Thankfully, one of things that the Freedom of Information Act, and possibly the recent changes in policy that have seen Government data released into the public domain, is the fairly low incidence of problems between photographers and the law in Scotland, and the generalisation that this is largely an English problem, and one that can be further narrowed down to London town, and the Met Police.
However, it would also seem that the law is being made a fool of, and misused by that most wonderful group of individuals, the Jobsworths, who are such insignificant little cowardly creeps, the only way they can get any pleasure is by making others suffer by abusing their positions. We’ve all come across them, and even though they might never actually use the words “It’s more than my job’s worth…”, it’s never long before you know that regardless of whatever you may want to do, and regardless of whether they have the right to stop you, they will stand firm on their interpretation of the whatever rules they have access to, right or wrong.
This was brought home in an item covered by Law in Action, the BBC’s Radio 4 magazine programme about the law, which has been presented by Joshua Rozenberg, and who returned recently: BBC – Radio 4 Blog: Photography and the Law
In this particular programme, Rozenberg accompanied an architectural photographer around London, complete with radio crew. The photographer had written the script, predicting that private security guards would order a stop to the photography, even though it was taking place from the public footpath (and they’d be taking pictures using CCTV). A failure to comply would be followed by the police being called, and the photographer (and anyone assisting) could then expect to be searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, and police officers could inspect the pictures recorded on the camera.
After all that – unless those concerned were actually found to be terrorists – they would then be free to carry on taking pictures for as long as they liked.
As will be learned if you listen to the programme, the expected intervention occurred, and after everything was over, the police later assure Rozenberg that the law was not being broken.
That the predicted script was followed did not come as a surprise.
That the police used Section 44, but found that no law was being broken was also no surprise.
What did come as a surprise, and continues to do so, is the fact that the real cause of many of these incidents is not the police – who generally attract the adverse publicity and criticism – but the greasy little Jobsworths that call them.
One has to assume that they have done so on previous occasions, and with the same result, so why do they do it?
Is it an attempt to do something to look ‘big’, and show someone that they have not only private security guards under their control, but the police? Are they pathetic little people who have nothing better to do, and can only achieve satisfaction by abusing their positions of apparent authority?
Rather than more reports of the police being called to act under Section 44 (and let’s not forget Section 43 in passing), isn’t it time we saw the beginning of reports regarding prosecution or fines for those Jobsworth types that call them with no real cause or justification?
A few such cases where the individual concerned is fined, fired, or cautioned (for ‘wasting police time’ or possibly more correctly ‘interfering with police investigations’, or similar, I think) might lead to general improvement in this situation, and a reduction in stories regarding the abuse of this Act in relation to photographers.
The police are the ones that are traditionally made to look bad when these stories are repeated, but this has gone on for so long without correction, it may now be time to target the real culprits – the people that call them… with no real justification other than to prove they can (and make their day while they waste someone else’s as a result).
Not just old stories about harassment, but new stories popping up as well, and not only the Met down in London.
Like myself, Stephen Russell, from Thrupp, thought the sight of police massing in a street (in this case Kidlington High Street), was out of the ordinary, and worth taking a picture (or four) of.
In return, one of the officers demanded that he delete the photographs he had taken.
Mr Russell, described by the Oxford Mail as an ex-RAF engineer, refused, as it is not illegal to take photographs of police in a public place.
The officer then carried out a search of Mr Russell, and handed him a form which informed he was searched under authority of Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, legislation which gives officers the power to stop and search a suspect ‘they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist’.
Probably not what he expected to come home with after leaving home only to buy some fish and chips.
Police “In fear”
Dating from before the existence of this blog, I used to be fairly close the cruise on Ayr Shore. Digital cameras were fairly rare and expensive then, but becoming more common, and playthings for anyone that wanted to look “kewl”.
While I didn’t witness any instances, the above story reminded me of tales circulated at the time that some visitors to the cruise along the esplanade found themselves being taken to one side by police officers who had been driving along with the cruise cars, and had been photographed along with them.
The story was that they would take the photographers to one side, and demand the film, or deletion of digital pics, either on the spot or after being taken to the station in the town centre. The reason given then was that the taking and publishing of pictures which showed the officers’ faces put them in fear for their safety, or some such story.
I don’t know that it was true, and can make no claims regarding something I did not witness or see, but it was a recurring tale, and could also be found on the Ayr Shore web site and forum, however this seems to have been wound up, so I can’t point at it.
That’s also a rather disappointing find, as I know there were one or two ‘locals’ from the area who were determined to have the cruise banned, and although the genuine cruisers biggest sin was a little high spirits, there was an unfortunate attraction of undesirable types, and downright criminals on cruise nights, who the police presence did not seem to deter.
You really have to wonder if there anyone with an ounce (gramme?) of Common Sense working in the upper levels of the police authority, as its ground troops seem to be out to do their best to sour relationships with the public, at a time – given the number of times its officers refer to terrorism – when it would seem to be a better idea to foster good public relations, and public cooperation. See also Police continue to abuse people with cameras.
The Terrorism Act 2000, and in particular Section 44, has raised its profile and drawn comment in here before, if for no other reason than I have been happily wandering around both town and countryside with camera in hand, taking photographs for no other reason than personal interest. It seems that this may not be sufficient or good reason.
I now genuinely fear that the following videos illustrate that this is no longer a valid reason to such a thing if representatives of the country’s police force are nearby. And I do use the term representatives deliberately, as it would seem that Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) like to use this as an excuse to harass people with cameras. PCSOs are not proper trained police officers, but they are given certain powers, and it seems that some authorities think their use is dubious at best. Although granted the power to use reasonable force, they can’t make an arrest – other than a Citizen’s arrest such as you or I might to – and give all the outward signs of Jobsworths, and maybe even straying into thugs (see the witnesses in the last video below if you think this is an extreme interpretation). I was brought up to question the suitability for anyone that actually volunteered for such a job, as opposed to someone properly trained and assigned (to it). While I think this is a gross oversimplification, I now think it’s also a valid concern, and granting volunteers significant powers seems to be a major mistake – such powers should only ever be granted to those who are trained, and have proven their competence to wield them.
To confuse things slightly, but remain correct, it should be noted that in Scotland, a PCSO is a Police Custody and Security Officer, a civilian employee of the Scottish police force. Most (but not all) of the accounts relating to this problem arise in England, often within the area controlled by the Metropolitan Police.
Photographers’ video reports
The first video was shot by a photographer who ended up spending eight hours in the cells after being stopped twice by PCSOs, then detained by a police officer the third time he was stopped and declined to give his details, on the basis that he believed there was no good reason for him to do so, and was told that his photography was antisocial behaviour. A fuller account of the incident appears in this article.
The second video shows first a plain clothed officer and then a uniformed police office trying to justify their demands after a private security guard called them when a photographer questioned him. The private security guard had been insisting that the photographer only point his camera at the upper floors of the building concerned, and not at the reception area or fire exits.
In the third video, we see an Italian student who was stopped by PCSOs, one of whom appeared to be chewing gum throughout. When she said she was “Filming for fun”, his response was not to believe her, and when thwarted in his attempts to extract details from the woman, decided to remember he had seen her cycle the wrong way in a street. Witnesses (a group of nearby workmen who can be heard shouting in the original video) later described how she had been forced to ground while being arrested and handcuffed, and that one officer involved deliberately used more than reasonable force. After five hours in a police cell, she was issued with an £80 fixed penalty for “Causing harassment, alarm and distress in a public place” – which she had to accept if she wanted to leave.
In all these cases, and probably most others, the suggestion that the individuals concerned are suspect terrorists is laughable, or would be if it did not show how incompetent the official were. In one case, the way the photographer was holding their camera was cited as justification for what amounted to “Stop and Search”, and that they were being intimidating.
What would a terrorist photographer look like?
After looking at these examples, you have to wonder what a genuine terrorist out to take photographs would look like.
Would they take pictures openly and close to their subject, like the individuals referred to here, and risk being accosted by the authorities as per these examples?
Or would they be more likely to visit a target subject or area carrying cameras with stabilised lenses that now offer anyone the ability to shoot pictures at zoom levels of X15 to X30 (and more with high megapixel CCDs and digital zooming or post-processing) with little or no camera shake or blurring, and mean that provided you have a clear view of the subject, can shoot from a distance that means anyone watching for “terrorists” is relatively unlikely to see you before you have your pictures, and make your escape… unmolested.
A shocking excuse is offered to a 27-year-old female filmmaker, who tells how undercover police officers allegedly handcuffed her after she tried to film their colleagues using her mobile phone:
An inspector from the local police station telephones her months later to offer the excuse: “They didn’t know what they were doing.”
I wish it was finally, but I suspect that there will be more to follow.
The treatment being handed out to people with cameras in Britain is fast becoming something that would have been held up as an example of abuse by the Stasi in East Germany, or the Soviets in the days of the Cold War before the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Tourists are being stopped by the police and forced to delete pictures of railway stations under the Terrorism Act 2000. Likewise, press photographers and journalists are being stopped by police and having their cameras and memory cards confiscated or wiped. People stopping to take photographs in the street are being bullied by private security staff from adjacent office buildings, on the basis that they are not allowed to take photographs on adjacent ground because it is private and belongs to the building owners.
For details, see:
We’re photographers, not terrorists | Marc Vallée | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Society’s visual history is under threat of extinction. The government must scrap section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000
Photography is our right, our freedom | Henry Porter | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
The abuse of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is infringing on the freedom of photographers – it has to stop
I detailed the case of a photographer fined in Edinburgh for taking a picture of a girl who stepped out of a bar to be ill – back in October (2008) with: worrying decision by an Edinburgh Sheriff
Courtesy of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): Just taking a pic is becoming a legal issue
Thanks to the media, anyone even seen holding a camera near a school is now likely to be accosted and accused of being a paedophile, or find that the someone has called the police to question them.
The latest story in this sorry state involves the police confiscating cameras from members of the public who had been waiting to see the Royal family. The royals had travelled to Sandringham to attend St Mary Magdalene church in Norfolk last Sunday, and while the party travelled to and from the church, the police looked after items which had been confiscated from the public who had travelled to watch. Sandringham Estate signs warn visitors that picture-taking is not allowed, but cameras have not been seized in the past.
A security officer responsible for the Royal Family said police were wrong to confiscate cameras from members of the public gathered to see them. Chief Inspector Stuart Offord said the “error” had been made in his absence.
The only consistent feature of all these stories would appear to be official statements assuring us that these abuses have been addressed and will stop, followed by their continuation and issue of apologies after the fact, and more assurances.
Truly, a bad start to the year, and an almost immediate return to a subject I had hoped I might not have to keep on mentioning, lest it take on the mantle of a crusade.
No wonder I generally leave my cameras at home nowadays – and since I have no desire to carry a mobile phone, that means I do not carry a cameraphone to make this a hollow gesture!
One other point to bear in mind is illustrated by the dSLR image at the head of this post. According to the stories in the media, if you appear to be some sort of professional photographer, you will be given harder time and less leeway than an amateur snapper, and that classification will be made not on your qualifications or job, but on looking at your gear. Shoot with anything that looks like an expensive dSLR rather then a cameraphone or compact, carry a camera bag or use a tripod, and you will be assumed to be a professional photographer, or maybe a journalist of some sort, and treated accordingly. Bringing out a tripod in front of a building seems to be an excellent way of being accosted by private security guards from within, and invited to “Move on because you are on private property” (even if you are standing in the street) if the media stories are to be believed.
While there’s no relation to my apparent withdrawal from photography – having added a photography category to the Blog as I seemed to be coming across worthy subjects, but with nowhere to post them, I promptly seemed to lose those opportunities at the same time, and haven’t captured anything worthwhile since – it seems that the ongoing abuse of section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows police to stop and search anyone without need for suspicion in a designated area, continues, despite a recent warning to them not to use the measure unnecessarily against photographers.
I’ve been in correspondence with other photographers who have fallen foul of various pieces of legislation, and public paranoia, generally south of the border, and generally at the hands of the Met police around London. I suspect these “chats” have led to my own demotivation in respect of carrying a camera and taking photographs in public. In particular, on of my contacts was employed (down south) as a police photographer, and while he had no problems with the police, he used to volunteer his services to the local school, as his work meant he was a “trusted person”. For some years, he attended at things such as sports days, and provided pictures of the event. He’s given this up. Thanks to the various high profile campaigns run by the media, despite his status, and the fact that he was at these events at the school’s invitation, he ended up being attacked by mothers at one event, simply because he was taking photographs of their children. As he was doing this officially, on behalf of the school, he could hardly have been seen as carrying out this activity covertly, and he was also carrying a fair amount of kit which would have been hard to hide anyway, yet the media frenzy of the time meant they still felt they were justified in attacking him.
Needless to say, as of that day, he withdrew his services, and his never offered to return.
He was in touch with me a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned that at least the problems with the Met appeared to have been dealt with, and it would be nice to see this become a thing of the past.
Since then, I saw that a warning was indeed issued last week to all police forces not to use section 44 measures unnecessarily against photographers. In a circular to fellow chief constables, Andy Trotter, of British Transport police, said: “Officers and community support officers are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos. Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional, is unacceptable.”
Looks as if it was a waste of time and effort, as one of the country’s leading architectural photographers was apprehended by City of London police under terrorism laws while photographing the 300-year old spire of Sir Christopher Wren’s Christ Church for a personal project.
In the past 18 months there have been 94 complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Commission about the misuse of section 44 powers. There is a growing outcry among working photographers who are finding their daily routines interrupted by police searches when working in high-profile areas that may be considered terrorist targets.
City of London police said its response to Smith had been proportionate. “When questioned by officers, the man declined to give an explanation and he was therefore informed that in light of the concerns of security staff and in the absence of an explanation, he would be searched under the Terrorism Act,” said a spokesman. “After the man’s bag was searched, he explained he was a freelance photographer taking photos of buildings. Once this explanation was received there was no further action.”
Although it seems you are not obliged to give these enthusiastic police officers any of your details, if you don’t, then they will threaten to cart you off to the nearest police station, and search you – presumably implying that this will be a strip and intimate search to motive cooperation.
I think I’ll just leave my cameras gathering dust – looks as if it’s safer if I just want a quiet life.