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Terrorist or Photographer? Know Your Rights

Posted by Matt on April 17th, 2008 filed in Digital Photography Hints & Tips, Photographers Rights, Urban Photography

The BBC reports that a number of amateur photographers in England are increasingly harassed by the police and other officials whenever they take photos, even though they are within their rights to do so. Police are stopping people, asking them to delete the photos and cautioning them based on what is perceived as ‘suspicious activity’, generally to do with an increased atmosphere of fear around terrorism and pedophilia. The people stopped are mostly within their rights, taking photos in public spaces, but for most of us being approached by an officer of the law – or someone who looks officious – is enough to make us question our own right to do something. Turning an enjoyable, creative hobby into something that makes you fearful is not what we would expect from a proper democracy, even if it is ‘for our own good’. Surely if we had more normal citizen ‘journalists’ wandering around taking photos, then we’d more likely be able to catch people actually doing something suspicious? As you’d have nice, clear, well taken photos instead of grainy ‘is it actually a person?’ CCTV footage – but I digress.

So what can we do as photographers? Well firstly, know your rights. In an earlier post we covered the basics of photographers’ rights to take photos outdoors. Basically in most situations you are allowed to take photos if you are in a public space, as long as you are not harassing people – and even then no-one goes around arresting the paparazzi for that, much to the dismay of most celebrities. The second approach is starting to get taken up in the UK, with MPs raising questions in the UK as to this new form of police harassment – and photographer’s groups starting to run campaigns to inform the public of their rights to take photos. All good news for British citizens, as if we lose the freedom to enjoy our lives then the terrorists have already won.

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