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Thursday, 01 October 2009


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We've backed ourselves into a corner of semantics and illogical potentialities and it's too hard to revert to normality.

I think it is trying to reaffirm the point that if we don't like how you smell then we'll nick you and the fact you were taking a picture gives us the right to nick you. I also suspect there are a few police men who like others just don't want their pics taken and now have a bill they can use to enforce it. I would put myself in the category of wondering why an average person would be taking pictures of police officers, but to each his own. It is concerning though as to how England seems to be taking a path close to what was predicted by Orwell.

David M.- I'm betting the reason you had such smooth sailing is contained in the very first part of your first sentence. If you'd been considerably younger, and/or of a different race (and I'm assuming your particulars on the latter) your perceived "threat level," and therefore your experience might very well have changed dramatically.

Let's not forget the other side of the coin either- 1,000 surveillance cameras in London last year helped solve... 1 crime.


I'm reading a lot of anti-semantic comments here ...


prosecutions are apparently pending against at least two police officers over their behaviour at the recent G8 conference. Both of these incidents and many others were captured on video and still cameras (including mobile phones). Given that most english magistrates will take the word of a police officer against that of a civilian the right to record by other means the actions of police officers is a very important one.

I would turn your question on its head "Why would a policeman NOT want his picture taken if he has nothing to hide?"

Paul Mc Cann

Reading the response I'm actually encouraged. The guidelines described seem pretty clear that photography in itself is not a problem, nor individual photographs of uniformed personnel. It seems pretty clearly aimed at a sustained surveillance effort. Very sensible.

Stan B.: "1,000 surveillance cameras in London last year helped solve... 1 crime." According to the link, that's 1 crime each (1000 crimes). The number of crimes deterred is not mentioned.

The UK public believes CCTV is effective, and (by and large) it is not resented - so long as the coverage enters the public domain, as necessary, where everyone can judge it. This kind of evidence, as well as private photography, has become a vital part of our watching the watchmen; and so it has proved in a number of recent cases of police wrongdoing, for example at G20 demonstrations.

Furthermore, after an incident, the police will appeal to the public for any photos or video that may help their enquiries. The Orwellian narrative that is being constructed about all this is highly entertaining, but facile in my view.

Michael, I think you're right on both counts: it is not a topic that has had a high profile in the general UK media, and also in the interpretation "it's about terrorism, so b*gger off."

If there was a widespread problem with the police hassling the general public and most tourists, then it would have a higher profile in the UK press. David Miller's post above about spending 5 weeks trying to be stopped doesn't surprise me.

What some UK photography magazines have published recently are a few selective cases of people being stopped for taking pictures or video footage inside a security cordon, including for example, the MI6 headquarters, Royal Navy dockyards, the construction of the entrance to the 2012 Olympic stadium, and the UK's largest oil storage depot.

Stopping people at these types of sensitive locations is nothing new. If you'd tried taking these pictures from a car with a Northern Ireland registration in the last half century you'd have been questioned. I don't expect the Government to publish a list of what are considered high profile targets where you are likely to be stopped. Instead you go to Buckingham Palace where the friendly, but heavily armed policeman on the main gate will pose for pictures with your family.

As an Englishman who visits the US from time to time I'll comment that I don't think you (in the US) realise just how unpopular our politicians are. We've just had the unveiling of the most terrible scandal of the way far too many of them have been fiddling their expenses. Hardly a day goes by without the Press headlining a fresh reason why they should not be trusted.

A few years ago we saw a documentary, whilst holidaying in Colorado, about Mr Tony Blair. It made him look like a Saint. Simply not the same man who, at the time, was running Great Britain.

You ask "I'm not sure whether this is a fair characterization."

It most certainly is.

Tony. London UK

I work all over the UK as a photographer and i've NEVER had a problem with the police. The UK is certainly not a police state yet. Some police officers interpret and understand the law better than others. It is certainly NOT illegal to photograph a policeman in the UK! The Metropolitan police website says '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'. There are problems with certain aspects of UK terrorist legislation, but the vast majority of photographers, both amateur and pro, can work in the UK as usual.

I think the petition (and ensuing response) were due to a minor panic from stories in the press and online that photographing police/military would be illegal - full stop.

All this is really saying is "we reserve the right to stop you if we think you're a security risk". This has always been the case (in the UK anyway). The problem arises when you try and put what is essentially a matter of "on the spot" judgement down on paper.

It's not prefect, and yes, open to abuse, but what are the alternatives?

1 - let everyone do what they like, where they like with no restrictions (and this would have to apply to any information gathering activity).

2 - impose absolute laws which forbid photography of subjects or places under all circumstances.

I think either of these would be much worse than the current legislation. While there are instances of misuse (which will inevitably be widely publicised), these are rare exceptions.

I and millions of other Brits are out with their cameras on a daily basis, and encounter no problems whatsoever. In fact I can't think of anywhere I've been that is less restrictive, particularly around military establishments.



Always beware of laws that are implemented in a nonuniform fashion. If they don't apply equally in all cases the chance for abuse is high, especially when it is for "national security or safety".

I know folks talk funny over there, but this franky seems like rather noxious guff for the Government to fart in the face of our dwile flonking photographer friends.

"An officer making an arrest under section 58A must reasonably suspect that the information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."
Note that the photographer in this weasel-worded sentence need not necessarily refer to the "person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." Even if the photographer is taken to be nothing more than a doddering tourist with a disposable camera, the focus (so to speak) seems to be on the subject of the photograph -- or, more broadly still, on a photograph of that general kind -- and whether it, in turn, "likely" could be "useful" to a terrorist.

"Legitimate journalistic activity (such as covering a demonstration for a newspaper) is likely to constitute such an excuse. Similarly, an innocent tourist or other sight-seer taking a photograph of a police officer is likely to have a reasonable excuse."
Likely?!?! This plainly means that a journalist engaging in "legitimate" activity or an "innocent" tourist (under some unspecified circumstances) may not have a legitimate defense to an arrest.

I am afraid Richard Flint is wrong. It is unlawful to photograph a policeman without reasonable excuse. The burden of proof is on the photographer - full article here:


Richard P.- Not mentioned for the same reason the numbers of lives "saved" by capital punishment are never published...

I have two comments to make:
1. If Great Britain offences photographers, photograpers should do the same. So don't buy british! Don't buy Ilford films or papers, Billingham bags, or British photography magazines. As long, as Great Britain keeps the unlawful law made under the 'anti-terrorist' pretext.
2. I saw a couple of movies made by photographers that were "attacked" by policemen for photographing. What was most shocking for me was their agressive usually reaction. If someone tried to react the same way in Poland (where I live) he would end up in jail at best accused for offence against policeman (probably he would be beaten, as usually the trials against policemen who beat people are completely unfair). So be happy with the freedom you still have even though you lose some.

"dwile flonking" and Calvin says we talk funny!
What is a dwile and why would I flonk it?

In the student photography club in Glasgow which I help run, just a week ago the president of the society was stopped and detained for photographing police during an outing to do street photography at a local festival (which was swarming with dozens of people wielding DSLRs). He wasn't stopped for suspicion of being a terrorist, just that one of the officers in question didn't like his photo being taken. He demanded that his photo be deleted immediately, and called in his superior who gave a "stern talking to" the photographer about an "attitude problem" (didn't even address the question of whether it is in fact an offence for officers to have photos deleted, "Officers do not have the power to delete images or destroy film" Home Office directive http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/about-us/publications/home-office-circulars/circulars-2009/012-2009/).

The problem for photographers here in Scotland in this situation is that Scotland has a fairly broadly defined common law offense of Breach of the Peace. This has been applied in the past to photography, e.g. http://secretscotland.wordpress.com/2008/10/03/disturbing-fine-issued-in-edinburgh-court/, and a dissenting officer could well decided to charge you with the offense if you refused to delete your photos. In fact, Breach of the Peace was mentioned as possibility to the aforementioned photographer by a colleague of the aggrieved officer but luckily it was not applied.

The photographer is looking into filing a complaint with the IPCC, for whatever use that'll be.

This hysteria is not only confined to terrorism but also reaches a crescendo in regards to photographing children. In an ironic twist, a retired senior policeman was prevented from taking photos of his grandson playing football/soccer, http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/news/Police_chief_condemns_child_photography_paranoia_news_289431.html

There have been cases of photographers being stopped by the police on various pretences for some years now. If you just put your head in the sand the problem will not go away.

The present UK government are moving towards a guilty until proved innocent legal system.

The general public sometimes have a problem with photographers. It has happened to me a couple of times, the last when someone I did not know (so was not a neighbour) demanded to know why I was taking photographs of my own house. I soon put him right. After my forthright response, he backed right off and I doubt he will do it again.

Anyroad, as that ol' Calvin know, be dwile flonking toime.

Blimey! Don't get your wee knickers in a twist. I'm gobsmacked that you are not familiar with dwile flonking. It's all yours, mate. We don't have it 'ere across the pond.

Dwile Flonking

The Art of Dwile Flonking

Cheerio then.

I don't like the concept of 'reasonable excuse' as contained in the official response. The implication is definitely 'guilty unless proven innocent'.

The response simply does not address the essence of the petition.

I hope this issue just not simply die down through attrition and fatigue, as the government no doubt hopes it will.

Your take, Mike, which I believe is quite accurate, and the comments so far highlight the seemingly fudged state of many of Britains laws and the confusion that reigns in its citizens (myself included): the question of wether this is by design or lack of foresight to consequences is the issue. I signed the petition hoping that some clarification would ensue, alas, in vain. The fact that there have been few instances of this section of the law being used is a moot point, as the wording entitles a policeman to make a spot judgement on our activities as photographers and in due course to examine not only the contents of your camera, but of your files, computer and house. This is a badly worded document that confuses the police and public, and further marginalises your rights (legally and in the publics perception) to take photographs of anything in the public realm. I don't think they should get off so lightly with Whitehall speak. As we lack a Bill of Rights it is down to individuals to question the intention of government to insert elements of doubt and anxiety into our normal daily affairs, i.e. they should bugger off from interfering.
I'd be interested to learn of the typical American viewpoint on rights to public photography to see if there are similar chords, or do I not want to get you started on that one ?

Calvin, re Dwile Flonking: if that really dates only from 1966, few Brits will have heard of it yet. We pay little attention, as a nation, to pastimes (or, some would say: to political concepts) devised more recently than 1696.

Here in Milton Keynes we have a Japanese nun who, I am told, after years at the temple now speaks Japanese with a Milton Keynes accent. Probably not a dissimilar accent to the one I speak what little of her language I know.

Meanwhile, Calvin, did you learn to speak our language "properly" by watching American films about England? As in, "Gor blimey, Mary Poppins!"

"Meanwhile, Calvin, did you learn to speak our language 'properly' by watching American films about England? As in, 'Gor blimey, Mary Poppins!'"

Sort of like comedians learn to do impressions of famous people by watching other comedians' impressions of those people...?


Thanks to David Miller for the perspective. It's nice to hear that as often happens, things may be far from as bad as we hear. I've borrowed the comment here.

Er, sorry Mike, what was that? Could you say that again? I'm having trouble with your accent.

Numerous incidents have been reported over the past year or more in which people in the UK have been either arrested for taking photos or intimidated into deleting their images. For example, two Austrian tourists were coerced by police into deleting their images of a bus station (details here) and a woman was prevented from photographing a routine stop and search of her friend (details here). In both these cases (and many others), the police said they were acting under anti-terrorism laws.

Last April, there was an interesting debate about photography in the British House of Commons. A member of parliament, John Randall, raised the question of people being inappropriately stopped by police for taking photographs. He gave numerous examples of this from his own constituency and suggested a lack of "common sense" on the part of the officers involved. A government spokesman (Shahid Malik) responded that "the taking of photographs in a public place is not subject to any rule or statute", and went on to explain that this would include photos of police officers. It's an interesting discussion, by the way, and you can find it here): (it starts at the bottom of the page).

I'm very pleased to learn that David Miller was able to photograph with impunity across the UK and I'm sure that most people would survive similarly unscathed. However, the fuzzy wording of the law makes clumsy (to put it charitably) policing much more likely and it's important to speak out against this.

1,000 surveillance cameras in London last year helped solve... 1 crime.

CCTV doesn't really solve crimes but hopefully, it stops them happeneing in the first place.

It may however, just move them to areas which don't have CCTV!

The present UK government are moving towards a guilty until proved innocent legal system.

Not likely. Guilty as presumed by who? In the UK, you can only be found guilty by a court. Being presumed innocent until proven guilty is a basic right and will not change.

Steve Smith - if you believe that then you're not familiar with the RIP Act, one of its nasty clauses is that the Powers That Be can demand that you reveal encrypted information or face a 2 year jail term.

The problem is, how do you prove that you CAN'T decrypt something?

A suggestion, when the Act was being put through, was that someone could mail the Home Secretary details of a real crime that was encrypted, but not give the HS the key. The HS would then be jailed as they couldn't possibly reveal the contents of that message.
In any case, if someone DID have details of a very serious crime, decrypting information that may incriminate them would likely get them a longer term than 2 years, so what's the point?

There's loads of poisonous little ways that the Presumed Innocent right is being chipped away.

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