Monday, July 11, 2011

TSA sends letter to NPPA assuring photographers' rights at airports

US Air plane at gate in Atlanta
If you've been following the problems of tourists and professional photographers with TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at airports, you already know that there have been reports that travelers have been harassed, and intimidated by TSA TSOs, when trying to photograph at TSA checkpoints in airports.

Ryan Miklus found out about getting into trouble if you try to take a photo, or make video at a TSA checkpoint when he flew from Phoenix to Reno with his parents earlier this year.

Mr. Miklus tried to videotape an argument between his mother and a TSA agent when another TSO (Transportation Safety Officer) tried to stop him. “You are not allowed to film. You need to go. You cannot film us,” the TSO said.

Mr. Miklus replied, “Where does it say that? Show me the law. Show it to me and I'll stop.” Mr. Miklus has the exchange on his videotape.

The agent left, but returned with several airline employees, one of whom told Mr. Miklus it's against the law to take photos at a security checkpoint.

Eventually Mr. Miklus was allowed to leave when a police officer refused to arrest him.

This kind of problem has been repeated often.

Steven Frischling, a professional photographer was detained at Hartford's Bradley International Airport last year, and was ordered by a Connecticut State Police officer not to leave the terminal, on orders from a TSA agent. The police officer said it was a “Federal Offense” to take photographs at a TSA security checkpoint.
Eventually Mr. Frischling was allowed to leave, but it took calls to TSA's Office of Strategic Communications on his part, (something the average traveler will likely be unable to do) to allow him to leave and avoid arrest.

The big problem with all these incidents is TSA doesn't prohibit photography or videotaping at their airport security checkpoints.

According to TSA's own blog,
“We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors.”
In fact there is no federal law prohibiting photography of, or in TSA checkpoints.

Unfortunately, it's apparent that no one has told TSA TSOs that, or their supervisors, nor has TSA explained that to most police departments detailed to airports throughout the US!

After hearing many complaints about the photography situation at TSA airport checkpoints, on June 9, 2011, National Press Photographer Association (NPPA) general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, faxed a letter about the problem to Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano.  Later that day TSA posted the following policy update,
“There have been many different interpretations of the photography portion of this post, so I wanted to clarify things a bit. We recognize that using video and photography equipment is a constitutionally protected activity unless it interferes with the screening process at our checkpoints. While our current policy remains the same, TSA is reviewing our guidance to officers at the checkpoint to ensure consistent application. Our goal is to protect passenger’s rights, while safeguarding the integrity of the security process.”
Mr. Osterreicher has informed NPPA members that as of July 1, 2011 he received a letter from Margot Bester, Principle Deputy in the TSA Office of Chief Counsel, saying in part,
“Please be assured that TSA’ s goal is to protect passenger’s rights, including the right to record at passenger screening checkpoints, while ensuring that passenger screening operations can take place in an effective and efficient manner. We will continue to strive to meet this two-part commitment.”
One can only hope that Ms. Bester will get the word out to TSA's TSOs who run their airport security checkpoints, or the assault on traveler rights will continue there.


Richard said...

I personally believe the letter sent to NPPA is lip service as TSA will continue to let their agents decide for themselves whether they are bound by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, if their little brains even know what the Constitution and Bill of Rights are.

TSA is just another hopeless government bureaucracy wasting our money, and refusing to let the American people scrutinize them via photography. If they are as good as they say, why are they afraid of a few photographs by travelers?

Jim said...

I'll believe TSA when ... I doubt that will ever happen.

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