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07/04/2009 – Photography & TSA Airport Security Checkpoints…Its OK!
Over the past few years photographers in the United States have run into some significant difficulties when photographing near Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport security checkpoints and directly photographing TSA checkpoints. Some incidents have resulted in a lecture others in photographers being detained.
Some might find it interesting that recently the TSA has made an official statement clearly stating that photographing TSA security-screening checkpoints is not illegal, forbidden or restricted.
On the 31st of March the TSA posted the following statements through their Office of Strategic Communications & Public Relations:
“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.
However… while the TSA does not prohibit photographs at screening locations, local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances might. Your best bet is to call ahead and see what that specific airport’s policy is.”
In my experience, I have been stopped while photographing at TSA checkpoints on various photo assignments. More than once I have been told it is the Policy of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to not allow photography of TSA checkpoints (the TSA falls under the DHS). On at least two occasions I have been clearly notified by law enforcement that the airport has no restrictions on photography in public areas, however the TSA/DHS has restrictions on photography of TSA checkpoints.
The problems related to photographing TSA checkpoints has always seemed a little bit odd from a security standpoint. There is nothing to stop someone from performing surveillance by standing and watching multiple security checkpoints for hours and claim they are waiting for someone. There is nothing to stop someone doing surveillance work from buying a ticket then passing through security multiple times in a single day on that same boarding pass (much like how experienced airport thieves operate). Photographs of security procedures creates a static image, while careful observation and testing the system is more fluid and often undetectable, which poses a more significant security risk and returns a more significant piece of data to someone who is interested in created a diagram of how the system works.
For all your traveling photographers out there who may experience problems while photographing in the vicinity of a TSA security checkpoint, I encourage you to read this entry on the TSA Blog : 3.31.2009 Can I Take Photos at the Checkpoint and Airport?