Terrorist activity?

I would be really annoyed if I was harassed by police because I saw an interesting photo opportunity. I've taken several train photos and CTA photos over the years. What the hell is happening to this country? Can we spell "over-reaction"?

With a tripod in one man's hand and cameras slung around the other's neck, two Homewood men arrived at a Metra station in Morton Grove earlier this month to take pictures of a mothballed locomotive that had been called back into service.

But before Paul Burgess and Randy Olson could snap a picture, Morton Grove police detained them and searched Burgess' car, with his consent. Soon, Metra police arrived, and the two were held as their backgrounds were checked.

The Jan. 8 incident is the latest in a series of mix-ups with police who, rail fans say, may be trying to protect railroad security in a way that threatens their 1st Amendment rights.

"The general consensus is it's easier for a rail fan to take pictures in China than it is here," said Bill Molony, president of a National Railway Historical Society's Blackhawk Chapter, whose members mostly live in the south and southwest Chicago suburbs.

Viva la free speech! I'm happy to be a proud card carrying member of the ACLU....

In general, people have the right to express themselves, under the 1st Amendment, and may take pictures in a public space where others don't have an expectation of privacy. But security issues can limit what people may photograph, such as a defense facility, said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"It's not an absolute," he said.

But he added, "I don't know of any federal law that makes it a crime to photograph any train, that covers that in such a blanket way as these officers who approached [Burgess] seem to have suggested."

If the New York City Transit branch of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has its way, that could become the case in New York City subway stations.

The NYC Transit wants to place a general ban on photography and videotaping on its system except for media with valid credentials and people with MTA authorization.

I like Burgess' reaction:

... Olson, 55, and Burgess, 43, said they understand the security concerns but believe it was obvious they were not terrorists. A potentially bigger threat, they said, were backpack-toting passengers waiting to board the train.

"You don't need to take a picture of the tracks to know where the strategic locations are," Olson said. "And you wouldn't be doing it in broad daylight. It's just ludicrous. You have to be able to discern what's a threat and what isn't."

...Burgess has not heard back from Metra's board, to whom he wrote a letter asking for an apology. Regardless, he intends to continue photographing trains.

"I've been doing this for 30 years," Burgess said. "And as I said in my letter, I'm a U.S. Navy veteran and I don't intend to allow this to change my habits."

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on January 19, 2005 8:53 AM.

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