Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

Documents Show 100 Officers From 28 Law Enforcement Agencies Accessed A Photographer's Records

from the the-First-Amendment-right-to-be-hassled-endlessly dept

Here’s what exercising your First Amendment rights gets you in certain parts of the US. Photographer Jeff Gray has been filming cops and photographing public structures, as well as documenting the reactions of law enforcement to his activities.

The Department of Homeland Security apparently felt Gray was enough of a “threat” that it opened an investigation on him. After scrutinizing publicly-available information (like Gray’s own YouTube account), it came to the conclusion that his activities were completely protected… it just didn’t like the way he acted.

This subject is exercising his first amendment rights, however the manner in which he lures the officers in is concerning.

Well, you can’t be “lured” if you just respect citizens’ rights — rights that were recently upheld by a Supreme Court decision. Despite the DHS declaring Gray’s actions perfectly fine, local law enforcement officers still took it upon themselves to send social services to his home (after being “tipped” that Gray owned guns) and interviewing his kids at school without his knowledge.

Now, Gray has obtained more information that shows law enforcement officers are still trying to find some way to shut down his protected activities.

After several years of auditing police departments across Florida to determine whether their officers uphold the First Amendment and the law of the land, Photography Is Not A Crime’s Jeff Gray has had his driver’s license and vehicle tag information searched by police well over 200 times.

Gray’s request for the record of who accessed his information on the state-operated Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID) turned up police officer after police officer running Gray’s vehicle plate and driver’s license.

The number of agencies that have peeked at Gray’s records is amazing. District attorneys’ offices from two different districts have run his records and 100 officers spread across 28 agencies (including the state’s Fish and Wildlife Dept.) have accessed his data, often multiple times.

The documents also include a few redacted names, withheld using exemption 119.071(4)(c):

Any information revealing undercover personnel of any criminal justice agency is exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution.

Apparently, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has manpower to burn, and can use undercover personnel to “investigate” First Amendment-protected activities.

Gray will probably be able to add the DEA to that list as well, after his most recent interaction, which occurred while filming the agency’s offices in Jacksonville, FL. Four unnamed, unidentified DEA agents emerged from the building in hopes of getting Gray to stop, with one of them attempting to grab cameras from both Gray and his filming partner.

One of the DEA agents (along with a responding sheriff’s officer) emerged with his phone up and in shooting position, the sort of childish reaction that’s becoming more common. Officers should film interactions with citizens, but cameras shouldn’t be deployed in hopes of cowing someone into shutting off their recording device. (Not to mention the fact that the sheriff’s squad car should have had a dashcam rolling from the moment the officer pulled up.) Gray has seen this tactic often enough to good-naturedly suggest the officers move their phones to a horizontal position to get a better recording.

The number of times Gray’s records were accessed shows that law enforcement officers are looking for anything they can to shut his activism down. While a number of the records requests were probably linked to officers running his info while interacting with him, there are way more hits to the database than can be explained away as adhering to data-access policies. Plus, there’s little doubt that most law enforcement officers in the area are familiar with Gray and his activities at this point, making any running of his info completely extraneous.

And, as the sheriff in the latter video states, Gray’s conduct is perfectly legal, so there’s really no reason for officers to be interacting with him at all at this point. Photographing public buildings and figures may make those on the other side of the camera uncomfortable, but they’re just going to have to learn to get over it. Running records requests over and over again is simply abusing a tool because you have access to it.

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Documents Show 100 Officers From 28 Law Enforcement Agencies Accessed A Photographer's Records”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
art guerrilla (profile) says:

a little disappointed...

…you didn’t include a direct link to the website he and carlos miller have: PINAC (Photography is not a crime)

here is their website linked to another story of him being arrested by other donut eaters for, um, well, for, um, being a citizen while holding a camera…


Anonymous Coward says:

…the manner in which he lures the officers in is concerning.

Don’t US cops set up baits and traps, incite and lure people even helping and providing resources to them to try to commit crimes? Which of course then thanks to their heroical intervention are able to save us, law abiding citizens, from such criminals?

Isn’t that WAY MORE concerning?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think it’s funny as fuck you’re rallying a defense for a bunch of officers who aren’t scared of gangsters or hardened criminals, but are wetting their pants at the sight of a guy whose most dangerous weapon is his camera – instead of being more concerned about other things like actual crimes that could use the attention.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think it’s funny as fuck you’re rallying a defense for a bunch of officers

Wow, it doesn’t take much for you to consider something a “rally”. I am not defending them (I am neutral on the concept, I can see both sides here), I am only pointing out that from my personal experience in the domain, I can tell you that when you appear at crime scenes, don’t be shocked if your plate is run and perhaps your personal record checked as a matter of course as police figure out what is going on around them.

Yes, personal experience, I spent a couple of years doing stringer work for local newspapers out of school. With a radio scanner, you get to hear your own plate run often enough as police check cars in the area of a crime, as an example, or are curious why you have arrived so quickly at the scene. Unless you are driving a market media vehicle (and most don’t), you are likely to get checked. It’s good police work to record cars moving in and out of a crime scene area in case one of those cars happens to turn up repeatedly at similar crimes.

So no, I am not rallying to their defense, only pointing out that there is a much more obvious and much less nefarious possible reason for these data hits, and that rather than rushing to a conclusion, it’s better to consider that there are alternatives reasons why things happen.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think it’s funny as fuck you’re rallying a defense for
> a bunch of officers who aren’t scared of gangsters or
> hardened criminals, but are wetting their pants at the
> sight of a guy whose most dangerous weapon is his
> camera

I won’t rally in defense of cops who go out and confront guys like this and try and take their camera or arrest them on bogus charges like “disorderly conduct”, but it’s a proven and indisputable fact that “pre-operational target surveillance” has been conducted in almost every terrorist attack on a government building, both domestically and overseas– to include the Oklahoma City bombing, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi, and the 911 WTC attack itself. In every case, the attackers or those working with them spent time around the target buildings engaged in the exact same kind of photography that Jeff Gray does, filming security posts and CCTV locations, loading docks and delivery schedules, traffic patterns, the coming and going of personnel, etc.

Is it Gray’s right to do this? Sure.

But just because it’s his right, should law enforcement essentially be required to do nothing when they see someone doing the very thing that attackers worldwide have been proven to do before engaging in mass murder?

Imagine what would happen if some guy like Tim McVeigh who actually did have the intent to kill hundreds of people was seen walking around a federal building the week before he detonated a truck bomb and murdered hundreds of people, and the security/police at the building did nothing. They recognized that his behavior fit the well-established pattern of terrorist pre-operational target surveillance, but they did nothing about it. They didn’t approach him and talk to him, they didn’t identify him, they never ran his license tag. Nothing. Just stood there and waved as the terrorist walked around planning his slaughter. After the building blew sky high and hundreds of corpses were being pulled out of the rubble, the government would be absolutely crucified for its spectacular incompetence, and rightly so.

Should these guys, who purposely engage in behavior that mimics the behavior of known attackers, be accosted and have their cameras seized and be arrested on bullshit trumped-up charges? Nope.

But at the same time, you can’t expect the people whose job it is to protect these buildings to do nothing when they see someone who’s acting like an attacker. If you want to act like a terrorist, I don’t think it’s a tremendous burden on your 1st Amendment right to film government buildings for a cop to quietly run your car registration (if he can see your license tag) and name through a database. If you come back clean, no criminal history, no TECS record showing you like to vacation in Syria, and it’s clear you’re just an activist trying to goad the cops into doing something they shouldn’t, then have at it, film away. Case closed.

No rights are absolute. Society, through the courts, always balances competing interests when determining the extent of any right. The rest of society has a right not to be blown up that’s every bit as important as Gray’s right to take pictures of security gates (or whatever) around a police station.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

@ whatever-
go read the site, nimrod, he is almost always going around to public buildings, etc, PURPOSEFULLY testing those ‘rights’…
whatever actual ‘crimes’ he has been at have been few…
(you know, except for the ‘crime’ of filming public officials in public capacity…)
dickless, abject authoritarian that you are…
(bill murray: “it’s true, the man has no dick…”)

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hi, and thanks for your personal insult. Clearly it added to the discussion.

While his actions may be “legal”, he is clearly provoking things and pushing the limits of what is permissible. While it may be legal, it is certainly in your face enough to merit attention.

My point was only that there are any number of reasons why his information could be accessed, in relationship to his activities as a “citizen journalist”. His goal to “audit” police forces is pretty much going to get him plenty of attention. Anyone snooping around a police station and filming random things is likely to at least get asked what he is up to – and of course, police are likely to check his identity to see who he really is and what he is really up to.

He may be within his rights, but he’s being a wingnut about it. There should be no surprise that he has been checked that often, or for that matter that his actions have been referred to a higher level for checking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You fail to answer such a basic question over and over again – how is exercising your right to photograph something in public “provoking?”

And it would seem that if he’s well within his rights, but STILL BEING HARASSED ABOUT IT over and over and over again, that the “wingnuts” you speak of are those who are harassing him. No?

psiu says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Is there a way (okay, we all know the answer to this) to follow up on this and see when/where/why the requests were submitted?

If it was a deputy being called out by some gov’t officials who forgot who gov’t they work for, and part of his standard procedure is to check plate/license for people he is dealing with when possible, hey, that’s one thing (especially assuming he is checking THEIR information as well).

But if it is one of these escapees from behind the Iron Curtain who now staff too many of our governmental posts, getting back to the office, and bringing up the search terminal while muttering darkly about that “photographer s-o-b”, then that is clearly not any sort of intended usage (well, presumably).

As for him being within his rights but being a wingnut about it, um…he could just as easily be getting stock footage. Heck, these guys do this because photographers doing EXACTLY the same work and doing exactly the same behavior are getting harassed all over the country by flipping idiots on power trips.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...