Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Photography can be risky in the UK – just having a camera might get you into trouble

In a world where we are surrounded by people constantly taking pics and recording video with their smartphones, not to mention the pervasive sea of public and private surveillance cameras and CCTV we navigate as soon as we step into the street – and now the rise and rise of the dashcam – it’s almost strange that any sort of photographer with a camera STILL seems to be fair game for being picked on.

While anyone simply holding a smartphone could easily be taking covert pics and video without it being obvious, and probably not even be noticed, it’s still the person who chooses to take a step up in quality and control and use a ‘real’ (by which I mean an obviously recognisable item such as a dSLR, mirrorless, or even compact) camera who is seen as the ‘problem’.

Previous accounts have had hired thugs security staff state that they view anyone with such a camera as a ‘professional’ who they will challenge if they are seen pointing a camera in their direction, or toward the building/property they are guarding. Past cases have shown they will confront ‘photographers’, even if on public land (the street) and restrain them, even calling police to attend to a ‘suspected terrorist’ or some such nonsense. The police SHOULD be called, but by the photographer who has been assaulted by those hired thugs.

This was brought back to my mind in the media coverage of a man (often described as a ‘pensioner’, as if that was somehow relevant):

A man was caught using a video camera to film women and children at a busy shopping centre last summer, a court has heard.

John Kane, 67, recorded footage of more than 60 women in the Central Retail Park in Graham’s Road, Falkirk, and at a nearby Tesco store.

He also secretly filmed children playing outside a nearby branch of Next.

When Kane was arrested on a separate matter he tried to flush a memory card down a toilet, prosecutor Ann Orr told Falkirk Sheriff Court.

The card was analysed and found to contain 60 short videos, lasting between 50 seconds and three minutes.

Ms Orr told the court: “The recordings appeared to be of adult females at various shops in the Central Retail Park.

“The camera operator has the camera positioned to show the females from the waist down, focusing on their bare legs and zooming in on their bottoms.”

The depute fiscal said the memory card also contained three slightly longer videos, each about three minutes, showing children aged between six and 12.

It should also be noted he was not arrested or detained for this, but:

The court heard Kane was caught when he was arrested over a drink-driving offence and taken to Falkirk Police Station in July 2016.

It was then he tried to dispose of the memory card, which was recovered by officers who spotted him acting suspiciously.

Source: Man secretly filmed women and children at retail park – STV News 16 February 2017

Pensioner secretly filmed women’s legs – BBC News 17 February 2017

So it appears he was drinking, and acted inappropriately.

But, I’m sorry, I don’t really see the problem with his video, taken in a public place.

Go onto sites such as Flickr and you’ll find the same material being shared around the world, and not classified as ‘unsafe’ or similar.

As always, I don’t want – and can’t – go into the specifics of this particular case, as I was not in court and am not privy to all the evidence and information available to the court and those involved. All I know of is the limited information provided by the media.

However, like the accounts given by the media in similar cases, I actually find myself worried almost every time I raise my camera to my eye, and consciously survey the scene firstly for children, and then for anything that I may be accused of taking ‘secret’ or ‘covert’ pics of.

If I see anything that worries me, I’ll move on or find another location to avoid any misunderstanding.

I’m not a great ‘people’ photographer anyway, preferring vacant scenes, but now I’m beginning to think this preference may have saved me trouble in the past.

Here’s the development of the case against the man concerned, as I waited until the conclusion.

He’s not only been placed on the Sex Offender’s Register (for taking pics in a public place) but also banned from having ANY camera equipment for a period of five years. He also admitted committing a Breach of the Peace – a charge also known as a ‘catch all’ when there is no specific charge to be made.

Kane, of Breton Court, Falkirk, pleaded guilty to committing a breach of the peace by operating a recording device to obtain footage of women and children in a public place without their knowledge and consent between July 15 and 22, 2016.


Where is there a law or requirement in the UK for that consent to be obtained (in a public place, and not for someone like a film star or actor whose image is their livelihood, and potentially copyright or similarly protected)?

Man who filmed women and children’s legs faces camera ban – STV News 30 March 2017

Camera ban for pensioner who secretly filmed women’s legs – BBC News 4 May 2017

As I said, I can only really repeat media reporting as I was not in court, but this case, like many others against ‘photographers’ stinks.

Am I guilty of something?

It reminded me of a pic I created a while ago, and used for a bit of fun in a Forum discussion.

Thin and Thick girls

Thin and Thick

To explain, I didn’t TAKE this pic, but actually created it some time later.

It’s a crop of one corner of the original pic, taken of the street or road that was the subject, and in which this pair happened to be walking at the time it was taken. I didn’t really notice them, merely waited until the minimum number of bodies was probably present, then took the pic.

I didn’t feel any need, or legal obligation to run after them (or anyone else caught by chance in a pic) and ask for their consent to take the pic, or ask their permission to use it later.

See this guide – I didn’t, and don’t, think I have to… EVER!

UK Photographers Rights Guide v2

But since the above was not the picture I took, but merely one sixth of it, caught purely incidentally, I wouldn’t have done so anyway.

That I could produce later this from a small crop from a larger image is entirely down to the fact that my camera has a sensor that enables such an operation.

They are wearing long coat, jeans, trousers, boots. ‘Decent’, to some.

Had they had been wearing short skirts and had bare legs? ‘Indecent’, to some.

Would I now be being traced by the police as a pervert (even though it came from a crop and was not the pic taken) and face being fined for a Breach of the Peace (per the reasons invented above) AND placed on the Sex Offenders Register?


Would, or could, I become a major criminal of some sort merely by cropping out a small section of a picture I took, and only perhaps escape that fate due to some chance decision by those in the pic on what they chose to wear that day?

Not even a problem abroad

By coincidence, I spotted this post with advice to photographers, from a non-UK blog, where there ARE often more restrictions, but even this states:

8. Don’t Ask Permission
Like I said before, as long as you in the scoop of the law, there’s nothing to worry about. Just do it. Take your camera and shoot. Don’t think that you have to ask the local or anything like that for permission. If you want to photograph some face close-up, then just do it. Don’t ask, do it.

9. Don’t Apologize
Sometime there will be some people don’t like when you photograph something. Don’t apologize. You obey the law, what you did isn’t illegal. So you did nothing wrong, and there’s nothing to apologize for.

For example, let’s take a look at what happen in London. If you’re a photographer, especially architecture photographer, its (sic) really hard to take photograph of architecture. Because the treat of terrorism. They’re not allowed to photograph, they’re demanded to delete their photos, and sometime cops called. It’s not illegal to photograph building, but many photographer there been in trouble because of it. So if that happen to you just show them you’re photograph and if they ask you to delete it, then say no. You did nothing wrong.

From: 10 Thing You Never Do In Photography


May 9, 2017 - Posted by | Civilian, photography, Surveillance | , , ,

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