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Police detain man and confiscate camera for photographing TSA officials

TSA official at Houston’s international airport (Photo by ND Sol)

A man who took pictures of Transportation Security Administration officials at Houston’s international airport ended up being detained for more than an hour and had his camera gear confiscated overnight.

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TSA official at Houston’s international airport (Photo by ND Sol)


A man who took pictures of Transportation Security Administration officials at Houston’s international airport ended up being detained for more than an hour and had his camera gear confiscated overnight.

The incident occurred in May but the man just posted his story Sunday on Flyer Talk, a website dedicated to traveling issues.

Under the username ND Sol, the man describes how he dropped a relative off at the airport, then decided to walk around the airport to see the changes that have taken place.

He took a couple of photos of the screening area, including of a few TSA officials. That prompted two of the TSA officials to question him.

One of the TSA officials asked for his identification, which he refused to provide.

Because TSA officials have no authority to detain, the man continued walking around the airport with the TSA goons following close behind.

ND Sol continued taking their photos as they followed him.

He was eventually confronted by a pair of Houston police officers who asked for his identification and social security number.

HPD1 asked for my ID and I inquired if I was legally required to do so. He said yes. I asked if this was a stop and identify state and eventually he said yes (which is incorrect). I tried to hand him my card, but he insisted on state issued ID. He also said I had to legally provide him with my SSN. Towards the end of my detention, HPD2 was on the phone with the DA’s office and relayed to me that it was illegal to file a false police report. This was supposedly the basis for the requirement to produce identification. What this had to do with anything is questionable. I still don’t understand that non sequitur.

The questioning then began about what I was doing and why I was at the airport. I demurred to their requests for some time, but eventually inferred my detention was going to continue without answers. Who was I seeing off, what was her name, her relationship to me, her airline, her flight number, her destination, the departure time of her flight, where my car was parked. Each of my simple answers begat more questions. One question in this litany was the middle name of the passenger I was seeing off. I said I didn’t recall, but was still asked over and over the same question and the officer acted incredulous that I wouldn’t remember it. I finally asked one officer if he knew the middle name of every person he dropped off at the airport, which eventually stopped that line of questioning.

At one point I asked if whether answering the next questions verifying my story would end the questioning. No answer and additional questions followed. Of course, I was asked the same questions over and over again by the same officers and other officers, which I would assume was to see if I kept my “story” straight.

The number of HPD officers at this gathering started at one, escalated quickly and ballooned to six. In addition, several uniformed TSO’s and a number of other non-uniformed persons with lanyard ID’s were standing nearby. At various times, HPD would confer with them and they would confer among themselves or with others on their communication devices.

HPD1 questioned why I took pictures of the TSO’s and not HPD. So I know who they are if issues develop; they don’t have true name tags, but HPD does, so no need exists to take your picture for that purpose. He hadn’t realized that. To this day, I don’t know the names of the two TSO’s, but I do know the names of HPD1 and HPD2. Since the TSO’s would have been the ones to communicate to HPD that I took pictures of them, I would infer the TSO’s viewed my taking pictures of them as being suspicious.

They eventually frisked him and had dogs sniff through his camera gear. He was eventually released after 90 minutes, but they refused to return his camera gear – which he was not able to retrieve until the following evening.

The man says he is a lawyer so I’m wondering what’s taking him so long to file a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, an author named Dana Vachon had his own incident with TSA officials at JFK Airport over a photo he took.

Here’s how the New York Times explains it (seventh paragraph):

Dana Vachon, a novelist, had been snapping photos of the security line at the airport when he reported on Twitter that a security officer intervened to make him delete the images from his iPhone. “When I asked what law allowed them to censor pictures none was cited, and I was asked if I supported the ‘battle’ against terrorism,” Mr. Vachon wrote.

The deleted photos apparently showed a bearded T.S.A. officer whom Mr. Vachon described on his Twitter account as an “Islamic security guard.” Some of his photos apparently survived and do show a man with a beard. Mr. Vachon said he determined the man’s religion because he had “Middle Eastern coloring, a beard with no mustache, wore a skullcap.”

A spokesman for the T.S.A. said that he was not familiar with the episode at Kennedy and that the agency did not prohibit photos at security checkpoints, except in the case of the computer scanner’s screen itself. However, it would not be uncommon for officers, who are on the lookout for suspicious behavior, to talk with a photographer to find out why he or she was taking pictures.

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