Monday, November 14, 2011

Surveillance Woes - 3rd Party Awareness

Just recently I had a simple surveillance tasking that went relatively smoothly - apart from being accosted by a Third Party at the very end when about to wrap up the operation.

Now, while this may happen occasionally, it can usually be dealt with by a convenient cover story.

But not this time.

No, this time I was accosted by a jumped-up lickspittle with ideas above his station. 

The job was straightforward enough: subject was arriving at airport - ascertain whether he was met by anyone at airport and obtain photographs.

No problem!

So Pedro and I arrived an hour early. The airport has recently undergone some major rennovations so the internal layout was new to me. We had previously determined that the subject would be arriving at Gate 15 at 0850hrs only the flight had been delayed due to weather and the new arrival time was estimated to be 0910hrs.

Next was the task of locating Gate 15. The new aiport design actually had two gate 15s! There was Gate 15 for arrivals and a Gate 15 for departures. When I write it like this, it may appear somewhat obvious but at the airport, on the ground, it was noticeably less so. However, we sorted out any misunderstandings we may have had regarding gates and were in position by 0845hrs.

Our plan was elegant in its simplicity. Pedro and I were in the arrivals lounge. As the subject entered and was visually IDed, I would exit and await outside. Pedro would follow the subject inside the terminal and give me notice as to which exit he was taking so that I could be in position to take the photographs. The new airport layout was such that there were any number of exits available to a traveller depending on their destination: pickup, taxis & shuttles, long-term parking etc.

The subject's flight touched down at the revised time of 0901hrs. Shortly thereafter our subject descended the stairs and, having made a visual confirmation, I headed outside to take up position while Pedro continued with the follow.

Some minutes later, after having retrieved his luggage, the subject exited the terminal and, with advance notice from Pedro, I was able to take a few photographs. The subject was alone and not met by anyone. He made a phone call and some 15 minutes later was picked up by a shuttle to take him to the rental car depot.

Just then, as I was about to RV with Pedro back at the vehicle to head to the rental depot, I was suddenly confronted by an airport traffic warden.

You know, one of those guys who issue parking infringement notices.

He brusquely, and quite rudely, demanded to know what I was doing as there had been some complaints that a gentleman in a long coat and boots (that would be I) was taking photographs in the parking area. Complaints? No-one had asked me what I was doing and I was trying to be as unobtrusive as possible under the circumstances.

I explained that I was a private investigator on a simple surveillance job and showed him my (Ministry of Justice-issued) ID which he sneered at, stating "we've all got ID, doesn't mean anything".

Really? Was yours issued by the MOJ? I don't think so.

I remained polite and informed him that we did, in fact, announce ourselves to the aviation security (which we did) but he was not mollified. Did I get permission from the Airport Company, he rudely interjected?

Well, no, I conceded - but did I really need to?

There was some more supercilious squaking from the parking warden before I pointed out that I was, in fact, finished and on my way out.

Pedro and I finsihed the job - client was pleased with results - and eventually returned to the office where I fumed over the incident with the parking warden.

Okay, so I was rumbled by third party awareness - these things happen. Explaining my actions, ie taking photographs, is a bit tricky by way of cover story so I don't have a problem with disclosing the fact that I am a PI.

I looked through the legislation that covers the airport and there is a clause prohibiting commercial photography without prior consent - unless accredited media and in course of duty - but does taking surveillance photos count as being 'commercial photography'? I'd argue no since the photographs were incidental to the job itself.

Interestingly, there is a clause prohibiting the conduct of business at the airport or to engage in activity at the airport in regards to a business outside the airport without a lease or licence granted by the Aiprort Company. Well, I guess I'm possibly in breach of this - along with who knows how many business types who do deals every day in aiport lounges either face-to-face, or over the phone, or by email.

However, another point of argument is whether or not I was actually in the aiport itself when taking the photographs. I was actually standing on the footpath of a public road. I believe this is not an aiport road as defined under the Act.

Lastly, as a PI, under the legislation that I am regulated by, I am entitled to take photographs of whomever I wish irrespective of whether they are on or in public or private property as long as they are not in a private dwelling.

Anyway, the question remaining is why did I not just call the Aiport management and ask permission in the first place?

Several reasons.

  1. Never let people know in advance you are doing surveillance as they may be curious and interfere.
  2. If I seek permission and they decline to grant it, they will probably be pissed off that I go ahead anyway. 
I think the old maxim "It is better to seek forgiveness than ask permission" applies here.

I just know the warden and I are going to clash again in future.


  1. I would think that Commercial Photography in the sense of the law would apply to taking photos of the airport and/or its facilities for the purpose of onselling those photos as actual images - e.g. a photographer running a photography business.

    Then again, a lawyer could argue that the sky, is in fact, not blue.

  2. maybe if you get rid of the jackboots and coat and stop looking like the uni-bomber, third parties won't notice you ...

  3. The attire was entirely appropriate: it was cold and grey. What had third parties noticing me was that I was taking photographs *past* them. I guess they thought I was photographing them instead.

    They should get out of my fucking way next time, obviously.

  4. You attire is never appropriate.

    You stand out like a nudist at a suit convention.

  5. This isn't about *me*.

    And let's not make it about you.