A licence to shoot?

April 23, 2008 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Do you have a licence to use your camera? To point and shoot? Nope, neither do I. A news item I came across from BBC News illustrates the absurdity of our misplaced and misguided fears about terrorists, terrorism or anything different.

You would think that taking a photo of Christmas lights would be a fairly innocuous activity. Not if you live in Ipswich, UK it seems. Poor old Phil Smith (aka innocent citizen) was practicing his hobby of photography and took a few shots of the stage during a concert that preceded the turning on of the sparkling tree lights. No sooner had he said “snap” than a police officer waltzed over and asked him if he had a licence.

Smart man that Phil obviously is, he responded that he didn’t need one. Bad news for Phil though: he was then promptly hauled off down a side-street (was it a dark alley?) for a formal “stop and search”. Let us pause at this point to recall what I told you way back in June 2007: the UK police have the power under s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search people or vehicles in an area at risk from terrorism. And these laws were proposed to be extended to include stop and search of anyone (note to self: must check if those proposed new anti-terror laws went through).

Now, very clearly, the lighting of a town’s Christmas tree lights is an area that terrorists would flock to…not! The police demanded that Phil delete the offending photo (well, perhaps he’s not a great photographer) from his camera. And, as Phil says, he then “slunk home”. He commented:

“People were still taking photos with mobile phones and pocket cameras, so maybe it was because mine looked like a professional camera with a flash on top”.

You might recall this is what happened to me when I was exploring Sydney looking for urban fragments to snap. I have a pretty big lens on my Nikon D40 and was stopped by security guards and looked at suspiciously by people on the street. Same thing happened in New Zealand in Cuba Mall last week – I got a lot of glances my way and people weren’t just admiring my camera! But in Hong Kong, they could give a toss if you take a photo (or so it seemed to me from my recent experience of trawling through markets and streets taking photos). But terrorists might just twig that a big camera with a huge lens isn’t the smart way to go. Nope, camera phones and small compact digitals can take a pretty good shot too. I would think terrorists would run around with miniature cameras that don’t call attention to themselves. This whole carry on about authorities worrying about amateur photographers taking photos is why I stick mainly to flowers, insects and leaves with my photography.

And I’m intrigued by this question: why is it that Google Street View can roam cities taking photos of innocent citizens and cats sitting in domestic houses but the amateur photographer runs the risk of being hauled away and frisked? I read in The Australian the other day that the Australian directors of Google refused permission for the newspaper’s photographers to take photos of their homes. You can read about it here. I know that Google say that no identifying data will be revealed, but last I read, you had to request Google to take a specific photo down and the process isn’t an easy one. Meanwhile, there is nothing to stop them from cruising by your house and snapping away. US couple, Aaron and Christine Boring of Pittsburgh, are busy suing Google because a car from their fleet meandered down their private road (hello Google: private road!!) into their driveway, all to get a photo of their house. Their legal argument is “mental suffering” and diminished value of their property, along with invasion of privacy. Naturally, I’ll be watching this case very closely.

According to the SMH, Google spent our summer cruising around the streets of Sydney and when they looked at the millions of photos they took, every single one featured a McDonalds, a Dominos and a Go-Lo Discount Variety. What an indictment of Australia!

The above is an image of Monty the cat, who got into a cat fight with Google. Google snapped Monty enjoying the sun in the window of a house in California. Monty’s owner decided to try out Street View maps and typed in the address of the house and hey presto, up popped a street level view of her house. As she zoomed in, there was Monty. The image might look awfully grainy now and you may be laughing but…think about what Google will be able to do when better technology comes along. It’s only a matter of (short) time.

LOLCat image credit: Gizmodo


Entry filed under: Photography, Surveillance society.

Pretty camel, where art thou? Darwin and dictionaries

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brad  |  April 25, 2008 at 6:21 am


    Perhaps we should all walk around carrying CCTV cameras – seems that no-one bats an eyelid about them!


  • 2. thinkingshift  |  April 25, 2008 at 8:17 am

    maybe you’re right Brad. I keep getting told I’m “paranoid, overly worried, ridiculously obsessive…” – take your pick. I just remain concerned that people aren’t questioning what’s going on in our society re privacy – sooner or later it’s going to be too late and we won’t be able to ask questions.


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