Every
morning he comes to work John Howard will have to walk through a metal
detector. When the machine goes “ping”, he can empty his pockets of keys
and coins and strip off accessories and items of clothing that set off
the detector or go back to the Lodge and rearrange things before trying
again.

Down on the banks of the Yarra at Melbourne’s Southgate
retail and restaurant centre the tourists can put away their cameras.
The managers of the centre have put up “no camera” signs – Southgate
thanks you for not taking photos within the complex unless approved by
management. Brazen souls who disobey find themselves approached by
security officials and ordered to stop.

Australia is rapidly following the American example. In
Los Angeles when you walk down the street near 7th and Figueroa, with
or without a camera, a voice comes out of the wall – “Put away the
camera. No picture taking here.”

Patt Morrison, writing in the
LA Times
last week, declared that taking pictures of public spaces is
becoming illegal. “To the absurdities of overreaching ‘no-fly’ lists
that keep infants off airplanes,” she wrote “add this one:
photographers, amateur and professional, being menaced for taking
pictures of public sights in plain sight.”

Some examples. A man
taking pictures of a symmetrical array of school buses gets a visit
from Homeland Security. A shutterbug shooting 16-millimetre film of the
scenery outside the train window is questioned, and the film is
confiscated. A history student taking photos of the New York State
Capitol for her class project finds the police at her door. Another
student in Seattle, photographing a popular tourist sight, is corralled
by men declaring themselves to be “homeland security”. A Texan railroad
buff takes pictures of trains and gets grilled for five hours by the
FBI and the cops.

Southgate property manager Kathy Barrance
understands. Her “no camera” edict follows an incident in which
tourists were seen photographing “obscure” parts of buildings and were
asked to delete the photos from their cameras. When the intrepid
photographers refused, security called police to insist.

“We’ve
had a couple of incidents of tourists taking photos of obscure things,
and they were approached by security and asked to stop taking photos,”
Ms Barrance was quoted as telling the Herald Sun. “It was just the
facades of buildings, things that would be of no interest to put in a
photo album.” And all done, it appears, without any legal basis.
A spokeswoman for the Victorian Police told the paper that “”I’ve
checked with our privacy people and they said there’s no law against
taking photos”.

There must be doubt as well about the legality
of making our MPs in Canberra walk through those metal detectors too.
It is a breach of parliamentary privilege to stop a member performing
their parliamentary duties.

So what will actually happen if John
Howard or some other parliamentarian tells the security guard to get stuffed is not
exactly clear. The Secretary of Parliamentary Services Hilary Penfold
told The Age that politicians who refused a search would be counselled
to be co-operative. “The presiding officers (Speaker and Senate
President) will give them a quiet talking to,” she said.

An
impasse would be reached if an MP continued to refuse a search. Ms
Penfold said she did not envisage such an extreme situation.

Peter Fray

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