Photo madness

February 24, 2012 | By | 7 Replies More

I work in a big office building in downtown St. Louis. In the lobby of this big building, security guards bark at anyone who tries to take a photo. It happened in my presence once, when a co-worker was taking my photo. She and I were told that the reason for the ban on photos was “homeland security.” Later that same day (it was almost Christmas), I asked the guard whether people would be allowed to take a photo the huge Christmas tree in the lobby, and he said, “No. It is against the rules.”

I see one of the security guards at the lobby desk almost every night. I need to sign out most nights because I tend to work late.  The soft-spoken guard knows me quite well, by name and by face, because I’ve signed out hundreds of times while he has watched me sign out. This security guard recently told me that he has now been ordered to make sure that everyone who leaves the building after working hours shows him a photo ID. Therefore, this man, who has seen me sign out hundreds of times is now asking me for my photo ID every time I sign out. I reminded him that he knows me, and he agreed, but these are the rules. My photo ID actually looks a lot less like me than I do, because my driver’s license photo of me does not have a beard, and I DO have a beard. Nonetheless, this security guard makes me pull out my drivers’ license every night as though he has never met me. He stares at it for 2 seconds, and then he nods. A few times this month, I’ve tried to just sign out without showing my photo ID, but he always says, “Excuse me. I need to see your photo ID before you may leave.” For the past few nights, for fun, I’ve asked him whether he needs to see my license. He says “Yes, that is the rule.” At least he hasn’t uttered that he needs to see my ID because of “homeland security.”

Image by I_Nicholas at istock (with permission)

One more story about photos. Today I spent some time at the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Office looking at real estate records. A somewhat grumpy female clerk told me that copies were $3 for the first page of a document and $1 for each additional page. Thus, a 3-page document costs $5, which is outrageous gouging. After getting some expensive copies of relatively recent documents, I moved over to the micro-fiche machine and started looking at some real estate records from 70 years ago. Rather than asking for copies, I decided to instead take out my camera and take photos of the screen (without a flash, and without any noise). This system was working out great, I thought, and I took ten photos of documents. Right after that tenth photo, I heard that clerk call out to me (you could hear her voice bellow across the room):

“You are not allowed to take photographs of the documents!”

I turned around with a smile and asked, “Why am I not allowed to take photos of the documents?”

She paused, then said: “You are not allowed to take photographs of the documents!”

I guess she didn’t want to say “Because I’m an automaton, and my boss told me to say this sort of bullshit because when you take photos you are no allowing us to gouge you for photocopies.”

As I write this article, I am safe in my own home. Here at home, no one asks me for my photo ID. No one yells at me for taking photos of Christmas trees or documents. No one tells me that I can’t do something because of “homeland security.”



Category: photography

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    Another perfect case of rules that make things difficult for law abiding folks, but are really no impediment to those up to no good. Hidden cameras are cheap and easy to get. A less-than-$30 3.0 Megapixel Video (1280 x 1024) pen camera is plenty of pixels for copying documents, or spotting security features in a building. gives an idea of what is on the open retail market, but is not the cheapest source.
    If you have a smart phone, you can use its 5MP (2012 std) camera while letting those looking over your shoulder think you are making notes. I’m sure that there’s an app for that.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Walk into any Radio Shack or Walmart and you can buy a Spynet Video watch, for around $60. The current version features an infrared led for night vision recording. You can also find the original version without the night vision feature, at closeout stores for around $30. I found one at a thrift store, along with the snake cam accessory for $10.

    Keep in mind that this is a toy that can covertly record up to 20 minutes of video, or 3 hours of audio.

  3. Ben says:

    You have both been reported to Homeland.

  4. Yes..get use to this. Drones are coming.

    It’s funny…people make fun of conspiracies, but they think nothing of the insanity of this kind of tyranical nonsense.

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    One of the more popular “Geek” toys available now is the Parrot AR Drone. It is a quadricopter equipped with two cameras that can be controlled through any wifi enabled cell phone. It provides live video to the phone and can also record video to an on-board sd card.
    If the $300 is too steep, less expensive wifi copters are availabe at target stores

  6. Tim Hogan says:

    As many here know, I don’t disbelieve all conspiracy theories.

  7. grumpypilgrim says:

    As with airport TSA inspections, most “security” procedures are nothing more than window dressing, designed to create the appearance of official action (namely, by inconveniencing law-abiding people) without actually deterring anyone who seriously wants to commit a crime.

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