Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,

In Which We Become Potential National Security Threats

As we stood at the Metra Electric 55/56/57 St Station waiting for our train back downtown from the museum to arrive, Lisa got out her camera. She took pictures of the train as it approached the platform. We went and sat down, and the conductor came to collect our tickets. He said, "I saw that you were taking pictures as we came in. That's against the law."

I pasted a smile on my face as I handed him our tickets. "No, it's not."

"Yes, sir, it is the law," he insisted, politely but firmly.

I continued to act calmly and said, "Can you possibly cite what law it is?"

He seemed a bit surprised that anyone would question his authority. "I'm not going to require you to delete those photos, but I can have Metra police meet you if you insist."

I was actually willing to make a case out of it, but the look of fear I saw on Lisa's face on this one made me back down, and I said, again calmly, "No, that's okay, thank you." Note that I never stopped smiling, nor did I ever raise my voice or act impolitely.

For the fifteen minutes to Millennium (Randolph St) Station, Lisa and I fumed quietly over this. Lisa leaned over to me, and said, "Jewel robberies are illegal in these here parts, but I won't make you put them back; just don't do it again."

I do pay attention to these things, and if there is such a law, it's possibly a local regulation (not a law) on Metra. I actually don't think there's any law at all, or even a regulation. It's something that the train crews made up, or that their managers made up, or a rumor. I've heard of this happening, and in particular in Chicago, to other rail photographers.

In one story I heard, a police officer of some sort insisted that "Since 9/11, it has been illegal to take photos of any sort of transportation at all!" Cameras have been confiscated, or film destroyed, or photographers ordered to delete digital images from their cameras. Lisa quietly removed the memory stick from her camera and put it in her pocket, leaving only the camera's internal memory with a few pictures of Bear and nothing rail-related. If asked, she would have shown the photos and said, "He said we shouldn't be taking photos, so I deleted them."

I was actually prepared to go through the routine with the police that I've thought through before, which includes, if told, "You must delete those images," saying, "Officer, if there's actually been a crime committed here, I would rather not be a party to the additional crime of destroying evidence." But there's always the chance that this would be considered being a smart aleck and oblige me to spend the night in jail, which would have screwed up my schedule and kept me from Worldcon even if I recovered far more than that in the resultant lawsuit. Besides, there's a good chance that without additional evidence such as a further recording and more witnesses, the police would deny having said, in effect, "Destroy the evidence."

It boils my blood to let these "jobsworths" get away with petty stuff like this. I do very much intend to follow up with Metra about this outrage. Lisa is still shaky. I also intend to write to Trains magazine – the most widely-read American railroading magazine – and for good measure, Rail magazine in the UK, where I picked up the "jobsworth" term because the same thing has been happening there as well.

If there is such a law/rule/policy, Metra should be publicizing it. But I've also heard that police sometime claim that it's a "secret law." Secret Law is a fundamental violation of American Law, and it is a step toward a dictatorship in the name of "security."

Ironically, the Amtrak porter who took us to our sleeping car at Union Station told us of a group traveling on our train this evening that had been taking pictures of it, and he couldn't understand the fascination. Amtrak has a policy about photography, albeit a stupid one that clearly isn't meant to be enforced – "Only ticketed passengers may photograph trains." They don't claim that there's a Secret Law banning rail photography. Sheesh.

Addendum, 5 Aug 00:05: Lisa had me do a Google Image search and points out that the search "Metra Electic Chicago" returns more than 79,000 images, many of which are very similar to what she was shooting. How, pray tell, will our photos damage "security?"
Tags: jobsworths, lisa, trains
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