UK Police seize amateur photographer's film


Pete says

The police in Hull, UK, seized this guy's film because he was taking photo's of 'sensitive material' in a city center. He was apparently taking pictures of people in an attempt to learn 'street photography' techniques - something I do all the time (albeit with digital). No real explanation was given apart from 'complaints made by the public'. After reading this, I'm tempted to get one of those wifi sd cards and send the photos online as I take them - much harder to confiscate then me thinks...
Excerpt from Amateur Photographer:
A spokeswoman for the force told Amateur Photographer: 'Camera film was seized by Humberside Police following a complaint from members of the public about photos being taken in the area of Prospect Centre, Hull. 'An investigation is now underway and we are aware of complaints made by the man [Steve Carroll] which will be thoroughly investigated.'


  1. It was a public street! How can someone complain about having photos taken of them in PUBLIC?!

    We’ve lost a LOT of rights in the US, but I didn’t know the UK was that much worse. There at least used to be a legal rule (IANAL) that one cannot have any expectation of privacy while in a public place. I thought this was fairly universal, and not restricted to the US.

  2. The state and provate businesses photograph and video us constantly – ‘there can be no expectation of privacy in a public place!’ That’s fair enough, but then they treat private individuals using cameras as terrorist suspects – effectively, in this case, but literally in plenty of others.

    I’d really like to do street photography myself, but haven’t built up sufficient nerve for reasons highlighted in this story.

    If you photograph a child in public, you’re a paedo; if you photograph a public building, you’re a terrorist.

    This society is scared of it’s own shadow.

  3. Yes– if you are legally allowed to VIEW it in a public street, then HOW can it be illegal to photograph it?

    Perhaps people with “photographic memory” should be arrested or at least severely restricted in their movements, lest they inadvertently see/photograph something they should not.

    In the US this idea of banning photography of public areas stems from terrorism paranoia– “a terrorist could photograph this building in preparation for bombing it!” But of course simply walking through the building, walking around it, measuring distances with paces, is probably enough to prepare any terrorist (to say nothing of simply buying photo-postcards of any public building, especially government buildings). To ban photography and NOT ban ALL OTHER viewing of place is (at the very least) hypocritical.

  4. After reading this, I’m tempted to get one of those wifi sd cards and send the photos online as I take them – much harder to confiscate then me thinks…

    oh wow, I completely missed until now that the Eye-Fi (2GB 802.11g SD card) is finally available (for $100).

  5. Stop and search is becoming a real issue in the UK at the moment, I recently heard of someone being stopped for ‘looking like they new something’ I swear to God.

    V! we need you!

    unicorn please

  6. Isn’t there a “no photos” ban of the big silver bean in Chicago’s Milennium Park? I thought they came up with some stupid restriction a few years ago so they could sell postcards.

    Anyone else remember that/can elaborate?

  7. A similar event happened to me in Boston. In 2004 while the DNC was happening I was on my way to work with my camera in hand. I saw a section of street that was taped off by the police. The bomb squad was instigating a suspicious bag underneath a mailbox. So I started taking pics. After they removed the bag one of them came over to me and asked me to come with him. He but me in the front seat of a suv with 5 cops standing around me asking me what I was doing. The head guy said if I don’t erase the pics he will have to take my memory card. So I erased them then went to work and recovered them.
    Here are two of the photos, just to stick it to them

  8. The Eye-fi is great for taking around-the-house type photos, or auto-uploading them when you get home, but according to their website:

    “…Uploads photos automatically from Eye-Fi Card inside your camera. Built-in Wi-Fi connects to your home network.”

    It also uses USB dongle connected to your computer. Effectively, you’d have to
    -have a laptop with you, and have it turned on and have the dongle plugged in.
    -hack the laptop so that it would stay awake with the cover closed, or at least keep the network active
    -be in an area with free and open wi-fi and have the computer set to auto-connect to it.

  9. Well, in the police officer’s defense, the document says the man was taking “pohotos” which as everyone knows are much more dangerous than “photos”, or even the original submitter’s “photo’s”.

  10. Stop and search is a bother in the UK. I was stopped and searched at my tube station when I was late for work. After asking why, they told me it was just training. Fair enough I thought since I suppose racial profiling needs to be taught.

    After everything was done and they checked my possessions etc, I asked if this stop would show up in any database. The police officer assured me that wouldn’t happen. That didn’t sound likely so I pressed them a bit and they tell me I would be flagged if a police officer looks me up. The kicker was that they did a terrorism training as well so it would show that I’d been stopped and searched because of terrorism suspicions. Lovely…

  11. @11 DeeJayQueue

    It also uses USB dongle connected to your computer.

    Are you saying that the card itself does not transmit with 802.11g? If so, that’s some seriously misleading marketing.

    Otherwise, I was thinking just be somewhere with open 802.11b/g (common in most cities), or have a mobile phone with 802.11 configured to act as an AP.

    Ideally this is actually what Bluetooth Personal Area Networks (PAN) are for — so that your Bluetooth camera can talk to your Bluetooth mobile phone and automatically upload to Flickr with timestamp and GPS coordinates in the EXIF data. But for whatever reasons implementors of Bluetooth are severely retarded and cannot imagine any use other than headsets. Where are the scatternets?!

  12. Yeah, the Eye-Fi Card is unfortunately not the answer. It’s basically a (questionably-useful) replacement for USB cables, not the magical device we’re looking for.

  13. The law in the UK is different than in the US. In the US, anything that can be seen in public or even in a private place that is normally accessible to the public, like a shopping mall, can be legally photographed.

    If you ARE on private property, like a mall, they can ask you to leave — and if you don’t, you’re trespassing — but it is still legal to take photographs.

    Cases like the “silver bean” in Chicago are no different. If you can see it, you can photograph it, period. When the new sculpture park here in Seattle opened, they had signs out saying you couldn’t photograph the Richard Serra piece “for copyright reasons”, but it was immediately pointed out to them that this was (a) stupid and (b) illegal, and the signs were removed. Any judge at all would throw out anything like that in two shakes.

    But the UK does not have a Bill of Rights, and they do not have some of the freedoms we take for granted.

  14. Well, I have overstated the law in the UK. For one thing, the law is different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But apparently it is not NORMALLY illegal to take photographs in any public place, and NORMALLY neither the police or anyone else can confiscate your film.

    However, the Official Secrets Act 1911 lists things you can’t photograph “where this might be useful to an enemy”, a phrase which is not well defined; and the even broader Terrorism Act 2000 prohibits photography “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing to commit an act of terrorism”, which unfortunately could be interpreted to mean pretty much everything; I mean, a terrorist might be planning to bomb a pub, so that photo showing where the tables are could be useful.

    That’s the situation in the UK: it’s up to the interpretation of the courts, and while it’s unsettled the police can screw around with you as much as they want.

    And of course in any country the police have the right to make your life difficult for a couple of hours for no reason at all.

    I gleaned all of this from the UK version of the Photographers’ Rights, at

  15. The eye-fi card uses 802.11; the dongle is just a plain sd-reader so you can configure the card. It’ll work on encrypted networks, but it won’t handle free wireless hotspots that bring up an “i agree” page you have to click on to get service. So, if there’s a compatible coffeeshop nearby, it looks like it would work… but I’ve never used one, so I’m not 100% sure.

  16. Reminds me of the guy who asked two officials at Paddington Station if he could take pictures – they told him he couldn’t for “security reasons”. Clearly they had never heard of Google (53,000 images) or Flickr (2,800 images) or Yahoo (11,600)…

  17. There is a Little Englander mentality in this country that is worse in the provinces than it is in London, and many people are naturally suspicious. We don’t need a police state as a lot of people would dob their neighbours in without prompting if they thought they were doing something that wasn’t normal.

    Then again, this being Hull, the complainant probably thought that the photographer was trying to steal her soul.

  18. @deejayqueue (11): you need to hack your laptop to get it to stay on when closed? On mine, I go something like power settings -> on close -> do nothing :)

  19. people do have a right to complain if they are having their photographs taken. perhaps if he was learning about photography he should have understood that it is best to ask people if they want, or the shops in the street their, photographs taken. A simple request to people would have been enough. Obviously the police have been rather heavy handed here, and as for sensitive material it is understandable as some shops regards their shop front designs, shop window displays, as sensitive information (I have been requested to stop after doing a piece in a shopping centre a few years back), to rival shops or companies.

    Some courtesy should have been shown by the photographer and some common sense by the police.

    If they person was trying to learn about street photography then do it on a quiet street, you have more time and can get better angles without Mrs Smith or Hitler getting in your shot with her/his/it’s bags of xmas stuff.

    Either than, go buy yourself a telescopic lense and find a rooftop. ;)

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