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?

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    No, photography doesn't "contribute to terrorism". But a terrorist could visit the target (if a public place) and take pictures to be able to plan the attack. Which is mentioned on the first link you linked to. Jul 22, 2011 at 14:06
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    Reworded question to clarify.
    – bwDraco
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:08
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    I might wanna mention that restricting photography inside museums has more to do with getting more money from the souvenir shop and preserving the art pieces (due to the flash which not everyone shuts off) Jul 22, 2011 at 14:23
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    @ratchetfreak: A museum is not always a publicly-owned facility, and the reasons for the restrictions here are not normally related to terrorism. I'm talking about public areas such as train stations and some government buildings.
    – bwDraco
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:34
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    A trivial question. Can bread contribute to terrorism? A terrorist might eat bread! Have you thought of it? Now is prohibiting bread a solution? But unfortunately, political decisions where made in this silly pattern, which is, why I refuse to vote to close this question. Jul 22, 2011 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


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.

    • Military Guide to Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century

      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.

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    Agreed. Such measures are relic from times were cameras were bulky, and it was possible to catch those using them. It is no longer efficient, it can catch only very naive spies.
    – Suma
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:50
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    Speculation. Not a skeptic answer. You know the drill, fix or remove.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 23, 2011 at 21:10
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    With all due respect, I don't think the community is 6 up votes.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 24, 2011 at 7:24
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    DVK: no reference -> not a skeptical answer -> off-topic here. votes are irrelevant.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 24, 2011 at 7:45
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    Thank you for the references. You are a high-rep user and should be helping us in setting an example. Skepticism is examining the evidence, if you don't do that then what are we doing here? Also removed your polemic statement from the answer. Try to make this site a better place for skepticism next time.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 24, 2011 at 8:03

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