Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Photographer Rights

Long-time readers of this blog will certainly have seen me comment on the importance of detecting the surveillance phase of a potential terrorist attack. Alerting the police and FBI of a potential attack is one of the best security measures that a facility has to prevent a successful terrorist attack. I have also mentioned that one of the indicators of possible pre-operational surveillance is someone taking pictures of the facility. I have tried to make it clear that ‘an indicator’ is not proof of terrorist surveillance and that someone taking pictures from public areas is not doing anything illegal.

There is an interesting blog posting over at NetworkWorld.com that addresses this issue from the point of view of a photographer. It should be required reading for all security managers and front-line security personnel. Now the blog is not a legal opinion, and some will consider the author to be an anti-government zealot (a appellation which the link associated with the picture accompanying the blog post would encourage), but it is a clear statement of the point of view of legitimate photographers.

I have been pleasantly surprised that there have been no reports of confrontations between facility security staff and Greenpeace activists conducting their photographic ‘security inspections’ of high-profile chemical facilities. These Greenpeace activities have clearly been part of their politically protected free speech rights. While I expect that their activities have discomforted the applicable security personnel, the lack of complaints about harassment by security personnel indicate that the security managers at these facilities have well understood the situation and had appropriately trained their security personnel.

Potential Surveillance Must be Investigated

Unfortunately, these types of photographic activities could also be used by terrorist planning an attack on a high-risk facility. As such they need to be investigated and reported. Investigational procedures must be developed that take into account to potential dual nature of such incidents.

Anyone talking with a photographer on public property must be well trained in their responsibility for positively representing the facility owners and workers. They need to be polite and respectful in the limited questioning that they conduct. Physical contact must be strictly prohibited and intimidation should be avoided at all costs. Politely requesting that the individual stop photographing the facility is acceptable, but anything that leaves the impression that the person is required to stop taking photographs leaves the facility vulnerable.

Role playing exercises are probably the most effective component of training for security personnel to deal with public encounters of all types, and would be particularly appropriate for situations of this sort. Clear identification of inappropriate responses in such training will go along way in avoiding inappropriate confrontations along the facility perimeter.

Site Security Plan

Now this is not something that I have seen covered in the Risk Based Performance Standard guidance document, and is probably not something that the DHS Chemical Security Inspectors will check when they visit a facility (though I might argue that they should). Having said that, this is certainly an example of the type of situations that Security Managers will to have to deal with in developing their security programs.

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