It is not so much that spotting is illegal as in breaking a law illegal, but in violating the security policy of an individual airport. That's why you see so many pictures from PHX
and few from EWR
, but more from LGA
. Each facility has a different policy and procedure on photography.
The reason why your "fun" activity is deemed suspicious is because from 1000 feet away, a police officer cannot tell whether you are surveying perimeter fences, security operations, or airplanes landing. Another reason why spotters are approached by police, TSA
, and airline employees is because all onpremise employees must challenge anyone they feel is suspicious. If you work for the FAA and are doing a security audit, when I walk past you and don't challenge your behavior, I could lose my job. Are there renta-cops out there who are on power trips? Sure I don't doubt it. But most are pretty good people just trying to do their job and keep aircraft safe.
I posted a quote from a TSA
spokesperson who said there is no such federal law prohibiting photography from inside terminals, as long as you are not taking pictures of security operations, etc.
From a legal perspective, we discussed some of your concerns in a class I took last semester. According to my notes, I don't believe they can confiscate your camera unless you are being charged or will be charged with a crime and it is evidence of a crime.
I am looking at this from a legal perspective. If we aren't on private property, and we are parked legally on a state owned road, they can't do a thing
If you were to sit on the side of the state-owned highway taking pictures of passing cars, you would probably get a ticket for stopping in a no-stopping zone.