I was already composing a blog post of the clamping down on photographers by the authorities when I noticed a piece on this morning’s BBC breakfast news about a local, long-standing photographer arrested for photographing buildings in Elephant and Castle. Now I can understand the privately employed jobsworth security officer asserting his power over his little domain, be it a supermarket or so on but being arrested in a public place by the police seems to be venturing further into disturbing territory.
Having been unable to track the story down on the BBC News website, I eventually located it on the Independent website, where it highlights further examples of photographers being prevented from going about entirely law-abiding and proper activities, such as reporting a protest and snapping a passing steam train. These invariably result in apologies and inquiries from the authorities concerned, yet an increasingly prevalent precedent seems to becoming the norm.
The Register reported on clarification of legislation and police powers back in late December, however given the events reported on Tuesday it seems still further clarification and education of those working on the front line is required to ensure that civil liberties aren’t infringe unnecessarily by unwarranted terrorism fears.
Fortunately though, the law seems to be on our side still, with the Association of Chief Police Officers confirming that “Police officers may not prevent someone from taking a photograph in public unless they suspect criminal or terrorist intent. Their powers are strictly regulated by law and once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order. This applies equally to members of the media seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places”.
Indeed if you think about it, its some of the most sensitive areas where photography isn’t an issue at all. Camera laden tourists swarm around Westminster at all hours, while the only photography related announcement you hear on the London Underground – despite itself being the subject of terrorist attacks – is not to use your flash. Perspective seriously needs to be maintained and common sense needs to be central in the training of the police and security officers alike. If indeed someone did have ill intent, the chances are they’d use a tiny digital camera or all but universal phone camera that would never be noticed.
Photography shouldn’t be regarded suspiciously. Indeed in these days of reporting on your activities to the waiting online world its all the more common for photos to be taken in the most unusual, less extremely everyday occurrences. Photography records our time; it’s art and comment and an observer of history and culture. Britain is not a country where we should fear going about our jobs, hobbies or social lives, noe will be now. Stand fast, embrace your camera and continue.