July 14, 2004

Telling the difference between a student and a spy.

A few days ago, two of us at Pacific Views pointed to the same thing: the story of Ian Spiers, a resident of Seattle's Ballard neighborhood who was harassed by Seattle Police and agents from the US Department of Homeland Security for photographing the locks and associated railroad bridge. Spiers was taking the photographs for a class assignment; his only apparent crime was being brown.

As the Seattle Times reports, Spiers's case has been taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union:

In a June 21 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that manages the Ballard Locks, ACLU attorney Aaron Caplan wrote that at the end of the May 26 questioning, "Special Agent Daniel McNamara of the Department of Homeland Security told Mr. Spiers that he was not allowed to take photographs at the Locks, and that he was not to return to the Locks without advance notice and permission." ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said yesterday that he is not aware of any law that prohibits taking photographs of government buildings or federal facilities such as the Ballard Locks.

"You've got to wonder why Ian was singled out," Honig said. "The government says somebody made a complaint about Ian. It made sense they would talk to him, but it's quickly obvious he poses no security risk."

Spiers was told he had violated the Patriot Act, but there's nothing in the legislation that prohibits his actions, Honig said. The ACLU wants an explanation for what happened.

"You'd think government officials should be able to distinguish between a student and a spy, or a tourist and a terrorist, when it comes to taking photos at the Ballard Locks," Honig said.

Given the current administration in Washington, we think Honig is being over-optimistic.

More: Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert Jamieson, Jr. has also written about Spiers's encounter with the SPD and Homeland Security:

Ian's crime was being a brown man with a camera in hand during a time of runaway fear.

Posted by Magpie at July 14, 2004 06:57 PM | Civil Liberties | TrackBack(3) | Technorati links |

Thank goodness they're making the nation safer from photography students!

Posted by: NTodd at July 15, 2004 05:07 PM

This is crazy. Is there anybody in this nation who isn't persecuted? Muslims, blacks, gays. I hope Bill Clinton here is his blog is riught and the combination of Kerry/Edwards will win Kerry the elections.

Posted by: Cherry Newscomb at July 15, 2004 07:02 PM

The citizen lookout system usually devolves into this sort of injustice, if indeed it actually had any value to begin with-like reporting HOV violators. It's a unique opportunity for people to settle grudges, excercise racism, and report unruly neighbors with bad hair.

One way to diffuse enforcement zeal is a kind of 'work to rule' effort wherein lots of folks make lots of calls reporting every conceivable 'suspicious activity' everywhere.
Might cause the enforcers to find more constructive, tho less entertaining passtimes.

Posted by: kamajii at July 16, 2004 08:21 PM