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Monday, 25 January 2010


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Thanks for posting the link to the Guardian video. It made me realize how quickly incidents like this can ruin a vacation: turn the wrong corner and you're cooked!

On my next trip to Europe, I'll stay clear of Britain, that's for sure.

Well this annoys me, as it probably does all of us!

A little while ago, I entered a complaint on the London Metropolitan Police website regarding this issue. It'll be interesting to see if they respond to an American photographer. I may end up on the "no-fly" list to London...

I propose wearing a jacket like dog's, when in london...But with "I am a photographer not a terrorist" of course! :-)

And another video, shot by Paul Lewis from The Guardian a month ago, who went there to see what would happen to him. Deliberate-like...

It is interesting that the harrassment still happens after the letter by the Chief Constable of British Transport Police saying that photographers "should be left alone to get on with what they are doing". Even this month-old video was after the letter. Somebody should tell the police to stop playing silly buggers.

I remember this behaviour in grade school. They used to assign older students to act as crossing guards for younger students at an intersection near my school. In no time, the guys in the crossing guard platoon thought that they had some kind of power over others in the school yard, on the way home after school, etc. It's an old story.

It's gang mentality. The street now somehow belongs to the gang (in this case police officers in Britain with too much stop and search power) and you have to justify your presence to them. And it appears that the use of this power does not seem to require post facto justification, that is, the officer does not have to show why he chose to stop someone. It's incredible really, hard to believe that society would allow it to happen. I wonder if their police salaries are so low that they end up attracting too many thugs.

In some places, there seems to be a trend towarding "private" police forces since public funding is being cut in the peculiar belief that this will reduce the size and cost of government. So we may end up with even more minimum wage thugs on the streets who answer to no one. Why do have to keep relearning these historical lessons?

Non UK residents - please don't let scaremongering by the press deter you from visiting our flawed but interesting country!

I don't know what these photographers do to make themselves look suspicious. I often take photos in shopping malls and railway stations but have yet to be challenged.

Oh, and BTW, in British English we don't "protest something" we "protest against something".

Cheers, Robin


For any intent and purpose, a member of dpreview crew wrote a blog entry about this too,



It is not only in Britain. Last week, I was questioned as to why I was taking photographs near the riverwalk of St Vincent's Hospital, Jacksonville, Florida, to which the public has access. I had just taken a couple of shots of a statue.

I was asked by the security official to give my name and was then told that I needed permission from the company to take photographs. He added that even the press was not allowed to take pictures without permission. Wow!

It was an amicable exchange and the official seemed embarrassed when I told him I did not have a job and taking photographs was a good way to get myself out of the house for some daily exercise.

Still, it left a sour taste and, in my opinion, was a totally unnecessary exchange.

It did make me think of "The Power of Nightmares -- The Rise of the Politics of Fear" film, which incidentally has never been aired in the United States, where some American security chief said: "If it looks like a tourist video, it isn't a tourist video."

"The act of photographing is by itself an extremely poor indicator of possible malign intent."

Hear, hear.

I was stopped, and my image deleted - I say "image" in the singular because I only had time to shoot one before the armed guy intervened! - when, very conspicuously, trying to take pictures of the wonderfully brutalist Tel Aviv main bus station inside, of course on grounds of "terrorism".

Of course, any true terrorist would have taken the same images much more discreetly. The irony is compounded by the fact that the terrorist probably got the blueprints, and therefore little need for images.

I was there, and I've probably got a shot of Michael Perrin taking the picture above. It was all good humoured, and after a while I stopped trying to keep out of everyone else's shot. It's just not possible.

People brought all sorts of cameras. One guy brought a 5x4 camera and I watched him throw in a bit of front tilt to get his shot. He was up above the steps where I stood. Another had a handheld pinhole camera made from a roll film back and lots of black tape and card. A petite woman was carrying a folding Polaroid rangefinder camera with flash bulb gun, and a rollfilm SLR, and a Canon DSLR and a bag for her film and bulbs.

Everyone was doing their own thing. If we are not careful Britain will become a place where you daren't do that, for fear of bringing yourself to someone's attention.

Here's just a few other thoughts.

@ Robert Roaldi: "and you have to justify your presence to them"
Quite. This is just one of the ways that 'innocent until proved guilty' is being phased out a bit at a time in the UK.

Perhaps the dog's jacket should have read, "I'm a terrier not a terrorist", but in Britain now that's close enough for the police to want 'a word'.

Remember that this event was a mass photo gathering in defence of street photography. It was not a protest, because you need permission from the police to do that.

I'm curious: is there some evidence that terrorists photograph potential targets, and that they do this in plain view? And are there any facts to suggest that harassing people taking photographs has any effect on terrorism?

Rober Roaldi's comment suddenly made me think. Are we seeing the beginning of a transition from the "old" benign UK police culture to one that is evident almost everywhere else - that the police hassle you for no good reason but you then bribe them to drop whatever spurious charge they were going to use against you?
The change in attitude and approach by the UK police (mainly London Metro it seems) would seem to indicate a cultural change is under way. Who is going to be brave enough to be the first to "bribe" the interrogating officers - maybe by offering them a fee to take their photographs? :-)

I just found out another troubling sign from the UK. Not directly connected to photography, but it is connected to the behaviour of the police.

Blogger, The Police And The Barbra Streisand Effect.

Mike, I don't know if you'd care to share a website link, but I've been following this on The Amateur Photographer site for quite awhile.


Seems unbelievable.

I've never been to Britain but it doesn't sound much like what I've imagined it to be. It's not on my 'must visit' list anymore (although I'd love to go to a British pub and buy a round for the house, hoisted to the U.S. 8th Air Force and the British 8th Army); I used get irritated with local LEO's for being pulled over for DWY (Driving While Young) and I've never quite gotten over it. "Just checking your registration, sir, your vehicle plates weren't visible from 700 yards behind the car" type of stuff. No citation, just aggravation. I'm old now, no telling what my response would be if targeted by a local "wanna be" LEO for taking a photograph. (Note that being arrested for taking BAD photographs would be justified in my case most days). I live in Detroit (not known for being the friendliest of towns) and have never been hassled by the authorities for taking photographs.

Perhaps the British people should consider having a written constitution?

I'm just sayin'...

Couple of chips-in (or is that chip-ins?):
I've spent plenty of time in London taking photographs and never been stopped. Whilst I don't want to play-down the implications of those that do get stopped, I think it is rather less common than we might believe.
Second, there was a specific letter from the Lord Chief Justice recently (can't find a hnady link) explaining the powers police do & do not have and the burden of proof associated therewith. Pretty much all the sensible calls here about what should be the requirement already exist (due cause, post-facto explanation etc etc).

But citizen, surely you aren't suggesting that the state would take advantage of its powers and harass innocents, are you? Only those with something to hide have anything to worry about. Why are you so interested in this topic anyway, citizen? Is there something you should tell us????

Britain's law allows police to stop and search individuals without any indication of wrongdoing.

Actually, it doesn't. It's an abuse of section 44 of the terrorism act which makes some officers think that is the case. The actual UK law on photography in public places is very similar to that in the US. i.e. you can photograph just about anything from a public place. Luckily, we do not have a version of the patriot act.

I've never been to Britain but it doesn't sound much like what I've imagined it to be. It's not on my 'must visit' list anymore

No need to be too paranoid about it. In reality, thousands of people take photographs in London every day with no trouble whatsoever. Compared to a just a few cases of reported harrassment. Is the ratio really any different in the US? Your comment is a bit like English people not wanting to visit America for fear of being shot (not with a camera!).

"Security expert Bruce Schneier had an excellent editorial on the topic of photographer-terrorists in The Guardian in 2008."

A good article which is just as relevant to the UK.

The gathering sounded like a fun day out to me. Let's be honest, some "gatherers" would turn up for the opening of an envelope. It's Trafalgar Square not Tiananmen square, nobody was putting their life or their liberty in danger.

I'v a charge sheet that's longer than most, so long that it's very doubtful that I'd get in to the US for a holiday. I have a false tooth thanks to a copper and I'm a lefty to boot, so this is by no means a defence of the boys in blue, I spent quite a large part of my formative years in their company and I can't say I enjoyed it. I'm now a reformed character but I remember how coppers think and the way they go about their duty and can say that your average copper is not going to give a rats proverbial about you and your camera. There's always gonna be one with a nagging wife and too big a mortgage who'll bring their worries to work. The kinda of copper that cost me my tooth (I was 14 at the time and not a violent kid). Generally this guys looking for collars, and on all but the rarest of occasions you ain't it. They'll be no martyrdom, he'll plod on by.

I've shot in Trafalgar Square and London many times-and thousands of times on UK streets without a single problem. Sure it's a stupid law, I doubt it will last long, it'll seldom see the light of day and it'll be easily contested which makes it all the more pointless.

Anyway, the old bills far to busy for the likes of us


" Is the ratio really any different in the US?"

No, the exact same thing happens in the U.S. Maybe half the video links that get forwarded to me are of U.S. police doing the same thing. The only reason we're talking about Britain specifically is that that's where the protest...er, the gathering in support of street photography was last Saturday.


Sure it's a stupid law, I doubt it will last long, it'll seldom see the light of day and it'll be easily contested which makes it all the more pointless.

There seems to be a lot of wrong information about what the Terrorism Act, and in particular, Section 44 of it refers to.

There is no UK law which bans you from taking pictures in public - even of police officers.

Section 44 makes it an offence to take a picture of a police officer (or collect other information) "which may be of use to a person planning an act of terrorism". That last bit would be very hard to prove and I can't see it ever getting to court. If the police had enough evidence of this then they would also have enough evidence for a far greater crime than taking a photograph.

Just about every case of police harassment of photographers has been an abuse of power - sometimes with Section 44 illegally used as the reasoning. In just about all cases reported, the police have issued an apology.

The police cannot confiscate your camera, film or memory card under this law - they need a court order for this. Also, they cannot delete an image or destroy your film. That would be destroying evidence which in itself is an illegal act.

Some perspective is needed here as you do not get to read or hear news reports of the thousands of photographers who managed to take pictures without incident.

On my next trip to Europe, I'll stay clear of Britain, that's for sure.

Posted by: Andre Moreau


To do my bit for our parlous economy, let me say that I've wandered around London week after week over this last year, taking photos of 'iconic' (ie, plug-ugly) skyscrapers, and have been bothered by the Filth only once - a constable came up and asked what I thought of Pentax's pancakes (the 21mm was on my K20D at the time). I'm sure all the reported incidents happened, but of course, you don't hear of those that, err, don't.

I'm sorry Steve, A poor use of words by me. I fully realise the it pertains to section 44, what I really meant is the stupid use of the law (in a genral sense) by certain officers. The bigger story to me is that you're four times more likely to be stopped under section 44 if you're black or asian, camera or not. They more than anybody should have filled that square because that really is something to worry about

I'm sure you know liberty has won a case against the government regarding section 44.

"The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Section 44 violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights."


Having been hassled by the Gang Unit of the local county PROBATION DEPT--not even the police (and I'm neither a gangster nor on probation) for no good reason while shooting, I'd like to see this happen here.

But it seems to me that while we Americans are always going on about "land of the free, home of the brave," we tend to meekly submit to govt intrusion on those freedoms, while people in other countries (i.e. France and Britain,as shown in the article) are more forthright about pushing back against such govt actions.

I would hate to think we are becoming the stereotypical "Good Germans" of the Third Reich period.....

It's called THE MARKETING OF FEAR, a very profitable business in this new Millennium, for the benefit of a plethora of security companies as well as politically poor politicians.

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