The eternal conflict between security and a free press made the news again in Texas City, TX. A photographer for the Galveston County Daily News was stopped by the local police while he was taking pictures of a relatively small oil spill. When he refused to show them the pictures that he had been taking, he was detained for 45 minutes before being released. The local police/Joint Terrorism Task Force spokesman said that the police just wanted to see if any of the pictures compromised the chemical facility security.
Needless to say the photographer, the paper and the local ACLU office were more than a tad bit upset. Generally speaking, US courts have held that the government cannot exercise prior restraint of the press, even in areas of national security. At most, they can sue or even prosecute after national security information is published.
Facility Security and the Press
Fortunately, the facility management is not involved in this dispute. A security guard did ask the photographer to leave an unfenced portion of the facility property, but was apparently polite and non-confrontational in the request and the photographer complied. The facility is off the hook on this case.
The last thing that a chemical facility needs is to antagonize the local press. Putting any kind of restrictions on what the press does from outside the fence is stupid and probably illegal. Telling the press that you have something to hide is like telling a small child to stay out of a cookie jar lying on the floor. It is the surest way to get the press to dig.
Counter-surveillance and Photographers
I have mentioned on a couple of occasions (see: “Counter-surveillance in Operation”) that facility security personnel (in fact all facility personnel) should be alert for people conducting surveillance operations against the facility. A person taking pictures of the facility should be viewed with suspicion as possibly being part of surveillance operation.
When a photographer is spotted the security manager should be notified as quickly as possible. That manager is going to want to know three things:
- Are they inside or outside of the security perimeter?
- Are they acting overtly or covertly?
- Are they obviously a news organization (a panel truck with the local TV station logo in three color paint job on the side is pretty obviously a newsie)?
Response to Photographers
Anyone found within the security perimeter should be detained and turned over to the local police. The facility needs to have their legal people go over the rules for detaining trespassers very carefully. Those rules should have a very clear definition of what the military calls the ‘rules of engagement’; what force can be used for detention. Extensive, repetitive training needs to be conducted and documented on those rules. Do not mess with any photographic, video or audio recording equipment; that needs to be dealt with by counter surveillance professionals.
Outside the security perimeter the rules get a lot murkier and can vary from city to city. A safe assumption is that outside of that perimeter the facility personnel have no legal right to detain or question anyone. This means that the rule is to be polite, be polite, and be polite.
Covert photography should be dealt with from a distance. Get pictures of the people if at all possible. Notify the local police department counter-terrorism people (even Mayberry would have a designated counter-terrorism person today). And increase the facility alert level for a period of time, just in case.
Overt photography needs to be dealt with very carefully. The photographer could be a news person, a government regulator, an investor, an activist for a deep pockets environmental group, or just a camera geek. A security supervisor should approach the photographer and politely ask why the person is taking photographs. If the photographer is will to provide identification the name and affiliation should be recorded.
The representative should explain that the facility management would prefer that photographs of security measures not be taken. Then the photographer should be left alone. A full report should be prepared and shared with the local counter-terrorism people.
News Photographers are a Special Case
A news photographer should be given the business card of the person at the facility that has been designated (and trained) to deal with the press. If a news organization has been identified, the editor or manager should be contacted by the management representative to discuss the facilities security concerns.
The last thing that any facility needs is to have a news organization do a major expose on their security arrangements or lack there of. The only practical way of preventing such an expose is to have a good working relationship with the press