London cops declare war on photography

Thomas Hawk sez, "In what I can only view as troubling and a move surely to invite more backlash against photographers, London's Metropolitan police has launched a new counter-terrorism PR campaign complete with anti-photography propaganda. The campaign is meant to encourage people to turn in 'odd' seeming people that they see taking photographs."
"Thousands of people take photos every day," reads their advertisement being run in London's major newspapers. "What if one of them seems odd?"
Link (Thanks, Thomas!)


  1. Why does this remind me of some of the “report suspicious behaviour” posters seen in the background of the film “Children of Men”?

  2. Isn’t there a loophole whereby the Queen can seize the state and behead parliament? She certainly couldn’t do a worse job of running the country. It’s as if they’re deliberately trying to one-up the US in idiocy.

  3. How odd. London is filled with tourists, all taking picturs of everything. What a truly Kafka-esque poster. Is this real?

  4. if this is how the English wish to live, that is their choice.

    I wonder what they will do as photographing CCTV cameras becomes the next hot photography fad? If something as inane as train-spotting can catch on, surely a whole new subculture that rotates around documenting and collecting Big Brother paraphernalia could emerge.

    Now, where’s my Guy Fawkes mask?

  5. @ 3 Antinous
    Many a despot has thought that “If only I had total control I could get things done better than silly democracy can.” It’s a lie.

  6. but look at America!

    Those other posters are pretty…something. “Report all photographers to the secret police” “Denounce all your neighbours to the secret police”, “Report all cellphones to the secret police”

  7. #3

    The queen doesn’t run the country at all. No one really asks her opinion anymore, except for at christmas time, when she says her piece and then crawls back under her (fabulously oppulent) rock.

  8. Funny I just finished listening to a story about Shannen Rossmiller, terrorist hunter: This is probably old news to most of you, but after 9/11 this woman took the trouble to learn Arabic, join a bunch of chat rooms frequented by terrorists, and convince them that she was one too. The FBI was quite happy with her incognito snitching work, but the US army forced her to reveal her real identity and testify at one of her “friends” trials.

    Warning: this website contains a fair bit of self-promotion (but good news, no flash!)

    Now I don’t know if everyone should (or could) do this, but it seems more productive that ratting out “odd” people snapping pix…

  9. Ah, you Americans – you like to think you have a monopoly on Stupid. Sorry, we can do it just as well this side of the water.

  10. I beg to differ, I for one have always found British Stupidity to be better bred, more proper.

  11. I for one have always found British Stupidity to be better bred

    Yet another person who’s never spent a whole day in the Gatwick departure lounge.

  12. Not at all. “Odd” has a specific and precise meaning in the Security lexicon. It means “to exist”.

  13. Gatwick is technically not in England. It exists in “A” Space, that semi-mythic continuum that connects all “secure” airports everywhere.

  14. More to the point: What if they ARE odd?

    Maybe if we all just got together on taking responsibility for trying to get used to it…

  15. If the London police force wants reports of people taking pictures, acting “unusual” in their own homes, or using cell phones, then give them some. Better yet, give them lots. Put the number on speed dial and report EVERY person you see on a cell phone, using a digicam, or doing pretty much anything in their home. A couple dozen calls a day from a few thousand concerned citizens and they will probably change their tactics.

  16. they certainly are. I imagine the interrogation chambers are lined with them. The flecks of brain and hair along with the splashes of blood would blend right in.

  17. it’s not just cameras… see an odd house? phone em. see someone phoning too many people? phone em. then phone em to report yourself for phoneing em yourself. i dare say they’ll get quite a few calls…

  18. I like the part on one of the posters, “You can help make London a hostile place for terrorists.”

    Because if it’s a hostile place for everyone, then it is, by definition, a hostile place for terrorists.

  19. Really, it’s a brilliant anti-terrorist idea. If there’s nobody on the streets or in the shops, who are those zany terrorists going to blow up?

  20. Even more fun, is that they’re asking you to report people who are taking pictures of CCTV cameras.

    If only they had some sort of device, perhaps an automated one, that could observe people remotely… perhaps an entire network of visual recording devices that would work like television, that could be monitored by a government employee at a central location, all hooked up to a special circuit, a private one, “closed” if you will…

  21. Great looking posters. Very Target-esque.

    Seriously, this whole thing could be avoided with some strategic wiretapping.

  22. “Let experienced officers decide what action to take.” Looking at their past history, they’ll blow your brains out. But they’ll say that they’re sorry afterwards.

  23. I like Chip’s suggestion (“If the London police force wants reports of people taking pictures, acting “unusual” in their own homes, or using cell phones, then give them some. Better yet, give them lots.”) but I would implement that in a different way: Get out there on the street looking as ODD as possible and snap away. I’m going to dress is Little Bo Peep!

  24. So now Britin is calling themselves terroists?
    People should seriously report those CCTV cameras as suspicious. Maybe they’d get the hint at their own hypocracy.

    Don’t you see, “odd” is carefully crafted word that could mean anything. shady, running, heavy clothing, brown…

  25. And what kind of experience do these officers have? Is there a legion of badged photo experts somewhere in a basement in London? I think not.

  26. Surely by now everyone has figured out what’s going on right? So why are you making jokes and pretending that big pile of shit isn’t really there? I understand the anxiety, the fear and that laughing about it is one way to cope but it won’t save you from what’s coming.

  27. Whomever said the Queen has no power is quite incorrect.

    Although she obviously has very little to do with the day-to-day operations of the government, she does meet with the Prime Minister on a regular basis. (What occurs during those meetings is famously unknown, although it’s fair to say that the opinions of the Queen do indeed carry considerably weight).

    Likewise, since the Queen very rarely makes her political opinions publicly known, she is taken quite seriously when she chooses to do so.

    Numerous odd powers are also still directly reserved for the monarch, and should the parliamentary government start acting egregiously against the will of the public and the crown, the reigning monarch almost certainly has the power to “put on the brakes.” The British people also tend to hold an extremely high level of respect and loyalty for the Queen, which would make it extremely difficult for the government to act directly in defiance of the monarch.

  28. Numerous odd powers are also still directly reserved for the monarch

    She can, in some circumstances, dissolve parliament or prevent it from being dissolved. That’s a pretty big stick.

  29. I the entire royal line were to be killed all in one go, where would they get another one?

  30. There are hundreds, even thousands waiting for the throne. I can’t believe that you don’t own the Almanach de Gotha.

  31. I just wrote the London police a note on their comment page that said,

    “So you want the people of London to report tourists for taking pictures, spy on their neighbors, and count telephones? The London police’s response to terroism is to keep the citizens in fear? That’s just nuts. The terrorists have won.”

  32. Wow, way to show them RoboProf. I bet they are shivering in their fascist boots, terrified of the next missive.

  33. Uh, roboprof, perhaps you could provide an appropriate link? It seems that additional comments might be forthcoming….

  34. I actually have a copy of Debrett’s Peerage. It’s in storage somewhere. The Royal Line of Succession is a bit closer to hand.

  35. Is it just me or does every day seem that little bit closer to 1984?

    Hell I wouldn’t be surprised if the only thing he got wrong was the year. 2084? 2064? 2024?

    Just wait till they start putting similar posters in schools encouraging kids to dob in their parents and family friends for suspicious behavior! Convert them young! Believe in the party!

    War is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is Strength

  36. So everyone is calling and reporting all the suspicious behavior they see, right?

    Why do faux-government pork projects like this go through? Who is electing these corrupt leaders?

  37. Great, I’ma fricking terrorist. I take a lot of photos and (you wouldn’t believe) switch SIM cards on my cell phone. SIM cards were never meant to be taken out of cell phones, only terrorist would do that (and people whose cell phone battery died.. terrorists!) They forgot to mention people with several cameras.

    I suggest to continue this line of posters in the following manner:

    Thousands of people have brains. What if one of them thinks suspiciously ? Terrorists rely on using brains to terrorize. Report that smart-pants to police and let experienced officers who couldn’t pass a test to get into a good school decide what to do.

    Thousands of people use toilets every day. What if one of them smells suspicious? Terrorists rely on taking multiple smelly dumps to get toxical chemicals used for bomb-making out of their bodies. If it smells like someone is taking a dump, we need to know. Let the experienced officers decide what to do.

    Millions of people have sex. What if some of them sound weird ? Terrorists rely on sex to multiply and transmit terrorism sexually. If you hear sex, we need to know. Report your loud neighbors now, and let experienced officers decide what to do.


    And I thought “If you hear something, say something” was annoying…

  38. What happens when people get tired of being on alert? One, they go to sleep – or two; they alleviate the boredom and fear.

    Constantly fatiguing people with this kind of thing guarantees they will MAKE something happen.

    Or is that the idea?

  39. It’s not the odd-seeming photographers you need to be worried about. It’s that odd-seeming police call box that keeps materializing everywhere.

  40. I think this is probably making a mountain out of a molehill. The tube (which, judging from the typography, which where this poster is from) and buses have had “be alert – suspicious packages” posters as long as I’ve been using it (20 years). Having left a bag of groceries on a tube one day during the height of the IRA bombing campaign, I called them up as soon as I realised, on the basis that I didn’t want them to shut the line down on my account. They were totally blase, “right, thanks for letting us know, if you pop back tonight you should be able to pick it up at the ticket office – we’ll get someone to pick it up at the end of the line.”

    Point being, just because they’ve put the posters up doesn’t mean anything about what they do with the eager beaver paranoid Daily Mail readers who actually report people. I suspect they get “thank-you very much for your help” *pat pat pat* “now run along…” , heavy sigh and a roll of the eyes. London and UK police are well aware of the ratio of false alarms to genuine reports.

  41. @ 63 Takuan – Are you suggesting there is an organized plan behind all this and that the slow arc from free society to repressive dictatorship is deliberate? Why, that would mean that the British and American governments have been planning this for years and we know that can’t possibly be true.

  42. I have sat in the councils of the moneyed and connected. They don’t make conspiracy. They prosecute economics.

  43. hathathathat!

    “Now the question is, should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that may have helped save American lives be thanked for performing a patriotic service; should those who stepped forward to say we’re going to help defend America have to go to the courthouse to defend themselves, or should the Congress and the President say thank you for doing your patriotic duty? I believe we ought to say thank you.”

    bush on telcoms

  44. Noen wrote in #54

    “Wow, way to show them RoboProf. I bet they are shivering in their fascist boots, terrified of the next missive.”

    The reversal of a bad policy usually requires complaints to those responsible. Somebody at the Metropolitan police will read what I had to say and, perhaps, note the complaint. Mine alone will have negligble effect, but thousands of such complaints might.

    Thank you for pointing out, M, that I had neglegected to include the URL. Here it is:

  45. If this were a tube campaign, it would be a London Transport Police poster. It’s not. It’s a Met poster, intended for widespread dissemination across London.

  46. Creepy. So 1984…

    When I travel abroad I take photos of monuments but I also enjoy taking photos of more “unusual” views, like dark and dirty alleys, power stations, underground facilities, industrial complexes and so.

    I´m and “odd” photographer. Report Me.

  47. #47 – another random power is that all wild swans in the UK belong to the monarch.

    “The mute swan has been a royal bird since at least 1186 and was formally assigned royal status in the Act of Swans in 1482. Under the act, any other owners of swans were required to mark their property by way of a succession of nicks in the birds beaks.

    Today, the Queen still has ownership of all swans in the UK except in one small corner of the British Isles – the Orkney Isles.”

    There are a few institutions that retain a royal permission to serve swan at annual feasts, otherwise it can’t be eaten.

  48. I’m not a terrorist, but the boingboing readership’s pretty diverse, so I’ll comment anyway, and rely on somebody telling me I’m wrong.

    If I were a terrorist casing out a location I’d be worried that my recon would look rather suspicious. I would be careful not to take photos that would make me look suspicious. I won’t take a photo of a camera, but I might take a photo of my friend who is standing next to the pole with the camera on it. If I don’t want to implicate my friend if the photos were to be found, I’m sure I could still find a way to get the photos without arousing suspicion.

    Even then, do terrorists need photos of cameras? I can see why it would be useful — for example, you might want to take the shots to an expert who can advise on what the camera is likely to be recording, field of vision, and so on — but the location and aim of a camera could easily be marked on a map and noted for future reference. And scribbling on a notepad doesn’t have to look suspicious at all!

    Oh, and won’t most people taking photos of security cameras show up on security camera footage?

    So is this sort of thing likely to provide useful intelligence? Or is it just another stunt in security theatre?

  49. Here it comes, wait for it….

    “If You Haven’t Done Anything Wrong, You Have Nothing To Hide.”

  50. hehe – the much-hated Traffic Warden also uses a digital camera to take photos of people parked in places they shouldn’t be.

    Should we report them all too? :)

  51. SCARY. I can’t help but think that the actual terrorists must be falling down laughing over this.

  52. Terrorists with cameras? It’s all making sense now – terrorists killed Diana! OMG!

    I am minded to start a website to curate a photographic database of every CCTV camera in the UK. Killer app!

  53. Can I have some proof that this is real, please? I just can’t see the British government doing this. This is just too 1984 to be real.

  54. Jeff,
    I would think that the official police website would be proof enough. Click on the link given in the article.

  55. @61: Romwell, was this the sort of thing you had in mind?

    Image link here.

    Mirror it if you wish, I declaim all authority and responsibility.

  56. Oh, and incidentally, this reminds me of one of the best ways ever to take photographs of subjects without being seen to.
    In the introduction to Manwatching, Desmond Morris talks about how he took photos of people without them suspecting: He stuck a right angle prism on the end of the camera lens, so that what he was actually photographing was at 90 degrees to what the camera was pointing at.
    Apparently no-one ever twigged to what he was doing.

    Terrorists could easily use similar measures…
    Better ban prisms. No-one needs to make rainbows anymore, do they?

  57. No mention of this in the ACPO directive:

    The Association of Chief Police Officers has guidelines for officers when dealing with the media.
    They state:

    1 Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and we have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record.

    2 We should actively help them carry out their responsibilities provided they do not interfere with ours.

    3 It is a matter for their editors to control what is published or broadcast, not the police.

    4 Once images are recorded, we have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order even if we think they contain damaging or useful evidence.

    5 Where it is necessary to put cordons in place, it is much better to provide the media with a good vantage point from which they can operate rather than to exclude them, otherwise they may try to get around the cordons and interfere with police operations.

  58. It seems that the main point of this campaign to get people not to take matters into their own hands, but call the police when they are suspicious.

    This will probably just free up some time for London’s policemen so they don’t have to deal with all these paranoid members of the public in person.

    If they wanted to arrest photographers they would tell you to call 999, not a freephone number.

    There’s been posters like this in the UK since the IRA conflict in the 1970’s.

    Here’s some examples: Link

  59. Most of the professional photographers I know are quite odd, even bizarre.

    These posters are disgusting. Expect them in the US any day now.

  60. I really think that the UK is missing out on a huge opportunity to become a bigger player in the world. It seems to me that their best chance of staying relevant is to become a center for culture, technology and creativity. I seem to notice more and more British influence online and in my own interests.

    Sadly, the type of people who are required for this type of stuff don’t want to live in “1984”.

  61. Any real brit can stand up and correct me for the following, but:

    I had the impression that the British have a sense of resolve, in part due to WW2, that basically says the country will survive most anything. After the subway bombings, the response seemed to be “meh, you’ll have to do better than that.” Which to me sounded a very healthy attitude to take towards terrorism.

    And I wonder if it’s exactly this attitude that frightens the cops across the pond into thinking they’re lording over a bunch of dumb sheep.

  62. I think it’s only fair…if they can take photos of me without my consent with the CCTV, then I can take photos of them taking photos of me!!!

  63. So has anyone yet created a Flickr or Panoramio group for photos of CCTV cameras? That sounds like a reasonable way to go forward.

  64. @Krylon – You’re quite right. I remember several hours after the attacks, a site sprang up dubbed (which is now gone, but it was along those lines) showing thousand pictures of resolved, laughing, happy Britons who were indeed not afraid.
    For one thing, we’ve been through worse. And in the Blitz, the response was the same. We will endure, we will persevere. And we do. Even now our currency is still the strongest in the world. Even the mighty Euro, backed by a consortium of many many countries still has a lower value than the Pound Sterling. What’s a few measly bombs?
    And of course, it is simply not British. We are stoic, polite and courteous, even when it comes to violent attacks. We just quietly and efficiently get on with tending to the deceased and injured, clearing up the mess and then ensure it never ever happens again.

    I do not mean to demean the loss of life in the bombings and past events but it is the attitude of Britain to never surrender even when our nearest and dearest have been taken from us. It just makes us fight harder.

  65. Sir Ian Blair will announce a Camera Amnesty next week, to keep these dangerous devices out of the hands of the public.

  66. Odd geography of the campaign. London yes, Newcastle no. Manchester yes, Liverpool no, Birmingham yes, Bristol no.

    Maybe it’s a plot by the East Anglian, Cornish and Cumbria tourist boards.

    “Come to Cumbria, take all the pictures you want!”

  67. If a photographer snap a shot on someone’s ass, does it means odd? Anyhow, it’s a dog ass because it’s farking.

    My name is Im Odd :)



    Terrorist cells infiltrate all ranks of life to help plan attacks. If you see an officer behaving strangely, document the situation with your camera phone, and send us pictures or video.

    If the officer objects he’s probably a terrorist.

    Good police got nothing to hide!

  69. So the question is – is taking photographs of CCTV cameras illegal in any way?

    What if a photographer were to take images of surveiillance cameras all over town, for whatever reason, or none?

    If it is not illegal then the bobbies would be wasting their time interviewing people and have no basis for holding them or restraining them

  70. I’m not current with the relevant law, but I do believe the British government can do absolutely anything they wish to you for as long as they wish in the name of anti-terror. Photographing CCTV cameras could ruin your life. If they want to.

  71. So,once again it is apparent that too many police are traitors working hand in glove with private business interests.

  72. LOL. I am not about to Vacation in London. I can see it now. I am taking some photos of historic sites while jotting down the time, place, and subject of my photos. Suddenly I am tackled to the ground by an anti-terrorist unit, hauled of to jail and questioned under bright lights for 72 hours.

    Yeah think I will Vacation in France this year.

  73. The irony and idiocy is just too grand. The surveillance state that takes your picture 24/7 fears you taking a picture of it while it is simultaneously too effete to notice you taking a picture of it. Thus it resorts to increased levels of Stasiesque behavior that calls for more surveillance.

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