Police have been accused of misusing powers granted under anti-terror legislation after a series of incidents, ranging from the innocuous to the bizarre, in which photographers were questioned by officers for taking innocent pictures of tourist destinations, landmarks and even a fish and chip shop.
Police are allowed to stop and search anyone in a designated “Section 44 authorisation” zone without having to give a reason. But amateur and professional photographers have complained that they are frequently being stopped and treated as potential terrorists on a reconnaissance mission. Last night the Government’s independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws warned police forces to carefully examine how they use the controversial legislation.
Speaking to The Independent, Lord Carlile of Berriew said: “The police have to be very careful about stopping people who are taking what I would call leisure photographs, and indeed professional photographers. The fact that someone is taking photographs is not prima facie a good reason for stop and search and is very far from raising suspicion. It is a matter of concern and the police will know that they have to look at this very carefully,” he added.
Lord Carlile’s comments come just days after a BBC journalist was stopped and searched by two police community support officers as he took photographs of St Paul’s Cathedral. Days earlier Andrew White, 33, was stopped and asked to give his name and address after taking photographs of Christmas lights on his way to work in Brighton.
And in July Alex Turner, an amateur photographer from Kent, was arrested after he took pictures of Mick’s Plaice, a fish and chip shop in Chatham. Most of those stopped are told they are being questioned under Section 44, a controversial power which allows senior officers to designate entire areas of their police force regions as stop-and-search zones. The areas are chosen based on their likelihood of being a terrorism target.
More than 100 exist in London alone, covering areas such as the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and other landmarks. Every train station in the UK is covered by a Section 44 order. In the first quarter of this financial year 96 per cent of all Section 44 searches were carried out by the Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police. Every area of the UK which has a Section 44 in place is known to the Home Office. But, due to the fear that the information could be used by terrorists to plan attacks, most of the the exact locations covered by Section 44 authorisations are kept secret, meaning members of the public have no idea if they are in one or not.
Martin Parr, a photojournalist who was threatened with arrest after he took pictures of revellers in Liverpool city centre, said: “Unless we do something to stop this trend it will become virtually impossible to take photographs on a British street.”
The British Journal of Photography says it has received a steadily increasing number of complaints this year. Olivier Laurent, the magazine’s news editor, said: “The person will normally be taking a photograph of something perfectly mundane and a police officer will approach them and either claim that they can’t take photos in that particular place or they will ask the photographer to explain what they are up to and record their details.
“Those who refuse to co-operate have been threatened with arrest for either breaching the peace or impeding the public highway. We find that a lot of the time police officers are not even aware of the rules governing photography in a public place.”
Marc Vallee, a photojournalist who specialises in documenting protests, has become so exasperated at how often photographers are questioned or searched by officers that he has co-founded a campaign group to keep tabs on how public photography is being policed. The “I’m a photographer, not a terrorist” campaign group now has more than 4,000 supporters and has held a number of protests, including outside Scotland Yard, to highlight what they believe is the growing harassment of amateur and professional photographers by police and over-zealous council officials.
“Why is the act of taking a picture deemed by the state to be so potentially threatening? Photography is not a crime but it is being routinely criminalised,” he said. “Anti-terrorism legislation talks about creating a hostile environment for terrorists to operate but the reality is that it is creating a hostile environment for public photography. That has an incredibly detrimental effect on freedom of speech.”
Craig Mackey, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on stop-and-search legislation, said he does have sympathy for photographers, but said that part of the problem was that some officers were not aware how best to use the “complex” legislation. He said: “It goes back to the issue of briefing and training of staff and making sure they are clear around the legislation we are asking them to use. There is no power under Section 44 to stop people taking photographs and we are very clear about getting that message out to forces.
“In the past there has been a build-up around photographers and policing. That said, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where someone taking pictures of Christmas lights would be something we should be dealing with.”
Stop & search & photos: Know your rights
- If police stop and search you, the first thing you should ask is on what grounds they are conducting the search and under what powers.
- Police are able to conduct searches under a number of different pieces of legislation but they usually use either the Public Order Act, the Criminal Justice Act or under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
- Unless you are stopped while driving a car, you do NOT have to give your name or address.
- Police officers are obliged to ask for your given ethnicity. Once again, it is up to you whether you choose to answer or not.
- If police use Section 44 of the Terrorism Act they are entitled to view any images you have taken but they are NOT allowed to delete them. They can only do so with a court order.
- Under Section 58a of the Terrorism Act, police are only allowed to stop a photographer taking pictures of officers if they reasonably suspect the photos are intended to be used in connection with terrorism.
- Whether you are stopped and searched, or merely stopped and accounted for, the police officer should hand you a record of your stop.
Stopped for taking photos
November BBC photographer Jeff Overs stopped and searched while he takes sunset photographs of St Paul’s Cathedral.
November Andrew White, 33, is stopped after taking photographs of Christmas lights on his way to work in Brighton. He is asked to give his name and address.
August Police order trainspotter Stephen White to delete images of train carriages taken during a holiday in Wales. CCTV near an oil refinery monitored him taking the pictures and alerted local police. Mr White refused.
July Alex Turner, an amateur photographer, arrested under anti-terrorism laws for taking pictures of two officers as they question him for photographing a fish and chip shop in Kent. Later released without charge.
April Two Austrian tourists told to delete pictures of Walthamstow bus station. Unaware that police have no right to enforce deletion of images without a warrant, they comply.
Reports of photographers being harassed or stopped using bogus interpretations of anti-terror legislation are on the rise. To help raise awareness of the issue and change public perceptions, BJP has begun a new campaign – and we’re inviting you all to join us
British Journal of Photography have a long running campaign to counter the rising paranoia that targets every photographer who shoot images in public places.
There are calling all photographers, amateur or professional, to join there protest by taking part in a visual campaign, designed to raise awareness about increasing restrictions on shooting in tFhe public realm, which together with abuse of police powers and increasing hostility from the public at large, is impacting on photographers every day, in the UK and abroad.
The ‘Not A Crime’ campaign has already got the backing of two of Britain’s leading photographers, Stuart Franklin and Chris Steele-Perkins of Magnum Photos. We invite you to join them by posting a self-portrait of yourself together with a sheet of white card with the phrases ‘Not a crime’ or ‘I am not a terrorist’ (in your first language) to a Flickr group BJP has created. Details on how to do so can be found at www.not-a-crime.com.
The fight-back begins here – BJP 15 July http://www.bjp-online.com/public/sho…ml?page=865556
New police guide ‘is flawed’ – BJP 15 July http://www.bjp-online.com/public/sho…ml?page=865557
Metropolitan Police – Photography advice www.met.police.uk/about/photography.htm
Police given a dressing down – BJP 8 July http://www.bjp-online.com/public/sho…ml?page=864860
Metropolitan Police photography http://www.bjp-online.com/public/sho…ml?page=865254
The mets unlawful & misleading new photo-laws www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/07/434417.html
Case Studies and related articles from U75.org
- Warning: Do not take this picture (Independent, Dec 2009)
- BBC man in terror quiz for photographing St Paul’s sunset. (This Is London, Nov 2009). Also: BBC clip
- Kent Police exceeded powers in too-tall photographer case. (The Register, Nov 2009)
- Woman ‘detained’ for filming police search launches high court challenge. (Guardian, July 2009)
- Photographer arrested under Section 44 in Chatham High Street. (July 2009)
- PhotoBlog Editor Stopped and Searched (June 2009)
- The architectural photographer as terrorist (openDemocracy April 2009)
- Police officer tells man he’s not allowed to photograph children (ePhotoZine April 2009)
- Police delete London tourists’ photos ‘to prevent terrorism’ (Guardian April 2009)
- Photographers protest against Section 76 (Feb 2009)
- Taking photos of police officers could be considered a crime (BJP Jan 2009)
- Tory MP stopped and searched by police for taking photos of cycle path (Telegraph Jan 2009)
- Petition to clarify the laws surrounding photography in public (Sept 2008)
- Home Secretary green lights restrictions on photography (BJP July 2008)
- Are photographers really a threat? (Guardian June 2008)
- “Street photography is illegal in the town” (Apr 2008)
- Innocent photographer or terrorist? (Apr 2008)
- Photographers being arrested to seize evidence: NUJ (Mar 2008)
- Birmingham police ‘forced press photographer to delete images’ (Mar 2008)
- Street photographers fear for their art amid climate of suspicion (Mar 2008)
- Police order photographer to ‘delete’ pictures (Feb 2008)
- Anger at police statement on ‘covert’ photography (Jan 2008)
- Police admit being ‘overzealous’ in Christmas lights fiasco (Nov 2007)
- Police ‘stop and quiz’ press snapper under Terrorism Act (Nov 2007)
UK Photographers Rights