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Identity & Technology

Improper Photography

Recently, a local high school student was arrested for “improper photography.” He was taking pictures of the “sensitive regions” of girls in his class, ostensibly for enhancing the school’s sex-ed program. +10 points for a creative explanation, but -100 for overall creepiness. He was convicted of “improper photography”. The link actually includes the relevant law language, but here is a quick summary:

Improper photography is:

  1. Taking pictures without the other person’t consent AND with an intent for sexual gratification OR
  2. Taking pictures in a dressing room without consent and with the intent to invade another’s privacy.

This is perfectly reasonable, and the kid is guilty. Although, 2 years in prison does seem a little harsh.

However, the authorities often interpret the law much more broadly. There are many cases where people have been arrested for taking pictures of things that are clearly public. For example:

The common theme in these incidents is that the police or other authority decides that pictures are not appropriate in a certain situation. That’s an opinion. But then they decide they have the authority to do something about it, and that is where the trouble starts. I want to believe that these incidents come from ignorance of the law. However, I suspect it is something else.

The excuse often given for this kind of harassment is “security.” The stated/unstated reason is that someone could be taking pictures in order to plan some attack, or maybe a robbery. And that may be true, there is always the possibility that someone taking pictures is doing just that. And pictures would help to plan an attack.

However, we don’t arrest people for things they could do. We arrest them for things they do, or are clearly attempting/planning to do. People saving up money could be planning a terrorist attack. People learning to shoot a gun could be planning an attack. The 9/11 hijackers took flying lessons. None of those things should be cause for suspicion. Put in logic terms:

A -> B does not mean B -> A

[Terrorists] imples [Taking Pictures] but [Taking Pictures] does not imply [Terrorist]

Finally, it is a ridiculous argument anyway. Let’s say we believed there were dozens of terrorists casing the Pentagon every day taking pictures. So, we hire an Army of security guards to arrest anyone taking pictures of the Pentagon. A “real” terrorist could easily just use spy-cam glasses to take all the pictures he needs.

Trite, but still relevant:

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Alex Kilpatrickprivacy