Friday, January 07, 2005

Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism: More Anti-Camera Absurdity

Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism: More Anti-Camera Absurdity

New York City is about to ban "unauthorized" use of cameras in the subways, as per this rule (170k pdf):

1050.9.c. No photograph, film or video recording shall be made or taken on or in any conveyance or facility by any person, except members of the press holding valid press identification cards issued by the New York City Police Department or by others duly authorized in writing to engage in such activity by the authority. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

The absurdity is pointed out by a local photographer in a story in today's NY Times. She says:

"The bizarre bureaucratic mind somehow thinks a terrorist needs to be standing there with a visible camera to figure out a place to put a bomb, when obviously technology has reached a point where tiny little video cameras can have eyeballs peering out from your buttonhole."

And, of course, the rule makes the increasingly bogus distinction between amateurs and professionals.

To those who will now say in the comments that the NYC officials are only doing what's necessary to combat terrorism, I have a question. What about the thousands upon thousands of subway pictures already out there? As the Times story notes, the proposed photo ban coincides with new books and exhibitions of, yes, subway photos.

I don't doubt that some officials believe they're making life just a wee bit harder for terrorists, and therefore that the ban must somehow be acceptable. The bureaucratic mind today is paralyzed with being the scapegoat after the next attack on our soil, which is inevitable.

There's no serious risk assessment going on here, largely because technology makes it just about impossible to stop people from taking pictures for whatever reason. Worse, this rule is a step toward something that should worry all of us. When journalists need licenses -- when people need the government's permission to ask the kinds of questions journalists (and concerned citizens) ask every day, the government has new kinds of power.

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