The primary concern is always the safety of the public.

they're coming

they're coming

19/07/2009. Around 23.17. On the way back from the pub. On my bicycle. Front and back lights on. Thought it might be an interesting to get some pictures of Chatham High Street after dark. Given my recent encounter with council officials and the police I wanted to check out if the local community would be as equally protected from suspected terrorism by night as it would be by day. I was not disappointed. Perhaps you won’t be either.

Once again taking pictures in the vicinity of Mick’s Plaice. This time a police car and two WPCs. What are you doing? Taking pictures. Why? It’s a hobby. Have you got some ID. This time I produced some. I didn’t want to get arrested again nor involve the police in another complaint.  Had I been arrested before? Yes I replied, just last week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Stern looks as you might expect. One WPC went off to make the radio checks. The other asked to see the pictures I’d taken.  I show the officer the pictures. I’m shooting digital tonight. Would I be arrested if I had not produced ID? Probably was the reply. Now is the time perhaps you might be feeling reassured.

Colleague returns. Are you still planning mass action in the high street on the 15th? A photo walk maybe. Why are you asking? Just some background checks. Turn your lights off you’re wasting batteries. No problem. I’ll leave them on.  We say our goodbyes and go our seperate ways.

Sleep easy in the knowledge that Kent police  are extremely vigilant and their primary concern is always the safety of the public.

Yeah. I know. You might think I’m an arse. You might say I provoked the encounter. CCTV cameras picked me up. Perhaps a call was made. Someones taking pictures in the High Street. It’s late at night.  No problem we’re in the area we’ll check it out. Better to be safe than sorry. I show them ID believing I’ll be arrested if I don’t.  I don’t have to but I know from prior experience the consequences if I don’t.

Should someone with a camera taking pictures openly in a public place be considered a threat? Perhaps they should. How far should preventative measures be taken? Is this far enough? Perhaps cameras should be treated like guns and you have to have a licence to own one with tight restrictions on where and how you use it. Perhaps mobile phones with cameras should be banned. Perhaps video’s made in public should all be vetted. Perhaps compulsory ID cards should be introduced. What price are you willing to pay to be reassured against a supposed threat to your safety?

I won’t bother with the pictures. I’ve got them but they’re all blurred. I should have used a tripod. Maybe next time I’ll bring one along. I changed my mind.

they're going

they're going


  1. It is quite amazing isn’t it.
    Medway council ask for photos for a competition yet if people dare take any, the are line line for this kind of thing.
    All over the place are CCTV cameras watching us and filming us 24/7 yet should WE get a camera out, there is a chance of getting the third degree.
    It seems that if there is nothing better to do, then to stop a photographer seems a good idea to assert some kind of authority!
    Considering it is a “legal right” NOT to give ones name and address unless under suspicion for something, why is it we now have to worry about being arrested for excersizing that right?
    Turn your lights off, your wasting batteries? I disagree, THEY were wasting the batteries, along with your time.
    As I keep saying, I have no problem with the police in general as I know many good coppers, but this kind of scenario is becoming way to common.
    Google earth shows areal views of the whole country and can give accurate measurements to key places.
    Yet a guy with the camera is seen as a threat?

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  3. I find the comment;- Are you still planning a mass action slightly worrying. Why should that be link to your id records?
    Surly a better link to your records would have been a big note saying remember not to arrest any photographers.

    Perhaps it was just a quiet night?

  4. ‘Had I been arrested before? Yes I replied, just last week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.’
    Had you been arrested before what? This encounter is worrying; you have been stopped and asked to provide identification. You have provided the required information and before doing anything else, like checking your details, the matter of arrest is raised – for no legitimate reason at this stage. Also the question has a veiled implication that you are at that moment under arrest (which you were not), or soon to be.
    Alex, you haven’t posted the stop and search form this time (did you get one?) – what Act was this being carried out under? S44 Terrorism 2000 again? Or wasn’t this mentioned?

  5. Hi Richard. No stop and search form issued. No reference made to any legislation. I never gave it much thought until you mentioned it. I’m guessing because I cooperated they never felt the need formalise the incident.

  6. “Have you been arrested before…?”
    “Are you still planning mass action…?”

    Those are threats, barely veiled.

    “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face. For ever.”
    George Orwell – 1984.

  7. From my vantage point here in the states, I was surprised to hear the officer referred to the planned “photo walk”. Do the criminal background databases in the UK do this kind of cross-referencing? I can certainly understand a confirmation of your previous dust-up, but information about other activities? Sounds quite Big-Brotherish to me.

    Best of luck in resolving your situation, and to all photographers in the UK.


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  8. Oops sorry should read

    to carry out a course of action to cause harrassment ( two or more events will do it) is an offence!

  9. Very well said Phil.

    I think people should bear in mind the following poem and them consider standing up for photographers, even if they are not one themselves. The same goes for all groups or individuals who suffer discrimination, bullying or oppression.

    “In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

    And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

    And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

    And then… they came for me… And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
    by Martin Niemöller

  10. I’m not clear exactly which Section/Act you were arrested for the first time, since I don’t think Obstruction is a Section 44 Offence.

    The “refusal to give name and address is a reasonable grounds for suspicion” stuff from the Chief Constable is sinister.

  11. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face. For ever.”
    George Orwell – 1984. How true is that becoming!

  12. Have you considered the possibility that perhaps the building (or nearby building) you are taking a picture of holds a secret, which is causing the police to be interested in you when they spot you there taking pictures? You could, of course, test this theory by seeing if they care to respond when you are taking pictures in full view of a CCTV somewhere else in the area. What they are doing is wrong and not legal, but something about it smells funny as well like there is more to the story than meets the eye.

  13. I’ve absolutely no idea where I’ve been to have missed your story, Alex. My RSS reader didn’t have it, and I don’t seem to have picked up any of the references at the BJP and everywhere else. You are all over the internet! I can only blame the lure of the darkroom and my stream therein of obscure radio stations.

    Can I do a brief Q&A with you on my blog? Email you?

  14. Thank you for your e-mail of 30/06/2009 to the Home Secretary about photography in public places. I have been asked to reply on his behalf.

    There are two issues that have been the subject of recent media attention regarding photography in public. It may be helpful if I explain the law in this area before commenting on the specific case that you raise about photography around the Olympic Park site in Stratford.

    First concerns have been expressed about the stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Section 44 enables the police to stop and search anyone within an authorised area for the purposes of searching for articles of a kind that could be used in connection with terrorism. The powers do not require a reasonable suspicion that such articles exist. This is a useful power but it is also a very wide ranging one and concerns have been raised that the power is being used to stop people taking photographs within authorised areas – whether this is photographs of buildings or people – and that cameras are being confiscated and images deleted as part of such searches.

    I would like to be absolutely clear, that section 44 does not prohibit the taking of photographs. The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) issued revised guidance on the use of section 44 in November last year which made it clear that the power does not stop the taking of photographs in an authorised area and that the police should not prevent people from taking pictures using these powers. The police may, of course, stop and search someone who is taking photographs within an authorised area just as they may stop and search any member of the public but the powers should not be targeted at photographers.

    The second issue concerns the new offence at section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 which was inserted by section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. This makes it an offence to elicit, or attempt to elicit, or publish or communicate information about an individual who is, or has been, a constable or a member of the armed forces or intelligences services. The information must be of a kind that is likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing acts of terrorism.

    It has been suggested that this new offence could criminalise people taking or publishing photographs of police officers. Whilst a photograph of a police officer may potentially fall within the scope of this offence it might only do so in a very limited set of circumstances. This offence is designed to capture terrorist targeting activity directed at members of the protected groups – which sadly we know does occur. The offence might, therefore, be committed where someone provides a person with information about the names and addresses and details of car registration numbers of persons in the protected groups. The important thing here is that the photographs would have to be of a kind which are likely to provide practical assistance to terrorists – and the person taking or providing the photograph would have to have no reasonable excuse for doing so such as responsible journalism.

    Therefore the offence would not – capture an innocent tourist taking a photograph of a police officer, or a journalist photographing police officers as part of his or her job. It does not criminalise the normal taking of photographs of the police. Police officers do have the discretion to ask people not to take photographs for public safety or security reasons but the taking of photographs in a public place is not subject to any rules or statute. There are no legal restrictions on photography in a public place and there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.

    The Home Office is in the process of drafting a circular to all police forces on the new offence setting out the policy intentions behind it and making clear that it does not criminalise legitimate photographic or journalistic activity. This circular will be discussed with interested parties before it is issued.

    It is worth noting in this context that there are two safeguards built into the statute. First, all prosecutions for the offence must be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions and second, it is a defence for a person to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their actions.

    You also raise the specific point about taking photographs around the site of the Olympic park construction site at Stratford. On site security is principally a matter for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the public body responsible for Olympic venue construction. In response to the incident that you describe, ODA issued the following public statement which is quoted in the article which you enclose:

    ‘Filming and photography of the site from public highways and areas around the Olympic Park is permitted. However our security guard team reserve the right to talk to anyone they believe may be taking photos or footage of any security operations. This is part of the ODA’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the Olympic Park.”

    As you point out, photographs of the Stratford site are available on the internet, as with many other locations with a high public profile. However, photos of specific security-related features of a site such as the guarding arrangements may be less commonly available, and may be of use to terrorists and criminals. It is therefore reasonable that security staff will challenge people who appear specifically to be trying to photograph such features.

    I hope that this is helpful, and if you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us.

    Richard Worth

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