Sami went out last night to take some pictures around Campus. And was accosted by an undercover cop who demanded to know why he was taking pictures of a public place. He had to show ID, his information was recorded (including his driver’s license – how is that a required piece of ID when you’re not, say, driving?), along with several other questions about why he was there in the first place. He was asked to show the pictures he had taken. Then it was suggested that if he wants to take pictures of a public place, which was build with our tax dollars, that he needs to apply for permission, in writing, before that is allowed.
This is absolute BS. The cop apparently mentioned something about “that [he] should understand that in these times we have to know…” I’m sick of the “Post 9/11 World” copout bullshit. Security does not involve preventing photography or freedom of speech. If security can be “compromised” with a cheap digital camera and/or a blog, it wasn’t secure in the first place.
Calgary Transit has information published on its own website that may be more “damaging” than an amateur photograph of a snow-covered LRT station. They happily publish the specifications of the Siemens Light Rail Vehicles (including voltage and acceleration characteristics), as well as capacities and schematics of the trains. Heck, they even publish a map and schedule, so you know exactly when one of these things will pull up at any given location! I’m fine with that info being freely available, too.
I’m so pissed off about this that I’m shaking. What am I going to do about it? What can I do about it? All I can do is be vocal about how wrong this is. And, I will be taking more pictures of public places. Lots of pictures. I’ve posted pictures of the LRT before, and will continue to do so until I’m told in writing that it’s illegal.
What are the “official” rights that we have? If I’m stopped by an officer, what am I obligated to tell/show them? What am I allowed to legally photograph?
Update: OK. I went for a walk, had a bite to eat. I’m calmer now. I just can’t believe that this crap is allowed to happen in Canada. We rail against Evil Google censoring a search engine in China, but our own cops are telling us we’re not allowed to take photographs of public places in our own city.
Update: Here’s the email I just sent my MLA and Alderman. I’ve talked with both of them before, they are good people. I’ll post whatever response(s) I get
A friend of mine was taking some photographs around the University of Calgary campus last night. When he got to the train station, he took some photos of the snow on the tracks, etc. and was then stopped by an undercover officer who interrogated him. He was asked to identify himself (which is fine), provide ID (also fine), and answer several questions about why he was taking pictures. He was also asked to show the officers the photographs that he had already taken, and informed that photography is not allowed without written approval. I believe the officer crossed the line, and invaded my friend’s privacy and freedom of speech.
I am absolutely astonished at this. I’m assuming that the officer was meaning well, and was only trying to protect us from evil terrorists.
But, the way to protect our freedoms is not by revoking them.
Please raise this issue at the earliest opportunity. It is not OK for freedoms to be revoked in the name of “post 9/11” security. It’s a slippery slope, and a scary precedent to set.
I’ve written up a brief description of my position on this issue on my blog at
Photographing Public Places Illegal in Calgary?