TSA Warns Against Evil Photographers Taking Pictures Of Planes

from the plane-spotting dept

william points us to a Gizmodo post highlighting a TSA poster that appears to be suggesting that people photographing airplanes at airports somehow have nefarious intentions:

This really does seem bizarre. Is it really so evil to take photos of airplanes? Now, some might point out that they’re just asking people to be “vigilant” (which is misleading anyway), but how does it help to suggest vigilance should be targeted at people doing an activity which is legal? It’s the equivalent of crying wolf, and that doesn’t help anyone.

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Comments on “TSA Warns Against Evil Photographers Taking Pictures Of Planes”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It is also not illegal for a big group of people to take jumbo jet flying lessons and to not be at all concerned with how to land one.

This article is typical Techdirt: dripping with contempt for authority of all kinds. It’s certainly not possible that a TSA agent would be mature enough to check into a reported incident, find nothing to be concerned about, and go about her business, right?

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This article is typical Techdirt: dripping with contempt for authority of all kinds.

No, we drip with contempt for anonymous cowards. Hi!

It’s certainly not possible that a TSA agent would be mature enough to check into a reported incident, find nothing to be concerned about, and go about her business, right?

Of course it is possible. However, there are plenty of examples of TSA employees who have difficulty performing their existing jobs (e.g., refuse to do a pat-down search instead of a full-body scan of a pregnant woman). And, there are plenty of examples of authority figures who seem to forget that public photography is legal. Both of those problems can be solved with improved pay and training for TSA employees, police, etc., but I imagine you wouldn’t want to pay for that.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s certainly not possible that a TSA agent would be mature enough to check into a reported incident, find nothing to be concerned about, and go about her business, right?

You are right there – it is not possible – the whole dynamics of low level security operatives is against doing anything but escalating every report to the next level up.

If you had read any specialist security blogs like Bruce Schneier’s you would know that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

the problem is that many cases have happened where police or security have heckled, forced pictures to be destroyed, or even arrested people for legal photography. the signage is encouraging that that kind of state of mind is appropriate, when it is not.

Someone taking pictures of something publicly visible is a huge step away from taking special courses to learn how to fly a jet with intent to cause harm.

MissingFrame says:

Re: Re: Re:

How about someone taking pictures of jet with intent to cause harm? You cannot prove or even imply intent.

Even taking partial flight lessons shouldn’t be a big deal. Nor should buying a flight simulator only to play crash a plane. If anyone wants to go down that road, we would have to start flagging all the players of violent video games as possible mass-murderers.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It is also not illegal for a big group of people to take jumbo jet flying lessons and to not be at all concerned with how to land one.”

Very true. And in a land where we believe you are innocent until PROVEN guilty, we accept the fact that there are risks with letting people do things like this that, while they could appear suspicious, are not harming anyone.

“This article is typical Techdirt: dripping with contempt for authority of all kinds. It’s certainly not possible that a TSA agent would be mature enough to check into a reported incident, find nothing to be concerned about, and go about her business, right?”

Of course not, but since you didn’t bother to read the poster shown here, you didn’t realize that that is NOT what is being encouraged. The poster clearly tells them to call the police over something that is both simple and legal, namely someone taking pictures from an area they have every right to be in (outside the fence). You don’t call the police on someone who hasn’t done anything illegal.

That is what is wrong with this poster. You don’t really care about that, though, since your post clearly demonstrates that your intent is to demean Techdirt, no matter how far you have to twist the facts to do so.

Loki (profile) says:

You would think a simple Google search on schematics of aircraft would be easier, unless they are surveying the security of the airport itself. Another aspect to look at is what if the junior photographer caught someone doing something to an aircraft. I think this type of activity would be encouraged.

If you’re interested in the schematics of a common aircraft, you can see them here:

Common Aircraft Schematics

Jonathan says:

There is a whole group of hobbyists who watch planes take off and land, and photograph them. Don’t believe me, look at airliners.net, and you will see what I am talking about.

So there is already a large group of people who like to sit around and photograph airplanes, and very few terrorists. With this policy you are just begging for false positives.

Brian says:

Re: Re:

Maybe the TSA should put a big tarp over every airplane until they reach 10,000 feet so that nobody can see them. Then again a tarp would be impractical for flight. How about we just blindfold every passenger or person within 3 miles of any airplane until after they have boarded?

Or better yet, just don’t let planes fly any more – they would be safer that way.

ScaredOfTheMan says:

Reminds me

This reminds me of something I saw at the airport once.

It looked to me that a film student was doing some sort of documentary on the arrival of someone (he found) important. So he is there interviewing this guy as he walked from the international arrivals door to the baggage carousel. The camera was always point at the fellow face as the young guy asked him questions and the older fellow would give these long answers. I was walking about 5 feet behind them.

I noticed two TSA guys sitting on some chairs by one of the other carousels. One young and one old. I wish could accurately describe the look of sheer excitement on the young ones face as he jumped up was ready to charge this guy doing the interview. Just as he was about to step forward to ‘keep us safe’, the old fellow still sitting grabbed his arm and said something to him that made him sit down. That poor guy filming had no idea how close he came to being strip searched ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anonymous Coward says:

So, our country’s security could be seriously compromised by people taking pictures of publicly viewable planes? And instead of putting them in a garage or putting a tarp over them or something, they’re printing posters saying to call the police if you see someone taking pictures of said planes?
I guess it’s only a matter of time now before some guy goes on a vacation, takes a picture of the plane he flew on, and ends up spending the majority of his vacation time in jail.

Crewdawg368 (profile) says:

Don't be so quick to judge

I work at a relatively busy international airport that has military, airline, and GA traffic. I see the “plane peepers” everyday. That being said I have also witnessed suspicious behavior from some of the peepers that would probably be worth a closer look.

An example of such behavior: While working very late on a server that had crashed I worked throughout the night. I would go outside the hangar to take a smoke break every couple hours. When I went out the front door a car I had never seen before suddenly backed up and drove off in a hurry. The driver looked frantic. I continued on just noting that it was odd.

This same car did the same thing multiple times that night, as soon as I appeared at the front door, the camera was thrown in the passenger seat and he peeled out.

The general gist of the poster is report behavior that may be suspicious (although that is subjective). How else can you convey that in a picture with a telephoto lense and a hood. ๐Ÿ˜‰

william (profile) says:

Re: Don't be so quick to judge


Wouldn’t it be possible that he’s trying to avoid getting caught doing a legal activity?

With the detain first, reason later attitude these days, regular, law abiding citizens are afraid of acting/looking suspicious. And while avoiding that, they look even MORE suspicious. There is no presumption of innocence. Everything everyone does is viewed as a threat FIRST.

Imagine what would happen, this car photographing the hanger, saw a worker comes out. If the worker reported him, probably a whole bunch of local police, FBI, TSA, airport security would come for him. Grab him and detain him first and question for many hours while looking up all his entire life since he’s born.

Even if you are doing a legal activity, wouldn’t you try to run/leave so the above doesn’t happen? So basically we are making a suspicious person out of thin air.

Look what the terrorist has done. In a very twisted way, they totally have won and we are all living in constant fear.

Bonus: why does everyone assuming terrorists are idiots? If it were a REAL terrorist, they are not that stupid to come back multiple times on the same night after the first time you saw them. Even a moron knows that looks suspicious and that’s what terrorists would definitely avoid.

Anonymous Coward says:

When I look into the poster without context, it does seems to me the message it carries is “When planes photographers somehow spotted suspicious people/activities, please report it”. And that does make some sense to me (afterall, lots of them are equipped with high power zoom lens, and they wonders near airport at anyday, in anytime, which does make them nice “volunteer sentry” candidate.)

Perheps it’s just because I live in Hong Kong, where there’s lots of plane lovers taking plane photos all day.

Anonymous Coward says:

and people like you are the reasons why terrorists will win, you think everything is big brother taking away your rights, photography isn’t illegal cry cry whine whine

you see the picture, that should get your attention, that gate does not appear to be used by passengers, why is he there?, what business does he have there?? report it, many crimes can be avoided if you report something that isn’t right

what is he really taking pictures of??
entry and egress from airfield?
door codes being punched in?
id’s of people working out there?
coming and going of security?
times when they come and go??

basic surveillance, can be thwarted by people paying attention to something out of the ordinary and reporting it, you can save lives, but no, you want to whine and cry about this isn’t illegal quit being big brother, authority is bad, really?

well? move to Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia if you want a great place to live then, apparently this country is just to totalitarian for you

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In a similar vein:
– Why are you thinking different thoughts than the mainstream? Hmm? Thoughtcrime is a crime too!
– Why are you opposing to our great leaders? They have our best interests in mind, you know. We should NEVER say anything bad about them, anyone who does is a terrorist and should be put to death.

I shall stop here, as I get sick in my mouth from people like you.

That guy, you see in that picture, is standing on public space, taking pictures of something that happens IN PUBLIC.
The moment we are going to call that illegal, is the day we will have to blind ourselves, and should sear our eyes shut.

jenningsthecat says:

Re: Terrorists will win

You tell us to “move to Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia if you want a great place to live then, apparently this country is just to (sic) totalitarian for you”. Well, guess what? The VERY REASON we object to and fight against this 1984-style Big Brother, Department of Fatherland Security CRAP is that WE HAVE NO INTEREST IN LIVING IN AFGHANISTAN OR SAUDI ARABIA and don’t want OUR COUNTRIES to become like THOSE COUNTRIES!

Give your head a shake and get a clue you jack-booted git!

Anonymous Howard, Cowering (profile) says:

Re: AC#28

Since you seem to be so enamored of the question-barrage format:
– If that “gate” isn’t being used by passengers, why would I be there to see the dark hooded figure? (N.B. – I don’t see latch or hinge in the corner, it may be that the resolution of the picture is insufficient to show any.)
– How many crimes can be avoided? Do you have a reference to a double-blind study? Did you mean “averted?”
– If I’m just passing by, why would someone who wishes to keep his/her activities clandestine be standing next to a well-traveled road?
– If it’s not a well-traveled area, what business do I have there? Am I a terrorist?
– If I am a terrorist, and I turn in another terrorist conducting surveillance, is my cosmic slate then wiped clean?
– Do you want to go with me on my next job?
– Is the “gate” in the TSA picture entry/egress from the field? Even if it is, now that TSA has publicized that location, does it really matter if someone else has a picture of the same gate?
– Door codes visible from a distance as they are being punched in? Discoverable using an SLR? This is considered a security measure?
– Won’t anyone think of the children? (You seem to have overlooked that one. You’re welcome.)
– When did it become the general populace’s responsibility to save lives? Don’t we employ “professionals” to do that for us? Are we overpaying them? Should they be looking for legitimate, respectable employment instead?
– If it really is the general populace’s individual responsibilitiy to save lives, doesn’t that run directly counter to the New Testament admonition, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (KJV, John 15:13)? Would you deny those who might otherwise die the chance to express this greatest of loves? Are you a hater? Or do you (gasp!) not believe in the Bible?
– Do you really believe that basic surveillance can be thwarted? Do you really not comprehend that by the very definition of “public,” basic surveillance CANNOT be thwarted in a public place?
– Where in the OP (or, indeed, where on Techdirt) is it stated that authority is bad? I can point to a multitude of references to the idea that MISUSE and ABUSE of authority is bad; can you point to one example to support your statement?

Security is one thing, security theater is quite another. This is theater, and not a particularly good example.

Anonymous Coward says:

and that’s why they will win, use our “rights” against us,
you don’t have a “right” to stand there and take photos

not theater to report something you don’t think is right

so you have no problems if I stand in your neighborhood and take pictures of your house and all activity there???

call the cops on me and I scream your taking away my rights, go ahead

Joseph Durnal (user link) says:

One of my favorite photographs

When you have kids, you have a lot of favorite photographs, and here is one http://cryptojoe.blogspot.com/2004/08/alex-and-airplane.html. My middle son at two years old with a Cessna just on the other side of the fence, taken at our local airport, which happens to be the second busiest airport in the state of Maryland.

Going to the airport just to watch some planes take off and land is a great way to spend an hour on a nice day. They even have picnic tables. When there is something you don’t see everyday, like a fancy new corporate jet, some navy turboprops, even a privately owned fighter jet, I sometimes take a picture, and I know I’m not the only one.

digirebel says:

Re: One of my favorite photographs

Taking pictures of a house from a public street is perfectly legal..if it can be seen from the street it can be legally photographed. (military & some govt buildings notwithstanding).Now if you use a telephoto to take picture of what goes on inside the house, then you are invading the owners privacy much like a peeping tom…and can be charged accordingly..
and besides its easier to just get a job at the airport and get inside info…probably even from the TSA itself

Eric says:

Taking pictures in public all but illegal

I was taking pictures of our state court house in my local downtown and within minutes I had cops around me asking why I was taking pictures of it and wanting my ID (which I was wearing around my neck and I also happen to be a state employee). They also went through all the pictures I took and then allowed me to leave but warned me against ever again taking photo’s of the building… a public building.. that I payed for.

AC and free, and proud of it says:

You all have it wrong...

Everyone seems to have missed the point of the TSA poster.

It says “Don’t let our planes get into the wrong hands.”
The picture is of a TSA agent watching to make sure the plane doesn’t get into the wrong hands. It’s not a possible terrorist in the picture – the person in the picture is obviously keeping the terrorists away.

We should all be grateful that TSA agents are (or at least one is) willing to stand outside a fence, with no obvious entrance nearby, holding that most feared of antiterrorist weapons – a camera equipped with a telephoto lens.

I, for one, expect to sleep better tonight knowing the black hoodies of the TSA are standing on the wrong side of the fence, looking in.

Anonymous Coward says:

“If you question it, report it”

Many things might not be illegal by itself, but if something seems strange, report it, that is the message. Is it illegal to leave a suitcase alone by itself? Last time I checked, luggage neglect has not risen to the level of crime, but if you are traveling and see a bag sitting all by itself, you may want to report it.

While on a NJ Transit train heading into NYC our train stopped just before Newark, as they sometimes do. It was about 7:15 on a rainy morning and I noticed a lone car in a parking lot sitting across 3 stops, the driver holding a video camera out of the window apparantly taking video of the stopped train. At first I thought nothing of it but then I started wondering why someone would hold a video camera out in the rain to take a picture of a stopped train. The fact that a Mosque was across the street didn’t help my feelings.

Should something like that be reported? There was nothing illegal going on.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In the olden days (and I talk about before 11 september 2001) we used to bring luggage that got left behind to the Lost&Found department at the airport/trainstation/metrostation/where ever… Why is a left suitcase now a police business?

Maybe the guy in the car was videotaping the stopped train, because he thought it was newsworthy (CNNs I-report anyone?)
Maybe he thought that the train was being hi-jacked, since there was a mosque nearby.
Should a stopped train be reported? There was nothing illegal going on, right?

gary l (profile) says:


In the absence of a detailed official explanation from the agency attributed to having authored the above picture all we can do is speculate as to it`s exact intention.
Let`s remember that neither the above article or the one attributed to GIZMODO have made mention of any attempt to verify origin of the image although the picture displayed here does link back to a flickr user.
I will say that if the image and it`s content are intended to demonstrate an example of activity that for one reason or another could appear to the casual observer to be different than what is generally thought of as commonplace, it does so rather well. If the message is that it`s better to report than to second guess, ok, all clear here.
Only don*t hold your breath waiting for my call. I seriously doubt this flyer will impact my own general lack of interest and enthusiasm for reporting on the often strange appearing activities of my fellow citizens even if they are photographers.
I mean we have all seen people doing God only knows what in public or for that matter private places.
No my reasons have nothing to do with patriotism or minding my own business. My reasoning is based purely on my own personal experience. That of having been on the opposite end of the should I report this dilemma. Yes, I have been, on occasion, one of those people out doing something someone felt was worthy of reporting. And it has happened a few times.
I am guilty, like many of you no doubt, of being an avid photographer. Yes I point my camera at almost anything. Repeat any-Thing, not any-Person.
So one time it happened while I was driving around a small US city aimlessly photographing publicly displayed flags and Christmas lights.
How could this be a problem?
I learned how just as I began to fill the tank at a local station. Up pulled a patrol car and the officer asked me what had I been doing recently near the downtown area. I explained and even offered my cameras LCD display of recent images as visual confirmation.
The officer explained that a town resident who has a security clearance and works for a defense contractor saw a guy in a vehicle messing with a camera and thought perhaps it was someone attempting to record details of his home, face, privacy, whoknowswhat etc.
Oh, ok. In all honesty I thought that was strange, but, whatever.
There have been other incidents. None that I consider a big deal.
And that brings me to the point I wish to make. If the occasional mistake is made, so what. In the scope of the big picture I am not really all that bothered in the rare instances when I have had brief contact from security/PD.
Is it ideal? No, of course not.
But on none of the occasions did the person investigating confront me with the presumption of something is wrong or evil attitude we all fear and hope to never come across. In every instance the exchanges cost mere moments of my time. Then I left. Free to continue on my way.
For those that think any query from authorities is a hassle, remember that many of those people doing the asking are tasked with doing more than enjoying freedom. In all probability it is their job is to protect and preserve.

Animedude5555 (profile) says:

Here's how I'd look at it.

Look at the guy in the picture. He’s wearing a hoodie. It’s a clear sunny day, no rain. Just a few clouds near the horizon. A person doesn’t wear a hood in good weather, unless they are trying to conceal their identity. This person’s hoodie is suspicious. Their camera would not normally be suspicious at all, but with them wearing a hoodie on a sunny day that camera becomes very suspicious. When analyzing a situation, one must look at ALL the facts. Just as one shouldn’t jump to the assumption that someone is a terrorist when there is a lack of evidence, one should not also dismiss the possibility that something bad is going on when there is a significant amount of evidence pointing to the idea that something bad IS going on. If I saw in real life, exactly what I saw in the picture shown above, I would dial 911 and report it, and then let the cops sort it out. If that guy was wearing a hoodie on a sunny day, but did not have a camera, I’d keep an eye on him, but not immediately call the police (unless and until I saw him do something that I felt deserved to be reported). If the guy just had a camera and was taking pictures, but was not wearing a hoodie, I’d not think it was even slightly suspicious.

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