Sunday, March 04, 2007

On February 27th, I was stopped by MBTA (Boston subway) staff and told that it is illegal to take photographgs. The police were called, I was told it is a "federal crime" to take pictures on the subways, my notebook was seized without being under arrest and finally, I was informed that asking for the employee information of the MBTA staff who stopped me was "reasonable suspicion" to compel me to provide my ID on upon demand.

(Wrong, wrong and wrong.)

If you want a slightly more verbose version, head here. If I know you personally, email me, I'll send the detailed transcript.

Suffice it to say (a) the ACLU has told the MBTA to knock it off before, (b) they intend to proceed with a lawsuit and (c) I might be the person bringing the lawsuit.

While I'm not a lawyer, my specific incident has a lot of things going for it. It happened almost entirely in the Havard station atrium which is brimming with cameras, I kept my cool the entire time, I did not get arrested, there were witnesses and I was told repeatedly that photography on the subways is illegal.

What's really confused me is the number of people I've encountered who think that a no-photography policy in the subway actually makes sense. Three points.

• A camera merely collects light. It doesn't see what you and I cannot so if it's within public view, it's within view. From a tactical perspective, my camera doesn't see anything a person with criminal intent and a reasonable memory wouldn't.

• With 1.3 MP cameraphones being ubiquitous today, what makes anyone but a fool think that we can actually stop photography?

• Finally, for the "things have changed since 9/11 crowd," a simple phrase essential to our country seems to have been forgotten; "Give me liberty or give me death!"

What these words mean is that there are things worse than dying. A loss of liberty is one of them.

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