ACLU Stands Up For Photographer at Ballard Locks

News Release: 
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The ACLU-WA is assisting Ian Spiers, a biracial community college student who was questioned and detained by local police and a Homeland Security agent for taking photographs at the Ballard Locks.

The ACLU is conducting an investigation into the incident and has written the federal government to seek assurances that Spiers won’t be harassed at the Locks again (see letters below). The ACLU is requesting that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigate the incident and take appropriate disciplinary action against the agent involved. In addition, we are seeking confirmation that DHS has no file or other law enforcement records regarding Spiers and has not entered him on any watch lists or criminal databases; any photos taken of him should be destroyed.

The ACLU letter to DHS states that, “Overall, this incident strikes us as an unjustified detention, most likely based on racial stereotypes, followed by a frightening abuse of authority by an agent who intimidated an innocent person for no good reason.”

In response to an earlier ACLU letter, the Army Corps of Engineers has indicated that it does not object to members of the public taking photos at the Locks and that it has not banned Spiers from returning to the Locks.

In April 2004, Ballard resident Ian Spiers went to the Locks with his camera for a photography class at Shoreline Community College. He was later questioned at his home by two Seattle police officers responding to a complaint that his presence at the Locks was suspicious.

In May, Spiers returned to the Locks and set up his tripod. According to Spiers, he soon found himself surrounded by eight local police and federal agents who detained him, questioned him, and demanded to see identification. An officer of the Department of Homeland Security told Spiers that he was breaking the law by taking photos at the Locks and warned him not to return without first notifying the Government. Of course, numerous other people take photos at the Locks daily without being targeted for interrogation.

The incident has garnered widespread public attention. Security is very important, but government officials need to distinguish between students and spies, tourists and terrorists. Spiers is providing information and commentary about the incident and racial profiling on his own Web site,