Photography and the police

Photographer: “I know the law!”
PCSO: “Yeah, good for you!”

This video [1] raises many of the contradictions in the state attitude towards filming: CCTV is OK but human photographers are a problem; cameraphone footage is helpful evidence but filming in a public place is suspicious behaviour.

This attitude has caused some police officers to break the law in their attempts to stop photographers going about their business. The October 2006 attack on photojournalist Marc Vallée brought the Met a lot of unwelcome publicity, but there are numerous less famous examples.

In April 2007 the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) adopted a set of guidelines on dealing with photographers. These guidelines were agreed with the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) and other photographers’ organisations. However, as a recent report in the Journalist makes clear, many police are ignoring these guidelines in practice.

Even more worryingly, it seems that the Home Secretary isn’t so clued up about the law either. Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, wrote to Jacqui Smith raising concerns about the behaviour of police in London towards photographers.

In her reply, the Home Secretary wrote: “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.”

Er, no. Officers aren’t entitled to make operational decisions in clear contradiction to the law, whatever the “individual circumstances”.

Physically attacking a photographer is a crime. Seizing equipment and film is also a crime. The enhanced stop-and-search powers brought in by the Terrorism Act 2000 have made a lot of intimidatory behaviour lawful, but the bottom line is still that photography in public places is a lawful activity and police have no rights whatsoever to stop anyone taking pictures on the street.

This brief document, written in 2004, explains many of the legal issues relating to photographers in the UK.  It’s not intended as a comprehensive legal guide, but it does cram a lot of useful information into two pages.

My only caveat would be that we’re still being bombarded by what Lord Justice Rose called “a continuing avalanche of new complex legislation”, and legal guides have a tendency to go out of date.

[1] Via Chicken Yoghurt.

This was originally posted on the blog of Kate Griffin, vice-chair of the branch.


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