Policing of Photographers

 Snapshot of a British police state

21st April

A Snapshot of Police Repression...

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Increasing accounts of police banning photography

Have you got a licence for that camera?

Phil Smith thought ex-EastEnder Letitia Dean turning on the Christmas lights in Ipswich would make a good snap for his collection.

The 49-year-old started by firing off a few shots of the warm-up act on stage. But before the main attraction showed up, Smith was challenged by a police officer who asked if he had a licence for the camera.

After explaining he didn't need one, he was taken down a side-street for a formal "stop and search", then asked to delete the photos and ordered not take any more. So he slunk home with his camera.

People were still taking photos with mobile phones and pocket cameras, so maybe it was because mine looked like a professional camera with a flash on top, he says. It's a sad state of affairs today if an amateur photographer can't stand in the street taking photographs.

Austin Mitchell MP has tabled a motion in the Commons that has drawn on cross-party support from 150 other MPs, calling on the Home Office and the police to educate officers about photographers' rights.

Mitchell, himself a keen photographer, was challenged twice, once by a lock-keeper while photographing a barge on the Leeds to Liverpool canal and once on the beach at Cleethorpes.

Photographers have every right to take photos in a public place, he says, and it's crazy for officials to challenge them when there are so many security cameras around and so many people now have cameras on phones. But it's usually inexperienced officers responsible.

Steve Carroll was another hapless victim of this growing suspicion. Police seized the film from his camera while he was out taking snaps in a Hull shopping centre. They later returned it but a police investigation found they had acted correctly because he appeared to be taking photographs covertly.

And photographer enthusiast Adam Jones has started an online petition on the Downing Street website urging the prime minister to clarify the law. It has gained hundreds of supporters.

Holidaymakers to some overseas destinations will be familiar with this sort of attitude - travel guides frequently caution readers that innocently posing for a snapshot outside a government building could lead to some stern questions from local law enforcers.

But in Britain this sort of attitude is new. So what is the law?

If you are a normal person going about your business and you see something you want to take a picture of, then you are fine unless you're taking picture of something inherently private, says Hanna Basha, partner at solicitors Carter-Ruck. There are also restrictions around some public buildings, like those involved in national defence.

Child protection has been an issue for years, says Stewart Gibson of the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, but what's happened recently is a rather odd interpretation of privacy and heightened fears about terrorism: They [police, park wardens, security guards] seem to think you can't take pictures of people in public places. It's reached a point where everyone in the photographic world has become so concerned we're mounting campaigns and trying to publicise this.

There's a great deal of paranoia around but the police are on alert for anything that vaguely resembles terrorism. It's difficult because the more professional a photographer, paradoxically, the more likely they are to be stopped or questioned. If people were using photos for terrorism purposes they would be using the smallest camera possible.

The National Union of Journalists has staged a demo to highlight how media photographers are wrongly challenged by police.

In May last year, Thames Valley Police overturned a caution issued to photographer Andy Handley of the MK News in Milton Keynes, after he took pictures at the scene of a road accident.

Guidelines agreed between senior police and the media were adopted by all forces in England and Wales last year. They state that police have no power to prevent the media taking photos. They state that once images are recorded, [the police] have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order, even if [the police] think they contain damaging or useful evidence.

And in the case of Phil Smith, an official complaint about the Christmas lights incident helped sort matters out. Not only did he receive a written apology from Suffolk Police, but also a visit from an inspector, who explained that the officer, a special constable, had acted wrongly.


27th April

Update: A Snapshot of a Police State...

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Photographic Community Suppression Officers

Have you got a licence for that camera?

Re: Photographers beware

There's a similarly themed video showing an example here:


What's interesting is it seems to be - both in that video and the original article - more Police Community Support Officers than real cops who're into this bullying. (And note the demand for ID - like the ID card wouldn't be used this way, eh?)

Oddly, I grew up with the view that the great British Bobby is usually the good guy - but the PCSOs and Street Wardens seem to have added all these unnecessary levels that just give people who wouldn't pass the psych-requirements for the real cops a chance to pull on the jackboots.

Anyway, photographers can check out this link too:



12th June

Offsite: Terrorised by Hollywood...

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Are photographers really a threat?

Have you got a licence for that camera?

What is it with photographers these days? Are they really all terrorists, or does everyone just think they are?

Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We've been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

Except that it's nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn't photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn't photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn't photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren't being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn't known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about -- the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 -- no photography.

Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don't seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

Because it's a movie-plot threat.

...Read full article


13th June

Camera and an Arabic Ringtone...

Suspicion enough for arrest and being locked up for 2 days

Have you got a licence for that camera?

Two asylum seekers were arrested under the Terrorism Act and quizzed for 44 hours after filming themselves in a park.

The Iraqi pair, who had been in Wales for just two months, were using a camcorder in Bute Park, Cardiff, when an undercover cop swooped.

He asked the men, both 20, what they were doing before one of their mobile phones went off with an Arabic music ringtone.

According to the Iraqis’ solicitor Hanif Bhamjee, the cop then radioed for back-up.

Minutes later uniformed and plain-clothes officers arrived in the popular park, which was packed with tourists and city residents soaking up the sunshine.

The pair, who speak little English, were formally arrested under the Terrorism Act for what police last night claimed was “a suspicious incident”.

Bhamjee said the terrified asylum seekers, who fled sectarian violence in their war-ravaged country, were asked a series of questions during hour after hour of gruelling interviews.

The lawyer, of Cardiff-based Crowley and Co, added: There were 40 detectives involved. They raided their houses like they were looking for explosives. These poor people didn’t know what the hell was happening. They were very shaken – they didn’t know what had hit them so they were panicking. It’s outrageous, the police response was well over the top. If they had made any elementary inquiries they would have realised these kids were nothing to worry about.

Assistant Chief Constable David Morris, of South Wales Police, said: Two men were arrested on Wednesday under anti-terrorism legislation, following reports they were acting suspiciously in the centre of Cardiff.

Both men were detained while enquiries were undertaken to establish their backgrounds. Once we were satisfied they posed no threat to the safety of the public, they were released from custody and no further action was taken.


8th July

A Snapshot of a Police State...

Police can make it up as they go along about banning photography

Have you got a licence for that camera?

Photographic Surveillance in public can be, and is, used deliberately as a legal harassment technique, both by Police and sometimes by their opponents.

According to the British Journal of Photography (BJP), the General Secretary of the the National Union of Journalists, Jeremy Dear, wrote a letter to the Home Secretary, complaining about such harassment, even of Press Card accredited journalists and press photographers.

It seems that the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has replied, with even more evidence that Britain is a "surveillance society", where basic freedoms are being curtailed, not just through the law, but by administrative policies.

Local restrictions on photography in public places are legitimate the Home Secretary has stated in a letter to the National Union of Journalists. While Jacqui Smith reaffirmed that there are no legal restrictions, she added that local Chief Constables were allowed to restrict or monitor photography in certain circumstances.

First of all, may I take this opportunity to state that the Government greatly values the importance of the freedom of the press, and as such there is no legal restriction on photography in public places, Smith writes. Also, as you will be aware, there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.

However, the Home Secretary adds that local restrictions might be enforced. Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation.

It is for the local Chief Constable, in the case of your letter the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force, to decide how his or her Officers and employees should best balance the rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the need for public protection.


23rd July

An Assault on Photography...

Police making it up as they go along about banning photography

A householder who took photographs of hooded teenagers as evidence of their anti-social behaviour says he was told he was breaking the law after they called the police.

David Green left his London flat to take photographs of the gang, who were aged around 17, he said one threatened to kill him while another called the police on his mobile.

And he claimed that a Police Community Support Officer sent to the scene promptly issued a warning that taking pictures of youths without permission was illegal, and could lead to a charge of assault.

Green, a television cameraman, said he was appalled that the legal system's first priority seemed not to be stopping frightening anti-social behaviour by aggressive youths, but protecting them from being photographed by the concerned public.


27th July

Paddling in Inanity...

Paddling pool photo ban highlights council inanity

Southampton City Council has apologised to two women pensioners after a worker reprimanded them for photographing a deserted paddling pool over fears about paedophiles.

The council said staff would now be advised to use their discretion when seeing people taking photographs at the pool on Southampton Common, the council said today.

Betty Robinson and Brenda Bennett had taken snaps of the pool area when the female council worker ordered them to stop.

Mrs Robinson told the Southern Daily Echo: It's absolutely ridiculous. After asking why we couldn't take photos she told us those were the rules. It's pathetic - bureaucracy gone mad.

Mike Harris, head of leisure and inanity at Southampton City Council, said in a statement: 'I'm sorry if we have caused any offence on this occasion: A lot of people are more concerned about the safety of their children these days so it is appropriate that our staff are aware of who is taking photos.


4th August

No Photography: An Unwritten Law...

Since when did trying to have your photograph taken constitute a threat to national security?

Have you got a licence for that camera?

Photographic Privacy International's fated struggle to stop the Google spy car stalking this country's streets has reminded me of my own brush with London's photography police recently.

I was being photographed in Covent Garden. As I followed the photographer's instructions and tried to come up with a smile that would get people running to the nearest shop to buy my book, a security guard on patrol around the piazza walked up and stood between the photographer and me. The guard was quite a determined professional; he put one hand in front of the camera lens and muttered darkly into his walkie-talkie.

Why would a potential terrorist (or people exhibiting suspect behaviour, as the Met likes to describe them in its anti-terror publicity) pose in front of an organic cosmetics stall and religiously follow the instructions of a white, female professional photographer who looked nothing if not an infidel? The photographer tried to test the resolve of the security guard by stepping out of the covered area and making me pose in front of a column. But the guard followed and covered the lens again; he looked like a man with a mission to save London from desperate debut writers and their collaborators in the photographic professions.

In the ensuing hour we were chased away from Nehru's bust outside the Indian High Commission, and Citibank. Even the folks at Australia House descended on us after we had set up the tripod, I had perfected my writerly pose and we were only waiting for the clouds to part.

Update: Unlicensed Hoax

Thanks to Andrea, 18th August 2008, see article from The Register

The following apology was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Saturday August 2 2008

Contrary to a statement we made in the column below, the Metropolitan Police do not require professional photographers operating in central London to hold a police permit and wear a radio-linked ID tag. The material on which this part of the column was based was a hoax. This has been corrected. We apologise for its use.

This referred to a section of the Guardian article:

The photographer, very bitter by now, told me that the police treat anyone with professional photography equipment as a suspect. According to the professional group Editorial Photographer UK, if you want to take pictures in central London you have to apply for a permit at Charing Cross police station. The approval can take up to 28 days. Then, as a part of Photo Safety Identity Checking Observation you are required to wear "a thin fluorescent waistcoat" kitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. The Met has assured the photographers that RFID is a cheap and "passive device that needs no batteries".

A spokesperson for the Met told the photographers' group earlier this year that cameras are potentially more dangerous than guns.


9th August

Photography = Terrorism...

Police abuse of the Terrorism Act 2000

Have you got a licence for that camera?

A man was labelled a terrorist after he took a picture of a police car parked at a bus stop.

David Gates found himself being questioned under the Terrorism Act after he spotted the BMW in the middle of the box reserved for buses, and decided to capture the image on his phone – apparently falling foul of the anti-terror law in the process.

Gates was then questioned by two officers who asked why he had snapped the picture of their vehicle, and they told him he was being quizzed under the Terrorism Act 2000 because the picture could pose a security risk.

They also said this law gave them the right to use stop-and-search powers.

He said: I explained I'd taken the picture as their car was parked illegally, and taking a photograph in public was not illegal. I told them I thought using the Terrorism Act and suspecting me of being a terrorist was ridiculous.

Gates said he co-operated with the officers and gave his details, which were checked. He was told the record of the incident would be kept on file for a year.

Mike Hancock, the Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, said: 'The whole thing is quite bizarre. I don't have a problem with them parking at the bus stop, but I do have a problem with them using this legislation for something trivial like this and keeping it for a year.

Superintendent Neil Sherrington, the deputy commander for Portsmouth police, said: Officers are given powers under the Terrorism Act to stop and search. The act states that "this power can only be used for the purposes of searching for articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism, and may be exercised whether or not the constable has grounds for suspecting the presence of articles of that kind".


23rd August

Update: A Snapshot of Stasi Britain...

Wrongful arrest as photographer snaps police van ignoring one way signs

Have you got a licence for that camera?

When Andrew Carter saw a police van ignore no-entry signs to reverse up a one-way street to reach a chip shop, he was understandably moved to protest to the driver.

But his complaint brought a volley of abuse from PC Aqil Farooq. And when Mr Carter took a picture of the van then tried to photograph the officer, PC Farooq rushed out of the shop and knocked his camera to the ground.

Carter was then arrested and bundled into the van over claims he had 'assaulted' an officer with his camera, resisted arrest and was drunk and disorderly.

He was held in a police cell for five hours before being released on bail at midnight. Carter was never charged with any offence.

Carter lodged a complaint and has since received a personal apology from PC Farooq and Rob Beckley, deputy chief constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary. The force refused to comment on the case, except to say that the disciplinary process was resolved to Carter's 'satisfaction'.


21st October

Update: Government less than Candid about Photography...

Police rules over public photography to be revised in November

Written answers Tuesday, 14 October 2008 Home Department Terrorism: Stop and Search

Dominic Grieve (Shadow Attorney General, Law Officers; Beaconsfield, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what guidance her Department has given to the police on the exercise of their power under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search those taking photographs in public places.

Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary; Redditch, Labour)


Following a commitment given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in October 2007, the operational guidance issued to the police on section 44 is currently being reviewed by the Home Office, the police, community groups and other stakeholders. The National Police Improvement Agency will issue revised guidance to all police forces in November. This will cover the taking of photographs in public places, although the general position is that there is no legal restriction on photography in such places.


30th October

Offsite: Home Office Guides Plods on Photography...

There are no restrictions...BUT...

No pics of the double chin
...its a feature of national

Terror Laws due to be passed this autumn, could provide Police with a new and significant power to stop individuals taking photographs.

This follows reassurances from Home secretary Jacqui Smith that there is "no legal restriction on taking photographs in public places", which is why she will shortly be issuing police with updated guidelines on ... how to enforce legal restrictions on photography.

Our Jacqui hasn't completely taken leave of her senses. The real question is whether this particular bit of bureaucratic madness represents an official lightening of the stance on photography – or a tightening up.

...Read full article


26th November

Update: A Snapshot of a Police State...

More photographers under duress

A couple of weeks ago a 15-year old schoolboy on a geography field trip was stopped by police under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act for taking a photograph of Wimbledon train station as part of his of GCSE course.

Community Support Officers forced him to give his details and sign a form or face arrest (legal note: You do not have to give your details under and stop and search, despite what lies the police will say and never sign any police notes).

Last week the police stopped four students from Kingston University from filming an interview with the anti-war Parliament Square protesters as part of their MA in Film Making. The police approached the students and told them they would need a permit from the Council to film. Brian Haw from the Parliament Square peace camp filmed this incident, but the police curiously didn't stop him from filming! Later the students returned with a letter from the University course director explaining their work and that it was not for commercial purposes and the students were covered by the University's insurance. But police would still not let the students film and when challenged refused to check with superiors.


7th December

Offsite: The War on Photographers...

Police Rules of engagement

The National Police Improvement Agency, on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers has now issued some updated advice.

It includes:


The Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place. Officers should not prevent people taking photographs unless they are in an area where photography is prevented by other legislation.

If officers reasonably suspect that photographs are being taken as part of hostile terrorist reconnaissance, a search under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 or an arrest should be considered. Film and memory cards may be seized as part of the search, but officers do not have a legal power to delete images or destroy film. Although images may be viewed as part of a search, to preserve evidence when cameras or other devices are seized, officers should not normally attempt to examine them. Cameras and other devices should be left in the state they were found and forwarded to appropriately trained staff for forensic examination. The person being searched should never be asked or allowed to turn the device on or off because of the danger of evidence being lost or damaged.

General Points

Terrorism powers must never be used for matters that are not related to terrorism.

Officers should take care to correctly record the power used on the record of search. Officers searching under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (but not section 43) can require subjects to remove footwear and headgear in public. (Officers should be aware of cultural sensitivities when requiring people to remove headgear .)

There is no power to stop people taking photographs or digital images in public places under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Terrorism powers of search should be conducted in accordance with the principles of Code A of PACE

...Read full article


21st December

Update: Snapshot of a Police State...

Government clarifies police powers to stop people taking photos

In a letter to the National Union of Journalists, the Minister for security and counter-terrorism, Vernon Kay, clarified that the police may stop photographers taking pictures or videos when the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or inflame an already tense situation or raise security considerations. The Police have already been using heightened security tensions and their powers under the Terrorism Act to remove and harass people documenting political demonstrations, which was the cause of the dialogue with the NUJ.

This signifies the Home Office coming clean and admitting from now on the Police will have ability to remove anyone at all with a camera - all the police have to do is declare, possibly not even publicly, that there are special circumstances:

Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace or to avoid a public order situation or for the person's own safety and welfare or for the safety and welfare of others.

This means if you witnessed the police bundling someone into the back of a van and decided to film it on your camera phone, you would be breaking the law. If a professional journalist did so, they would also be breaking the law.


6th January

Update Spotting a Police State...

UK trainspotters harassed by police

UK Police are using draconian anti-terrorism powers against trainspotters, it has emerged.

Enthusiasts innocently taking photographs of carriages and noting serial numbers have ludicrously been accused of behaving like a reconnaissance unit for a terror cell.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 has been used to stop a staggering 62,584 people at railway stations. Another 87,000 were questioned under separate stop and search and stop and account legislation.

The figures were uncovered by Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker, who warned that Britain was sliding towards a police state. While it is important to be vigilant about the threat of terrorism to the transport network, the sheer scale of the number of people stopped by police on railway property is ridiculous.

The anti-terror laws allow officers to stop people for taking photographs and I know this has led to innocent trainspotters being stopped. This is an abuse of anti-terrorism powers and a worrying sign that we are sliding towards a police state.


7th January

Update: Terrorised by Police...

Artists and photographers harassed by police

Reuben Powell is an unlikely terrorist. A white, middle-aged, middle-class artist, he has been photographing and drawing life around the capital's Elephant & Castle for 25 years.

With a studio near the 1960s shopping centre at the heart of this area in south London, he is a familiar figure and is regularly seen snapping and sketching the people and buildings around his home. But to the policemen who arrested him last week his photographing of the old HMSO print works close to the local police station posed an unacceptable security risk.

The car skidded to a halt like something out of Starsky & Hutch and this officer jumped out very dramatically and said 'what are you doing?' I told him I was photographing the building and he said he was going to search me under the Anti-Terrorism Act, he recalled.

For Powell, this brush with the law resulted in five hours in a cell after police seized the lock-blade knife he uses to sharpen his pencils. His release only came after the intervention of the local MP, Simon Hughes, but not before he was handcuffed and his genetic material stored permanently on the DNA database.

But Powell's experience is far from uncommon. Every week photographers wielding their cameras in public find themselves on the receiving end of warnings either by police, who stop them under the trumped up justification of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, or from over-eager officials who believe that photography in a public area is somehow against the law.

Groups from journalists to trainspotters have found themselves on the receiving end of this unwanted attention, with many photographers now fearing that their job or hobby could be under threat.

Yet, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the law is straightforward. Police officers may not prevent someone from taking a photograph in public unless they suspect criminal or terrorist intent. Their powers are strictly regulated by law and once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order. This applies equally to members of the media seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places, a spokeswoman said.

But still the harassment goes on. Philip Haigh, the business editor of Rail magazine, said the bullying of enthusiasts on railway platforms has become an unwelcome fact of life in Britain: It is a problem that doesn't ever seem to go away. We get complaints from railway photographers all the time that they are told to stop what they are doing, mainly by railway staff but also by the police. It usually results in an apologetic letter from a rail company .


9th January

Update: Path to a Police State...

UK MP stopped for taking pictures of cycle path

Conservative MP Andrew Pelling has said he was stopped and searched by police on suspicion of being a terrorist after taking photographs of a cycle path.

The MP for Central Croydon was stopped by police under trumped up anti-terrorism laws on December 30.

Despite him showing his House of Commons pass to the officers, they insisted on searching him after they found him taking photos of a cycle path in his area.

He told police that he was taking photos to highlight a long-neglected bicycle and pedestrian route, which had been of concern to his constituents and that he was intending on taking the photos to Parliament to illustrate the dangers posed by the protracted maintenance works.

But the two officers insisted on searching him after they told him they thought he was taking photos of East Croydon train station. They searched his bag, but after finding nothing of interest they sent the MP on his way.

A police spokeswoman said: An officer stopped and searched a man's bag in Cherry Orchard Road on December 30, under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. The officer conducted a stop-and-search, taking into account the current terror threat, as he was taking pictures in the vicinity of a major transport hub.


13th January

Update: A Snapshot of Police Repression...

Results of petition to clarify the right to take photos in public places

The following petition to No 10 Downing Street has closed with 5792 signatures

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to clarify the laws surrounding photography in public places.

Statement from No 10 Downing Street:

There are no legal restrictions on photography in public places. However, the law applies to photographers as it does to anybody else in a public place. So there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations, inflame an already tense situation, or raise security considerations. Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace, to avoid a public order situation, or for the person’s own safety or welfare, or for the safety and welfare of others.

Each situation will be different and it would be an operational matter for the police officer concerned as to what action if any should be taken in respect of those taking photographs. Anybody with a concern about a specific incident should raise the matter with the Chief Constable of the relevant force.


17th February

Offsite: A British Story of Lost Liberty...

Why can't we take pictures of policemen?

You're arrested:
assault & camera battery

Too often in recent years the public dialogue in our country has undervalued the importance of liberty, Gordon Brown said: Now is the time to reaffirm our distinctive British story of liberty – to show it is as rich, powerful and relevant to the life of the nation today as ever; to apply its lessons to the new tests of our time.

Yet, not for the first time, what the Government does bears no resemblance to its rhetoric. From today, new counter-terrorism laws come into effect that will entrench a growing tendency by the police to prevent anyone taking photographs in public, especially if they (the police) are the subject. There has been a worrying increase recently in police arresting or seeking to prevent what is a lawful activity.

...Read full article


18th February

Update: Another Liberty Shuttered Up...

More police excuses to prohibit photography

Copper: What time is it please?
Protester: It's ten past three.
Copper: You're arrested for providing information useful to terrorists.

Hundreds of photographers protested outside Scotland Yard in London as a new law which they claim restricts their freedom came into force.

Under section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, illiciting, publishing or communicating information on members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers which is likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism will carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Photographers fear police will use the law to prevent lawful pictures of protests being taken.

To mark the law, at least 300 photographers gathered outside Scotland Yard to exercise their democratic right – and take pictures.

The police officers present were repeatedly photographed, but took the protest in good spirit.

Some photographers wore masks and fancy dress, while others wore stickers that said: I am a photographer – not a terrorist.

David Hoffman, a photographer with 32 years' experience, said he now carries shinpads in his bag, claiming he had been kicked by police officers at protests. He said: They have been beautiful today, but it's the individual officer who's on his own at a back-street anti-fur protest. He's less accountable.

When I started, photographers were seen as representatives of the press, an important part of a public event. But over the last 30 years that has deteriorated. They're using the law as an excuse to stop photographers when, politically, they don't want coverage. Animal rights protests, peace marches, of course the poll tax – police are simply saying: We don't want this in the paper.

Marc Vallee, protest co-organiser and a photographer well-known for covering protests, said: This has been amazing. Photographers are fed up with the way they have been treated for the last few years. They are trying to do their job in a professional way and the counter-terrorism laws are being used against them. I have had colleagues that have come out of the tube station to cover a protest, with press card, and officers have come across and said: I'm stopping you under section 44 [stop and search powers].

What is that doing for press freedom?


11th April

Offsite: Zooming in on the Snapper-Stoppers...

Police making it up as they harass photographers

The Home Office has at last conceded that the policing of photographers requires a little more scrutiny. Tory MP and Assistant Chief Whip John Randall extracted an admission from the Home Office that it was an issue in need of further review.

Print Display worker Piers Mason can bear this out, having been stopped and questioned about his photographic activities last week.

As police closed down large sections of the City of London last week in readiness for the G20 protests, Mason was not impressed when police officers asked him to explain why he had taken photos of a TV crew outside the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Bishopsgate Offices. He said: I saw a film crew setting up outside RBS and thought that would make an interesting picture. The next thing I knew, three police officers approached me and asked me to explain what I was doing. According to them, this was to ‘investigate suspected crime, disorder or anti-social behaviour’.

A quick web search reveals that this particular formulation is one used frequently by Police in connection with Stops under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), either when searching an individual, or when simply asking an individual to account for their actions.

Mason reckons the encounter took around 20 minutes, during which police logged his personal details, checked them against the Police Computer, and finally entered his name and details into a Stops Database.

...Read full article


19th April

Update: Police Hate Cameras...I Wonder Why?...

UK police force tourists to delete photos of London buses 'to stop terrorism'

No tourist trip to London is complete without a set of holiday snaps. But a father and son were forced to return home to Austria without their pictures after policemen deleted them from their camera - supposedly in a bid to prevent terrorism.

Klaus Matzka and his son, Loris from Vienna, were taking photographs of a double-decker bus in Walthamstow, north-east London, when two policemen approached them.

Austrian tourists Klaus and Loris Matzka were ordered to delete pictures of a London double decker in Walthamstow

The tourists were told it is strictly forbidden to take pictures of anything to do with public transport and their names, passport numbers and hotel address in London were noted.

Matzka was then forced to delete any holiday snaps that featured anything to do with transport.

The Metropolitan Police said it was investigating the allegations and had no knowledge of any ban on photographing public transport in London. [yeah yeah]. A spokeswoman added: It is not the police's intention to prevent tourists from taking photographs and we are looking into the allegations made.

Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and a Green party member of the London assembly, said the incident was 'another example of the police completely overreaching the anti-terrorism powers'. She said she would raise the issue with the Met chief, Sir Paul Stephenson, as part of the discussion into police methods at the G20 protests, adding: I have already written to him about the police taking away cameras and stopping people taking photographs.


24th April

Update: Down the Tube...

Transport for London enter the game of restricting photography

Photos taken on London's Tube network — even tourist snapshots — may require a £34.50 permit, say Underground bosses who insist that the rules haven't changed.

Transport for London (TfL) has revamped its website in a move designed to make it easier to apply for a filming or a photography permit on the Tube. Though TfL says London Underground will adopt a common sense approach when dealing with amateur photography, a spokesman told us: Our position is that if you wish to take a photograph on our property you should seek permission. ...[And pay up].


27th April

Update: Corrupting the Law...

Home Secretary confirms that police have no right to stop photographers unless there is a specific risk

House of Commons
26th April 2009

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Can I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the circumstances that led to the photographs being taken in Downing street do not lead to further pressures on the rights of photographers, both professionals and amateurs, to take photographs in this country, especially as this event coincided with an incident in the past few days where somebody was allegedly challenged by a police officer for taking photographs of a bus garage? We need to learn lessons from the event and draw together the common-sense work being led by my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to come up with the right code of practice to ensure that photographers can do their jobs and amateurs can take photographs with freedom.

Jacqui Smith: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, who has met the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to discuss his concerns. I see no reason why the unfortunate events on 8 April should limit the ability of photographers to take photographs, and neither do I believe, as he knows, that some of the limits result from recent legislative changes that we have made, as has been suggested. There is more work that we can do to ensure that photographers are clear that their right to take photographs is protected in all cases where it is not causing a specific risk. That is certainly a right that my hon. Friend and I would uphold.

So presumably all the police officers so frequently preventing photographers from taking pictures are corrupting the law for their own convenience


5th June

Offsite: Privacy and Street Photography...

Where does privacy begin

A key issue is whether photographs can be taken of people in public places without their consent, without incurring liability for infringement of privacy.

Recent court rulings have drawn a distinction between merely taking photographs, retaining them, and publishing them.

An important preliminary question is whether Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights is "engaged" or not. If it isn't, a photographer can happily snap away with impunity.

The case of Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis has provided the latest guidance. The claimant, a media co-ordinator for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, objected to being photographed in a public street by police as he left a company's AGM.

The Court of Appeal said the photography did "engage" the right to privacy under Art. 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and was unlawful.

Lord Justice Laws said it was clear individuals still have no right to prevent another person politely merely taking their photograph in public.

...Read full article


20th June

Update: A Snapshot of Abuse of Law...

Lord Carlile endorses popular view that police routinely abuse anti-terrorism powers

Thousands of people are being stopped and searched by the police under counter-terrorism powers simply to provide a racial balance in official statistics, the government's official anti-terror law watchdog has revealed.

Alex Carlile is the Government's appointed Independent Reviewer of terrorism legislation. He said in his annual report that he has got ample anecdotal evidence , adding that it was totally wrong and an invasion of civil liberties to stop and search people simply to racially balance the statistics: I can well understand the concerns of the police that they should be free from allegations of prejudice. But it is not a good use of precious resources if they waste them on self-evidently unmerited searches."

The official reviewer of counter-terrorist legislation said there was little or no evidence that the use of section 44 stop-and-search powers by the police can prevent an act of terrorism: Whilst arrests for other crime have followed searches under the section, none of the many thousands of searches has ever resulted in a conviction for a terrorism offence. Its utility has been questioned publicly and privately by senior Metropolitan police staff with wide experience of terrorism policing. He added that such searches were stopping between 8,000-10,000 people a month.

None of the many thousands of searches had ever led to a conviction for a terrorist offence, he said. He noted, too, that the damage done to community relations was undoubtedly considerable.

The Met has announced a review of how it uses section 44 powers. And the home secretary, Alan Johnson, is to issue fresh guidance to the police, warning that counter-terrorism must not be used to stop people taking photographs of on-duty officers.

Carlile uses his annual report to endorse complaints from professional and amateur photographers that counter-terror powers are being used to threaten prosecution if pictures are taken of officers on duty.

He said the power was only intended to cover images likely to be of use to a terrorist: It is inexcusable for police officers ever to use this provision to interfere with the rights of individuals to take photographs. The police had to come to terms with the increased scrutiny of their activities by the public, afforded by equipment such as video-enabled mobile phones. Police officers who use force or threaten force in this context run the real risk of being prosecuted themselves for one or more of several possible criminal and disciplinary offences, he warned.


24th June

Data Protection Bollox...

Schools are wrong to cite data protection to ban family photos

Parents who want to take photos of their children in school plays or at sports days can once again snap happily away.

The privacy watchdog says authorities that have banned parents taking shots for the family album are wrongly interpreting the rules.

Relatives wanting to take pictures at nativity plays, sports days or other public events are often told that doing so would breach the Data Protection Act. But the Office of the Information Commissioner has said this interpretation of the law is simply wrong.

It decreed that any picture taken for the family photograph album would normally be acceptable.

This guidance can now be used by parents and grandparents to challenge barmy rulings relating to the upcoming school sports day season.

Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith said: We recognise that parents want to capture significant moments on camera. We want to reassure them and other family members that whatever they might be told, data protection does not prevent them taking photographs of their children and friends at school events. Photographs taken for the family photo album are exempt from the Act and citing the Data Protection Act to stop people taking photos or filming their children at school is wrong.

The guidance, sent to education authorities across the country, says: Fear of breaching the provisions of the Act should not be wrongly used to stop people taking photographs or videos which provide many with much pleasure.


11th July

Update: A Snapshot of Rights...

Metropolitan Police issue guidance about public photography

The Metropolitan Police have issued guidance about public photography.

Guidance around the issue has been made clear to officers and PCSOs through briefings and internal communications.

The following advice is available to all officers and provides a summary of the Metropolitan Police Service's guidance around photography in public places.

Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.

Photography and Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000

The Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place.

Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, provided that the viewing is to determine whether the images contained in the camera or mobile telephone are of a kind, which could be used in connection with terrorism. Officers also have the power to seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects is intended to be used in connection with terrorism.

Photography and Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000

Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to discover whether they have in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are involved in terrorism. Officers also have the power to seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects may constitute evidence that the person is involved in terrorism.

Section 58a of the Terrorism Act 2000

Section 58a of the Terrorism Act 2000 covers the offence of eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of the armed forces, intelligence services or police.

Any officer making an arrest for an offence under Section 58a must be able to demonstrate a reasonable suspicion that the information was of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

It should ordinarily be considered inappropriate to use Section 58a to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities, including protests, as without more, there is no link to terrorism.

There is however nothing preventing officers asking questions of an individual who appears to be taking photographs of someone who is or has been a member of Her Majesty's Forces (HMF), Intelligence Services or a constable.

Guidelines for MPS staff on dealing with media reporters, press photographers and television crews

Contact with photographers, reporters and television crews is a regular occurrence for many officers and staff. The media influences our reputation so it's crucial to maintain good working relations with its members, even in difficult circumstances.

Following these guidelines means both media and police can fulfil their duties without hindering each other.

Creating vantage points

When areas are cordoned off following an incident, creating a vantage point, if possible, where members of the media at the scene can see police activity, can help them do their job without interfering with a police operation. However, media may still report from areas accessible to the general public.


18th July

Offsite: New Heights of Absurdity...

Kent Police clamp down on tall photographers

According to his blog, our over-tall photographer Alex Turner was taking snaps in Chatham High St last Thursday, when he was approached by two unidentified men. They did not identify themselves, but demanded that he show them some ID and warned that if he failed to comply, they would summon police officers to deal with him.

This they did, and a PCSO and WPC quickly joined the fray. Turner took a photo of the pair, and was promptly arrested. It is unclear from his own account precisely what he was being arrested for. However, he does record that the WPC stated she had felt threatened by him when he took her picture, referring to his size - 5' 11" and about 12 stone - and implying that she found it intimidating.

Turner claims he was handcuffed, held in a police van for around 20 minutes, and forced to provide ID before they would release him. He was then searched in public by plain clothes officers who failed to provide any ID before they did so.

This is just the latest in a long line of PR disasters that have dogged police forces over the last 12 months, with tourists, schoolboys and passers-by all subject to arrest for the heinous offence of pursuing their hobby. Each incident is followed by much police hand-wringing, and statements to the effect that these are one-offs: the fault of over-zealous individual officers.

...Read full article


29th July

Reporting Blocked by Police...

Journalists challenge the police over their photography ban

Do we need a free press? Judging by their recent actions, police officers don't seem to think so. Professional journalists and photographers have detailed numerous attempts by police officers to stifle the reporting of protests. Today their fightback moves up a pace, as the commissioner of the Metropolitan police is served papers demanding acceptance of liability, the payment of damages, and an apology, following the alleged assault and unlawful obstruction of two journalists going about their work.

Investigative photojournalist Marc Vallée and videographer Jason Parkinson, were covering protests – prompted by the shooting of a teenage demonstrator in Athens by Greek police – outside the Greek Embassy in London. In video recorded by Parkinson, an armed officer from the Metropolitan police's diplomatic protection group is shown pulling Vallée's camera away from his face. The officer goes on to cover the lens of Parkinson's video camera with his hand, stating you cannot film me.

The pair were not interrupting police activity and in fact they had not had any contact with the police prior to being confronted. When they are instructed move away, they comply but in a later incident, they are forcibly removed from the area, and ordered to report from a distance which, they claim, made accurate recording of events impossible.


23rd August

Update: Home Office Snaps...

The Home Office has admitted that counter-terrorism laws shouldn't be used against photographers

Finally some good news for photographers. This week the Home Office's security and counter-terrorism section sent out new advice to all chief police officers in the UK to clarify counter-terrorism legislation in relation to photography in a public place .

This has been a long time coming for photographers – both amateur and professional alike – who have been targeted by the state as potential terrorists for the act of taking a photograph in a public place. This year has already seen some astonishing abuses of counter-terror powers, including Austrian tourists forced to delete their holiday pictures from their cameras by police officers and a Kent photographer arrested for being too tall.

So is this new government advice going to change anything on the ground? I know I will print it off and use it next time I'm stopped by the police. But I do wonder how many frontline officers will have received and read a copy of the guidance – let alone accept it.

The newly launched I'm a photographer, not a terrorist! campaign welcomed the updated advice but also remains concerned about whether the advice to police officers will filter down to street level.

A letter from David Hanson, the minister responsible for crime and policing, to Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, expresses his belief that the advice will end speculation on section 58A . Hanson believes the circular removes once and for all any suggestion that the new offence can be used to prosecute innocent photographers such as responsible journalists, simply because they are taking a photograph of a police officer.

New advice and liaison with the NUJ are all welcome and good, but – and it's a big but – what takes place on the ground is the real test.


26th August

Update: Refining Risk...

Photography and shit policing comes to the attention of the Daily Mail

When trainspotter Stephen White noticed some interesting engines, he wasted no time in taking pictures of them for his collection.

It was the start of a bizarre sequence of events involving midnight phone calls, police raids and even, it is claimed, suspected terrorism.

White who was on a camping holiday in Wales with his sister Helen and her two children, was caught on CCTV from a nearby oil refinery as he took the photographs.
Stephen White with his sister Helen and her children Bryn and Jessica

Miss White's car number plate was also noted and police traced it to her home in Lincolnshire, where a neighbour gave them her mobile phone number.

An officer then phoned her in the early hours and demanded she take the photos to a police station despite her innocent explanation. Police swooped on the campsite the next day, and again demanded to take the photos.

But Mr White and his sister say they were so annoyed with the officers for not believing that they were not terrorists and for harassing them that they refused to hand over the snaps. The next day, they say, their car was pulled over by a police officer with his blue lights flashing. Again, he demanded the camera and pictures, but the family stood their ground.

Mr White said: We were treated and hunted as if we were terrorists and a threat to national security, which was ridiculous. This has totally ruined the holiday, just because I'm a bit of a train geek who took pictures of some engines.

'It's just an innocent photo - which you could find on Google Earth anyway. I've put a complaint in to the police already but they still won't let it rest.'

A spokesprat for Dyfed Powys Police confirmed that officers sought an explanation from Mr White regarding his activities following a report of suspicious behaviour at an oil refinery site in West Wales. Following an explanation from him, no further action was taken.



19th September

Offsite: Gaps in the Family Album...

Photography: a model of lost liberty