The FBI has been trying to find two men who have engaged in suspicious activities on Puget Sound ferries, the largest ferry system in the U.S. and the No. 1 target for maritime terrorism according to the Justice Department. The agency released a picture of the two, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer won’t help. They ran a story on the issue, but cited “civil liberties” and “privacy” reasons for not publishing the pictures.
The FBI said the two men “showed an inordinate interest in the operation of the shipboard systems as opposed to the beautiful scenery passing by.”
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, “The PI selected not to publish the photos, citing civil liberties and privacy concerns, which editors felt outweighed the newsworthiness of the images. ‘We have no confirmation that these men’s behavior was anything but innocuous, and to forever taint them by associating them with terrorism under these circumstances is not consistent with our policy,’ said David McCumber, P-I managing editor.”
Bill Hobbs over at Newsbusters has a good insight on the whole “privacy and civil liberties” issue. The men in the photo were photographed in public while on a public ferry. I have no right to privacy when it comes to my appearance when I am in public. Yes, I have a right to privacy of my person, but not of my appearance. These men were in a public forum and had no legal right to privacy at the time.
“There is no invasion of their privacy, nor of their civil liberties, by publishing the photos so that the authorities can locate and speak with the men.”
Hobbs also points out that newspapers post pictures of anonymous crowds all the time without citing privacy concerns, so it a little hypocritical to pull the “privacy” card when so much could be at risk.
This activity is not new to the Washington state ferry system. In 2004, “Groups of men, including one tied to a federal terrorism investigation, have videotaped Washington ferry operations, prompting federal authorities to conclude the system has been under surveillance as a possible target for an attack.”
An audit of the state ferry system found that many of the ferries do not have enough flotation devices and rafts to fit the number of for only half their passenger capacity.
The paper is holding a haiku-writing contest for readers to write about how they feel about the FBI alert and the way the paper handled it.
“The local media had four options after they received an alert from the FBI about two ferry passengers wanted for questioning: run the photo, run the story, run the photo and the story or don’t run anything at all.
“In an earlier post, Managing Editor David McCumber explained our decision to leave the photo out of it.
“As the story develops today, what concerns you most: The possible threat to security? The way the alert was released? Something completely different? Put it in a three-line, 5-7-5 syllable bit of pop haiku for today’s contest.”