“It makes us look bad, of course it’s child porn”

Recently grist.org profiled the story of Marie Gunnoe and her environmental activism about a cause which affects her directly: the coal mining industry in West Virginia, and its pollution of the water supply in the area where she lived. The grist.org story also links to Aaron Bady’s article in The New Inquiry which coves Marie’s ordeal in a bit more detail.

Marie planned to present some very powerful evidence, as the article states:

Gunnoe’s planned testimony included this photo of a child bathing in water that is the color of a pumpkin, offset at the far end of the tub by a cluster of bath-fun bubbles. Gunnoe wanted to show the committee this photo, but the presiding politicians decided it was inappropriate. (The child was, as bathing children generally are, unclothed.) So the activist presented other evidence instead: ruined streams, stories of people with polluted water and air.

Then, when she was done and preparing to leave, the Capitol Police pulled her aside. Republican members of the panel had suggested that she be questioned about child pornography.

The story goes on to opine that the water is this horrible color is what should be considered obscene, not the unclothed child. Aaron was a bit more direct in his article:

…if you dare to take a picture of child’s exposure to that poison, if you have the nerve to walk into the halls of Congress and show them the obscenity that is a child that must wash herself with poison every day, they will call you a child pornographer. They will call the police.

Not surprisingly, I concur, and I see this for what it is, a pathetic attempt by the coal industry to squash opposition by any means necessary. And they should be ashamed of themselves for it, not only for this egregious attempt at censorship, but for “crying wolf” about child pornography in the process.

It’s a rather flaccid smoke-screen for a number of things that are truly obscene. First, that the coal industry is doing this and has not been sanctioned. Second, that they think they have the right to get away with pollution which ruins the water supply for entire communities. Third, that if the coal industry wanted to use a naked child’s picture when they were lobbying, they certainly wouldn’t think twice about it, and the same (Republican) Congressmen who had the Capitol Police on speed dial wouldn’t reach for their phones at all. Yes, a double standard.

Is it really a sign of the times that a photojournalist in Vietnam had no trouble getting what is now an iconic photo published even though it contained full nudity of a nine-year-old girl?

There’s a huge difference between child pornography, and documentary photography which shows naked children. The coal industry wants to blur the lines between the two, all in the name of profit. Someone has to hold them accountable.

Mayhem at the Jefferson Memorial

There are some law enforcement agencies I just don’t expect to be seen in a bad PR light, that I honestly would trust to do a decent job. And the US Park Police was on that list. I emphasize was, because I watched this YouTube video:

A report at WTOP.com has a bit more information on exactly what’s going on here, and some of the background information. Some of the other stories about this mention an Adam Kokesh as one of the protesters. Most disturbing are these two facts, quoted from the WTOP story, taken together:

The officers remain on regular duty during the investigation, said Schlosser.


The videos [of the incident] show protesters being forcefully restrained, and in at least one case driven to the ground.

But there’s more to it than the usual First Amendment and police brutality issues: starting at 2:16 in the video one of the officers confronts the camera man taking this video and tells him “you’re not allowed to video record in here” and “if you continue to record you will be arrested.” It’s suspicious that it would suddenly become not allowed to record video in the face of a police brutality incident. The cops had to walk past several people taking video to make these arrests; it was not like some of the video cameras were exactly small (one was huge, of the size I’d expect an ENG camera rig to be). And obviously, someone holding a flip phone with the back of the phone aimed at the action is not looking for how many bars of signal they get inside the memorial.

Why are these officers still on their regular beat after this, when it’s documented on video that they exhibited needless brutality?

It’s time for the US Park Police to clean up their act. And I don’t mean litter patrol.

Additionally, I find it ironic I’m writing this on Memorial Day. I am grateful for the job our soldiers do, and I hope their efforts in defending our country and our freedoms was not in vain.

[Edit 2023-08-13: Modernize YouTube link]

A digital wrong?

A recent post by Geoff Livingston to his blog touched off a firestorm of controversy recently. Photographers take the stance that regardless of where the photo is posted, the photographer retains absolute copyright, even to the point of–somewhat tastelessly–insisting on the use of a watermarked photo for such uses as a  profile (as blogged by Mr. Livingston). The heading of what is legally permissible does not include everything under the heading of what is in good taste.

However, the real story here is how Mr. Livingston uses the loaded and confusing terms such as “digital rights” and “intellectual property” in clear ignorance of the viewpoint those terms assume. Indeed, the FSF has warned about such terms for some time. Despite the prevalence of the misleading, confusing, and biased term “intellectual property” the intelligent reader should note that copyrights, patents, and trademarks are not property rights and are not treated this way at all in the actual laws that set aside government-created exclusivity over artistic works, inventions, or logos and names used in trade. Copyrights and patents are time-limited, and are privileges which only exist because of the governments enacting laws which impose the restrictions on others.

I’m going to try to explain how nonsensical it really is to lump copyright, patent, trademark, and whatever else under one umbrella term. Imagine, for a moment, the confusion that would result over lumping laws governing motor vehicles, railroads, airplanes, and nautical vessels under “transportation law.” In particular, a yellow signal light means something completely different to a train than a motor vehicle, and the concept of right-of-way is completely different for watercraft (boats) than for land-based motor vehicles (for boats, right-of-way is actually the responsibility to maintain course and speed). These differences, and many more that don’t immediately come to my mind, are not unlike the differences between copyright, patent, and trademark law (and whatever else comes under the umbrella of “intellectual property” as even the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is surprisingly vague).

While Mr. Livingston refers freely to social wrongs in his post, I believe it to be an equal social wrong to feed the ever-growing misconception that copyrights are property rights by use of terminology clearly intended to help promote confusion between the two. Indeed, I have to wonder if the widespread term “intellectual property” itself led Moshe Zusman, the photographer with whom Mr. Livingston had the original dispute, to greedily assert copyright as if it were a property right.

Another look at photographer’s rights

Gizmodo recently ran a story (which in turn drew on and linked to a Popular Mechanics story) on what they termed “photography bullying” or the intimidation of photographers taking still pictures and/or video.

One of the more interesting parts of the story is a quote from Bruce Schneier, well-known security expert currently employed by British Telecom. From the Gizmodo article:

As Bruce Schneier, head of security technology for British Telecom points out, the notion that terrorist conspirators photograph their targets is an overblown one: “Look at the 9/11 attacks, the Moscow and London subway bombings, the Fort Hood shooting—no photos.” Rather, [Popular Mechanics writer Glenn Harlan] Reynolds argues, a camera in the hand of every pedestrian can only serve to foil potential plotters.

The latter story contains a chilling, yet almost comical, example of just how bad things are getting:

Not long ago, an Amtrak representative did an interview with local TV station Fox 5 in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station to explain that you don’t need a permit to take pictures there–only to be approached by a security guard who ordered them to stop filming without a permit.

The Popular Mechanics story also mentions the Anthony Graber case yet again. Anthony faces 16 years in prison for recording his own arrest under Maryland’s wiretapping laws. If upheld, this would essentially mean law enforcement has the right to privacy when arresting someone in a public place, and the right of the common citizen to document things like the Rodney King beatings no longer exists. To say the least, I find this frightening, and I believe you should too.

I find it ironic that an obvious video camera or DSLR merits harassment, yet those looking to do reconnaissance for a future crime or terrorist act would likely use an inconspicuous pocket sized point-and-shoot or even a cell phone camera. Usually, the odds are against being hassled by cops when using one of the latter two devices, as the assumption made in those cases is usually “tourist” as opposed to “terrorist.”

Anyway, I’ll close with reminders to the fellow photographers out there, paraphrased from the articles (this is primarily for the US, the rules might be different elsewhere):

  • If you’re on public property, it is the rule, not the exception, that photography is allowed.
  • If you are on (someone else’s) private property and you are hassled by security or police, politely ask on what legal basis they are ordering you to stop taking pictures, and be ready to either call a real police officer (for security) or ask to speak to a supervisor (for police).
  • You never have a legal duty to delete pictures or video already taken and should never do so on the order of security or police officers.

Security vs. theater: the importance of understanding the difference

CNN recently published a commentary by Bruce Schneier that calls into question many of the “security” measures being put into place, in the name of stopping terrorism.

This quote sets the tone for the entire piece, and I think it is something that a lot of people tend to forget, quickly:

Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It’s rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear.

I have to wonder if we just have too much of this kind of fantasy crime and terrorism on TV and if we’re at the point where it is distorting people’s perception of reality. To put another big wrinkle into things, there’s a whole genre called “reality television” which to be honest, is badly named, and I would even say deceptively misnamed given some of the things that are tagged with that label.

Anyway, Bruce goes on to discuss “movie-plot threats” and “security theater” at length. I won’t quote most of it (don’t want to step outside the boundaries of “fair use”). But he does decry the photo ID checks, the stationing of National Guard troops after the September 11th attacks, and yes, even harassment of photographers as “security theater.”

Particularly the last of these is the most egregious example of “security theater” as the last thing a potential terrorist would do is draw attention to oneself by sporting a DSLR, particularly with, say, a 70-300mm zoom lens. A point-and-shoot of the type commonly available in the US for under $150 is a more likely choice for a terrorist wanting to do clandestine reconnaissance, as a tourist is much more likely to carry this type of camera. Not that it should even matter, of course.

Bruce touches on a great point here:

If we spend billions defending our rail systems, and the terrorists bomb a shopping mall instead, we’ve wasted our money. If we concentrate airport security on screening shoes and confiscating liquids, and the terrorists hide explosives in their brassieres and use solids, we’ve wasted our money. Terrorists don’t care what they blow up and it shouldn’t be our goal merely to force the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactics or targets.

While understandable just to quash the fear of the masses, I have to wonder just what, in the end, the post-September 11th security measures really accomplished. The terrorists are unlikely to attack civilian air travel twice in such a fashion.

Bruce doesn’t go into detail on this, so I’ll say it here: the goal of terrorism is fear and the disruption of normal everyday life. The terrorists, strictly speaking, don’t even have to blow something up to accomplish that, sometimes an obviously planted hoax bomb will do the trick as well: throw some wires together with a cheap timer (or alarm clock) and something that looks like it might be some kind of explosive, and put it in an obvious location that’s still somewhat concealed.

Most damning is Bruce’s blistering attack on the military tribunals:

We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice — not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer.

Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater than terrorism.

And this is something we should do today. We, as a society, should stick to our own laws, and give those charged with a crime the same rights, whether accused of “terrorism” or petty theft: the right to an attorney, the right not to incriminate oneself, etc.

Finally, this last quote from Bruce echoes my thoughts on the matter almost word for word:

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

The anti-terrorism measures are more disruptive to our daily lives than any terrorist attack ever have been. It’s time we start lowering the curtain on “security theater” once and for all.