A handful of blogs recently pointed out a new Transportation Security Administration poster depicting a hooded photographer shooting pictures outside an airport fence. The poster encourages people to report suspicious activity, e.g. suspicious-looking people mulling around airports with cameras.
According to TSA representative Anne Davis, the posters were created for General Aviation (GA) facilities, the hundreds of smaller airports all over the country used by private aircraft owners at which TSA has no jurisdiction. The poster is not for commercial airports, so it shouldn’t increase the likelihood that your average nervous traveler is going to call the authorities if they see you taking pictures of an airplane while you’re waiting for your next flight to board.
But the posters could encourage local law enforcement and security personnel to question and/or harass professional photographers and hobbyists more than they already do. Davis says TSA works with these small GA airports and offers them guidelines on how to operate security, but has no real control over whether their suggestions are implemented. Operation of GA airports is left up to local, not federal, law enforcement.
Davis says the posters were given to GA airports, but she did not know where the posters would be hung, and said that GA facilities might choose not to hang them at all. She also was not sure why a photographer was the suspicious person of choice for the posters, rather than, say, someone trying to break into a GA facility or loitering around aircraft.
“I always suggest that photographers check with the airport press office,” before photographing around GA airports, Davis says. By law, though, photographers don’t need permission to photograph anything from public property. And the unfortunate message the TSA is sending with its poster is: cameras in the hands of government agencies protect us; cameras in the hands of private citizens and the press are a threat.