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Feb 16, 2009: Protest Your Rights as a British Photographer

Posted by Matt on February 15th, 2009 filed in Digital Photography Hints & Tips, News, Photographers Rights, Urban Photography

Tomorrow, Monday February 16th 2009, a peaceful protest is arranged for outside Scotland Yard in London. This protest is in response to the newly enacted amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, an amendment that makes it possible for people who photograph police officers in public places to be jailed for up to ten years! There’s more info on this act over at the British Journal of Photography, and it’s something that has a lot of professional news photographers worried – let along those of us who just like taking photos for fun.

Realistically, the law is set up to enhance police stop powers when they see someone acting suspiciously – ie, taking photos of a public location considered to be a terrorist target. However there are now specific clauses that enabled police to stop and question photographers who take their photos while carrying out their duties. Most journalistic photographers worth their salt won’t be discouraged from carrying out their job, however those of us who are not used to being harassed may find this all a bit much. Personally if a Police officer came up to me after I’d taken a photo just because I wanted to, I’d be hugely nervous, especially with this new law in place and the onus of ‘prove your innocence’ it puts on the photographer. Of course the government doesn’t have this requirement as they constantly video us on CC TV going about our daily business – but then that’s for our ‘protection’… and not really an excuse to put less police on the street. I mean, obviously, if I’m being attacked on the street then the thought that there are no police around but that the CC TV footage will help catch my attacker is scant comfort!

Imbalance aside, my biggest issue with this approach is the lack of realism. Out of all the people who take photos in public spaces, the number of potential wrong-doers, terrorists or whatever is minimal. A 0.000001% level or less for sure. Think about this though.. if everyone is taking photos then the chances of one of those photos capturing a wrong-doer is high. Conversely, if those in ‘power’ are abusing their position (Rodney King, anyone?) then we need citizen journalists to report on this. CC TV is no help here, in all honesty I do not believe that if the Police were under severe investigation for malfaisance then I suspect the CCTV footage would go AWOL – much as the BBC’s footage of the day has mysteriously disappeared. There are just too many people who want to, unsurprisingly, protect their jobs.

So, for those of you in the London area tomorrow with some free time on your hands – head down to Scotland Yard and make your voice heard. It’s a peaceful protest, for peaceful reasons to protect our rapidly eroding personal freedoms.

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