Met Police Issue Advice to Amateur Photographers

There is an ongoing and sometimes very contentious debate about the rights of people to take photos in public spaces and the attitude of the police and security officers when they see a camera pointing at something interesting.

There have been many reports of the police, and more often the hobby-bobbies (PCSO) who seem to treat photographers as a threat to be stomped on. Ironically, with the proliferation of cameraphones, the ire of the police and security guards seems to be mainly directed at people holding “old-fashioned” conventional cameras as we are presumably more of a threat.

That anyone being naughty is more likely to surreptitiously use a camera phone than stand boldly in public with a big hunk of electronics in-front of their face seems not to have occurred to people.

Anyhow…. this morning my email pinged to alert me to a new statement from the Met Police (you can subscribe to them) and I was delighted to read that a fairly sensible advisory statement has been issued.

The key message is that the police cannot stop you photos in public, even if citing anti-terrorism acts, but they have the right to question you if you film an officer (or ex-officer!) and can ask to see photos – but not demand that you delete them.

The issue of photography in so called pseudo-public locations, such as shopping centers or the London Underground is not addressed – and it would be good if TfL issued a public statement on the topic as the police have done.

The link to the full document is here, which you are advised to print out a copy if you are a regular photographer – but below I summarise the key points.

Photography advice issued

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.

The Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 (or S43) is in place.

Officers do have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S44 (and S43) 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.

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.

(the difficulty here is that a photo might be useful to a terrorist – but that I have no intention of passing it to said terrorist – so where does the line get drawn?)

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.

In conclusion – its a good start and I am pleased that the Police have addressed the issue, although in the grand scheme of things, I think a policy statement, probably from the Mayors office covering all types of locations that photographers are likely to cover within London would be a good idea.

Update:

Sadly, the news that photographers can take photos in public hasn’t reached Chatham yet, where a photographer was arrested under the Terrorism Act only yesterday for taking a photo of a police officer while being quizzed as to why he was taking photos in the local high street.

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2 Comments

  1. “Bobby bobbies”.

    Love it – less aggressive than “Plastic Plod”.

  2. Max Sang

    The problem is that, as Bruce Schneier often points out, just about everything that is useful to me is also useful to a terrorist, from Google Maps to bus timetables to batteries. A high resolution photograph of Parliament is certainly useful to a terrorist, but he can get one from the internet – no amount of over-vigilant policing of photography is going to stop that.

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