on trumped up charges).
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Taken on August 31, 2009
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