Images of terror

Elliott Goldstein
Tuesday December 09, 2014
Written by Elliott Goldstein
In April 2013, the world was shocked by terrorist bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Hundreds of video images were recorded by security (surveillance) cameras, television news cameras, and cell phone cameras. These images showed not only the explosions and resulting damage, but also the two brothers who allegedly planted the bombs. Video images of the suspects, travelling to and from the scenes of the two bombings, were widely shown and helped identify them.
This is certainly not the first time that security cameras have been used to record and identify persons who later carried out terrorist attacks. Surveillance cameras recorded the 9/11 terrorists passing through the security checkpoint at Portland International Jetport in Portland, Me., and later in Boston’s Logan International Airport on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Similarly, security cameras have recorded the identity of persons who perpetrated the July 7, 2005 London bombings, a series of co-ordinated suicide attacks which targeted civilians using the public transport system. More recently, the RCMP arrested two men for allegedly plotting an attack against one of Via Rail’s train routes. Their images were broadcast on television and the Internet. Fortunately, these suspects were stopped before they could carry out any alleged attacks.

According to Mineta Transportation Institute’s database on terrorist attacks, “Since Sept. 11, 2001, surface transportation — buses and commuter, passenger and commercial rail — has been targeted almost 2,000 times by terrorists, resulting in the deaths of about 4,000 people.  The most notable of those attacks were bombings on passenger trains in London, Madrid and Mumbai.” 1

There is no reported case law, of which I am aware, in which a challenge has been made to the admissibility of surveillance images showing terrorists before, during, or after terrorist attacks. This may be due to the fact that the terrorists or suspected terrorists were in plain view of the public when they acted and therefore had no reasonable expectation of privacy.  

Quite the contrary, in many cases the terrorists groups seek the attention of the public and the media when claiming credit for such attacks.

In related news, Parliament recently passed the Combating Terrorism Act. According to the news release on the Justice Department website, “The legislation re-enacts the investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions provisions that expired in 2007. It also creates new offences of leaving or attempting to leave Canada to commit certain terrorism offences. These amendments, which expand upon the many safeguards originally contained in the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001, are designed to help disrupt plans and preparations for terrorist attacks and to investigate past acts of terrorism. Holding an investigative hearing will allow the courts to compel a witness who may have information regarding a terrorism offence to appear in court and provide information.”

“Terrorism and violent extremism are real threats to Canada,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. “Bill S-7 will provide additional tools for law enforcement to help in the investigation of terrorism offences and thereby help to protect the safety of Canadians.”

The new offences of leaving Canada or attempting to leave Canada to commit a terrorism offence are intended to deter persons from leaving Canada to attend terrorist training camps or to engage in other terrorist activity abroad. The creation of these offences assists Canada in meeting its international obligations for combating terrorism.  

Elliott Goldstein, B.A., J.D. is a Woodbridge, Ont.-based lawyer ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

1. See Carnage Interrupted: An Analysis of Fifteen Terrorist Plots against Public Surface Transportation, Research Report 11-20, by Brian Michael Jenkins at www.transweb.sjsu.edu/index.htm

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