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Sunday, 1 February 2009

New Law in the UK May Make it Illegal to Photograph the Police After February 16th

“According to the British Journal of Photography, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which is set to become law on February 16, “allows for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone who takes pictures of officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.” The punishment for this offense is imprisonment for up to ten years and a fine.However, even before the passage of the legislation, police in Britain have already been harassing and arresting fully accredited press photographers merely for taking pictures of them at rallies and protests.”In the UK, the section of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that deals with this is in section 76, where it states that it will now be a crime to “elicit, publish or communicate” information about members of armed forces etc.

From the legislation:

“(1) A person commits an offence who—

(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been—

(i) a member of Her Majesty’s forces,

(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or

(iii) a constable,”

While I’m still not exactly 100% sure what “ellicting and publishing information” about members of the police might entail, I could certainly see the issue being raised where an officer was identifiable, perhaps even with their name on their uniform. In any event, it certainly would seem to give the police more ammunition, so to speak, to be able to use when asking photographers not to photograph them.
This legislation would appear to be yet another chilling move by the UK in encouraging harassment of photographers. Last year you might remember that the London Metropolitan Police launched a very public advertising campaign asking people to turn in “odd” looking photographers.Retaining our rights to photograph the police is important. Whether the Rodney King case or the more recent case of BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle’s killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, it is important that as citizens we be allowed to record the day to day activities of our police officers. Police officers wield an incredible amount of power over the general citizenry in our day to day lives. Being able to record their activities (as certainly they record ours) is an important right and power in ensuring that they handle their own power with the responsibility with which they should.This law in the UK is unfortunate. It further muddies the water for what photographers can and can’t photograph with regards to the police and further paves the way for police officers to harass photographers. While the law seems to be targeted towards people who would photograph the police with the intention of using it for terrorism, I could easily see how it could be used by any police officer to try and stop photographers from photographing them. I would much rather have seen wording in this legislation that specifically said that regular citizens have every and all rights to photograph the police at any time.


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