I'm seeing lots of claims that photography could contribute to terrorism, and photographers are being stopped on a regular basis in many more places than before, especially in the UK (see http://www.met.police.uk/campaigns/campaign_ct_2008.htm, especially http://www.met.police.uk/campaigns/counter_terrorism/ct_camera_2008.pdf). Photographers are trying to counter these claims and the laws creating these restrictions and regain their right to take pictures in most public areas (see http://www.not-a-crime.com/ and http://photographernotaterrorist.org/). Can photography actually be used for terrorism? If so, under what circumstances? Can restricting photography reduce terrorism?
Can photography actually be used for terrorism?
It can absolutely be used for aiding in planning terror attacks.
I don't have the articles handy at the moment but a good source is StratFor's series of counter-terrorism and security articles. To paraphrase their many articles:
Any planned terror attack has standard phases, one of which is recon of the objective.
StratFor's Vulnerabilities in the Terrorist Attack Cycle
During the target selection and planning stages, terrorists conduct pre-operational surveillance...
Al Qaeda training manuals, including the infamous “Military Studies in the Jihad against the Tyrants,” and their online training magazines instruct operatives to perform surveillance, and even go so far as to discuss what type of information to gather.
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, DCSINT Handbook No.1, 2007 Appendix A: Terrorist Planning Cycle
Phase II: Intelligence Gathering and Surveillance
Taking photographs is both a good cover for hanging around a public place and checking things out without looking conspicuous; also photographs provide a wealth of possible information in post-recon planning phase - both to remind of the details that are otherwise forgotten and to help with visual/spacial reconstruction of the target environment.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (9/11 report)
(84) On the group's surveillance and photography activities, see trial testimony of L'Houssaine Kherchtou, United States v. bin Laden, Feb. 21, 2001 (transcript pp. 1499-1500); FBI reports of investigation, interviews of L'Houssaine Kherchtou,Aug. 18, 2000; Oct. 18, 2000; see also FBI report of investigation, interview of confidential source, Sept. 16, 1999.
On or about 05/15/2010, at a hotel in Herndon, Farooque Ahmed allegedly agreed to watch and photograph another hotel in Washington, D.C., as well as a Metro station in Arlington to get information about their security and busiest periods
In addition, photography can be possibly used as cover for actual attack execution (OBL's assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Northern alliance commander, on 9/9/2001, was done by a guy posing as a news reporter with the bomb hidden in video camera).
Can restricting photography reduce terrorism?
Not likely, since you can always use other means of helping with recon. In addition, these days surreptitious photography is extremely accessible, with spy cameras of low end type going for like $20-$50 on meritline.com - I can provide a link if one is required as proof. Not to mention there are photos of most public places all over Internet these days.