UK Home Secretary green-lights harassment of photographers in public places

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58 Responses to “UK Home Secretary green-lights harassment of photographers in public places”

  1. hbobrien says:

    #18:

    “Wow, people (especially Cory) are reading way to much into this. Shrilling to the extreme.”

    To my ear, that sounds very much like the response of someone who doesn’t believe they’ll be affected, therefore thinks anybody who does is a nutter.

    Um, no.

    Having recently been on the receiving end of harassment in innocuous circumstances for photography, and having then seen (just in the last two weeks) more of this kind of attitude appearing out of nowhere… It’s very worrying to me.

    Let alone, I just don’t understand where the threat is to the people who feel threatened. That is, even if you ascribe the worst possible motives to the photographer, just what is it the photographer is supposed to do with their ill-gotten photonic imprint?

    Ah, if only the LAPD had this rule working for them in 1991, think of how much inconvenience could have been avoided by making George Holliday’s videotape illegal.

  2. bolamig says:

    Is there any sort of FAQ on what a cop can require of people, beyond compliance with the law. I’ve long thought that cops can’t require people to do things other than comply with the law. They can ask people to do things (e.g. give up fifth amendment rights), but not require them.

    But yet there are times when cops can require things of people beyond compliance with the law. E.g. when a cop at the scene of a crime says “move along” to someone standing in an otherwise public space, I think that’s more than asking… that’s a situation where the cop requires an action and disobedience would be illegal.

    Here’s an example from my life. A person who lives near me accidentally swiped my parked car while driving home. He parked his car on the public street outside his house, and I later went and took pictures of the damage to his car, to support my case against them. I was standing in a public area when I took the pictures. That person complained to the police that I was “harrassing” them, and the police then told me that I am not to go photographing his car on the street again.

    Now, I think this request on the part of the police is illegal because there’s no public safety need for me to avoid that public area… the request was made simply because the officer thought that would help defuse the situation.

    Does anyone have a pointer to what cops can and can’t require of people, beyond compliance with the law?

  3. Elvis Pelt says:

    #18:

    “I can think of a few cases in which that decision is perfectly reasonable: a crime scene, traffic accident, fire, or other public safety hazard.”

    Could you explain your reasoning as to how a law-abiding citizen taking a photograph would be inappropriate in these situations?

    Thanks.

  4. Jacques says:

    I don’t know, if that’s not the definition of a police state, I don’t know what is. The cops get to decide if you’re breaking the law. I dodged a bullet when I decided against moving to the UK about 10 years ago.

  5. Simon Bradshaw says:

    Tubman@44; I’d like to see a clear and firm policy directive from the Home Office directing Chief Constables that restrictions on public photography must only ever be narrow, brief and based on the strongest grounds!

    (In other words, I don’t think I or anyone else should need a mechanism. But for now we might, and the Home Secretary’s letter points to how one might if need be use Judicial Review for that purpose.)

  6. Elvis Pelt says:

    #18:
    “I can think of a few cases in which that decision is perfectly reasonable: a crime scene, traffic accident, fire, or other public safety hazard.”

    If you wouldn’t mind, could you please explain why you think a law-abiding citizen taking a photograph should be illegally prohibited from doing so in these cases?

    Thanks.

  7. Elvis Pelt says:

    Sorry about the double post, some kinda weird lag-like thing going on.

    xxoo

  8. C0nt1nu1ty says:

    I smell a letter writing campaign, a .gov petition and a lot of angry yelling by photographers

    whos with me?

  9. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Elvis – If you really have to ask, please think about it a little more. Especially on the law-abiding part.

    When you have a traffic accident or fire in urban areas, people will actually stand in the road to snap pics of whatever gore is visible. Police sometimes have to get them to move back so emergency crews can work. Digital cameras and mobile devices make this even more widespread among would-be journalists… a.k.a. bloggers.

    As for the “professionals”: some of the more reckless elements of the news industry have been known to cross police lines at a crime scene to try and get a scoop. Once again, the response from the home office was directed at a union of journalists. They know who they are talking to.

    HBOBrian – you were harrased for taking pictures? Well, maybe you were dealing with a bad cop. Make some noise about it where it matters. Locally.

    You’re missing two big things here: First of all, no one said that cops don’t make mistakes when they stop people from taking pictures. The home office didn’t say it, and I didn’t say it. The home office is making it clear the problems (be it with cops or otherwise) are individual LOCAL issues, not national policy. They are going on record as saying there is no national policy.

    There seem to be quite a few people here thinking there is one. I wonder if the incorrect headline has anything to do with it? If anything, I’m pointing out sensationalism and inaccuracy in Cory’s blogging. It could be a full time job, but I already have one.

    Rodney King? If the LA cops had gotten their hands on that videotape, it would have disappeared. You and I both know that. However, bad cops being wrong doesn’t change laws. Nothing short of legislature and an improbable decision from a high court could make taking pictures in public illegal.

  10. glebaron says:

    Jacqui Smith’s email address is posted on her web site at:
    http://www.jacquismithmp.co.uk/b5f63202-9d88-93f4-c132-ec17b494e203?PageId=e610dae8-9c68-cd94-c1f7-b60ecac33f33

    As a (no longer) potential tourist I’m planning to let her know how I feel about this.

  11. mdhatter says:

    I’m pointing out sensationalism and inaccuracy in Cory’s blogging. It could be a full time job,…

    Personal Foul! 5 yards!

    The rest of your post is great though.

  12. thoog says:

    What a disgusting and utterly shameless attempt at buck passing and question dodging. Never in my life have I see a more reprehensible show of moral cowardice on the part of a government official. If this Smith creature is so spineless that it attempts to load the weight of what should be a Cabinet-level decision upon the shoulders of the local bobby, then it should be immediately thrown out of office and drummed out of the human race. This announcement of Smith’s is my candidate for the prize of most nauseatingly craven statement ever issued in the history of the English language.

  13. Alan Clifford says:

    My letter from the Home Office, via my MP, was much more explicit. Apparently it is to protect children.

    http://www.clifford.ac/~alan/HomeOfficePhotographyLetter.jpg

    Alan Clifford

  14. mgfarrelly says:

    Silly people, if they made a law about it people could CHALLENGE that law. They could hold their elected officials ACCOUNTABLE for such laws. What good would that be?

    These decisions are best left to nervous and paranoid public servants to enforce on a case by case basis as they see fit. I’m positive that they will balance personal freedoms with public safety in every case with as little oversight as possible.

    I also believe in gnomes.

  15. JJMS says:

    Honestly every time I see a story about this I am absolutely floored by the absolute stupidity and incompetence reflected in such statements. I simply cannot believe that seemingly intelligent and supposedly capable people think that it is right for INDIVIDUAL POLICE OFFICERS to have officially sanctioned authority over what a persons rights may or may not be at any given moment. This is like saying that individual police officers may, at their discretion, decide what the speed limit is. You won’t know when its 80 and when it’s 60, but by god you can be arrested either way because its up to the cop. Absolutely disgusting. Absolutely stupid.

  16. Sean Grimm says:

    Taking photos in public is a threat to national security! Haven’t any of you watched that documentary called Speed Grapher? The Japanese have already mastered the technology to make things explode just by taking a photograph of it! This is why we need responsible and sane people making the conscience decision to refuse to make a decision. We don’t need policies or laws or rights because all law enforcement officers and security personnel are rational and sane individuals with complex understandings of human rights and capable of gauging responses to fit circumstances without outside guidance.

  17. TwoShort says:

    #26: “When you have a traffic accident or fire in urban areas, people will actually stand in the road to snap pics of whatever gore is visible.”

    How is their taking pictures worse than if they were just standing in the same spot looking? I still don’t see this as an example of why one would want to restrict photography. Standing in the road could be problematic, sure, but the camera is irrelevant.

    If the Secretary was saying you might need to restrict photography in situation X, and that judgment must be left to local officials, we could evaluate that reasoning. But there is no mention of what reasonable situation that could be, and I for one can’t think of one. It is thus quite natural to jump to thinking of photography being restricted in unreasonable situations, and imagine that the Secretary is endorsing that.

  18. Takuan says:

    if people in a democracy accept repression, it must be because they want it.

  19. hep cat says:

    WeightedCompanionCube writes:

    Bla bla bla

    “It’s a national official saying “local police may decide, based on the circumstances, that you can’t stand around and take pictures.””

    IE , you have no rights , because if you did it wouldn’t be up to the local police

    “I can think of a few cases in which that decision is perfectly reasonable: a crime scene, traffic accident, fire, or other public safety hazard. Also keep in mind this was a response to a journalists’ union. Police are well aware some types of reporters will make things worse by getting in the way: British tabloid journalism is notorious.”

    This is total and utter bullshit. If there is a problem with getting in the way , then that is the problem , not the fact that a photo record of a public event is being made. What’s the deal with draging unions , and publishers into this?

    Bla bla bla

    “A letter was written to the UK home office, and they replied it is an issue that should be handled locally. What part of the third paragraph is unclear? Should big government micromanage everyone and everything? Or just when it’s convenient?”

    How is saying that local police should follow the law “big government” micromanaging everyone and everything?
    The local police telling people what to do for no good or legal reason sounds a lot more like micromanaging to me
    I am quite aware that the UK doesn’t pretend to have many of the rights we have in the US , and won’t even get started on that or all the “in the way” rationalizations.
    However I would like some sort of explanation of these rationalizations that somehow there is ever reason that photography should not be allowed in any public place that a member of the public can stand and watch without photographing.
    For extra credit , some sort of explanation of why anti big government types are so often police apologists.

  20. dragonfrog says:

    Weightedcompanioncube,

    #18 I can think of a few cases in which that decision is perfectly reasonable: a crime scene, traffic accident, fire, or other public safety hazard. Also keep in mind this was a response to a journalists’ union. Police are well aware some types of reporters will make things worse by getting in the way: British tabloid journalism is notorious.

    and

    When you have a traffic accident or fire in urban areas, people will actually stand in the road to snap pics of whatever gore is visible. Police sometimes have to get them to move back so emergency crews can work.

    There is already a law against interfering with the duties of a police officer. It is irrelevant whether the interfering act is one of photography, welding, caber tossing, or stamp collecting.

    In the absence of interference with emergency or police operations (which is a criminal offence, no need to single out photography), can you come up with any reason why you would not want someone photographing a crime scene, traffic accident, or fire?

    I can think of reasons, but they all involve leaving the cops free to perjure themselves or tamper with evidence – no pesky videos to pop up on youtube later. I know you’re much more of an authoritarian than I am, but I would be surprised if you were in favour of outright police-statism.

  21. doggo says:

    “You there! You cannot take photos here!

    I didn’t.

    You did! You just did it again!

    I did not.

    You most certainly did! Why… There! You did it again! You can’t take my picture!

    I didn’t.

    Give me that camera!

    What camera? This isn’t a camera.

    It is! Give it here!

    It’s not.

    Stop hopping about and GIVE ME THAT CAMERA!

    I won’t.

    Come here! Give me that camera!

    It’s not a camera. It’s a goldfinch.

    No it’s not!

    It is.

    It is not!

    It is.

    It’s not. It’s a camera!

    It’s a goldfinch.

    It. Is…. Come here you!”

  22. Bruce Arthurs says:

    Hmmm, the message I read into this was: “Don’t sue us if you’re harassed for taking photos! Sue these local guys instead!”

  23. CountSmackula says:

    #35 I got that impression as well. That, and the weasel-y politician without a solid clue vibe.

  24. Tubman says:

    @#48, Simon Bradshaw: In that case you’re in luck! If you ask someone at the Home Office they’ll tell you that all their policy directives are clear and firm, and they’ll also point out that when devising directives that may restrict civil liberties they take great pains to limit their scope to the absolute minimum necessary.

    Saying you don’t think you should need a mechanism to get badly applied laws overturned seems excessively utopian. By the same token, we shouldn’t need a police force or social security either. The judicial review process is a fundamental under-pinning of modern democracy, and I’d rather have that safeguard than futilely pine for a society that has no need of it; if anything, it’s a shame that the Administrative Court’s powers over parliamentary legislation are so limited.

  25. Simon Bradshaw says:

    Actually, speaking as both a keen amateur photographer and someone qualified in English law, this is more useful than it may seem.

    Firstly, we have confirmation in writing from the Home Secretary (i.e. the politician responsible for what in the US would be termed ‘homeland security’) that there is no law against photography in public places. That alone is helpful when faced with a jobsworth trying to tell you it’s illegal to take pictures without some sort of permission.

    Secondly, although the Home Secretary states that police may implement local restrictions, she goes on to say that this is the decision of the regional force Chief Constable. Not part-time PCSO Smith. Or PC Plod. Or even the Inspector (US terms: Lt) running a local policing operation. Yes, the letter says that these people can make decisions on allowing photography – but it goes on to say that they have to be able to point to a policy set by their Chief Constable, not make it up as they go along.

    And that helps, because at the level of decision-making a CC is meant to operate at, policy decisions should be based on a proper assessment of all the factors, including the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998. So, if the policy is overly restrictive (e.g ‘no photography without a permit applied for a month ahead’) or too vague (‘entirely at the discretion of the local officer’) then it would be open to challenge through the courts.

    Now, this is not an ideal situation. I would like a strong, positive presumption that photography is permitted unless there are very clear and overwhelming local circumstances against it. But for now the Home Secretary’s letter actually provides some useful ammunition for anyone threatened with legal consequences for public photography.

  26. mdhatter says:

    @ Simon Bradshaw – that is exactly what I was looking for. Thx.

  27. andygates says:

    @37: That’s what I was thinking too – unless the big cheese has issued a statement about what (or where) is unacceptable to photograph, then this statement is “it’s legal.” And I’m fairly sure that the big cheeses haven’t done that.

    So the counter to a cop who tries to stop us is, “Is this area/activity expressly declared in your Chief Constable’s memo about photography, and please may I see a copy?”

  28. davotoula says:

    Shame I found out about this only today, may be to late to get through to the MEPs.

    Dear John Bowis OBE,

    I have just found out about the plan to include a “three strikes”
    directive in the new Telecoms legislation (la quadrature) which is
    scheduled for voting TODAY Monday, July 7.

    This legislation means that anyone determined three times by their
    Internet Service Provider to be downloading copyrighted material would
    be disconnected from the Internet.

    What worries me most about this legislation is that it is being
    appended to an otherwise sound Telecoms legislation that is assumed to
    be accepted.

    This practice of adding (sneaking in) points to a generally accepted
    legislation is a very undemocratic and dangerous practice.

    To act against such practices can only enforce people’s trust in
    politicians and in the Conservative party and I hope that you will find
    the time do to so dear MEP.

    Below are just some arguments against the “three strikes” directive in
    question.

    (boilerplate arguments)

  29. sean808080 says:

    of course this will be condoned by the government. all the better to scare away those that would bear witness.

  30. sebFlyte says:

    @37

    Mr Bradshaw… you make some valid points, and that point is certainly useful when it comes to dealing with Security guards, it’s not very useful when it comes down to policeman (or CSOs), as it is within the rights of the Chief Constable to simply delegate the decision to officers on the street, once the responsibility has been passed onto them.

    All the head honchos need do is abdicate one step further and suggest that it is down to officers’ discretion based on individual circumastance, and there is then carte blanche to stop photography of any incident they like… and you hardly need me to point out where thay may lead.

  31. loraksus says:

    #26 posted by WeightedCompanionCube , July 6, 2008 8:47 PM
    When you have a traffic accident or fire in urban areas, people will actually stand in the road to snap pics of whatever gore is visible.

    Yes. It’s a well known fact that those ghouls knock over first responders, not satisfied until their lenses are covered with a thin sheen of blood from the last breath of the dying.

    Idiot.

  32. Stephen says:

    Is Cromwellian a word?

  33. dunnright says:

    It’s a perfectly crommulent word!

  34. Elvis Pelt says:

    “Is Cromwellian a word?”.

    Ha! It is now.

    This is really sad. So, local, unelected fuzz decide what your rights are.

    Cromwellian.

  35. ElBiggus says:

    Holy crap. I think I’ll just carry my camera around with me wherever I go and take pictures of the sort of things that are liable to provoke suspicion, just for the sheer civil disobedience of it…

  36. deejayqueue says:

    In other words:
    “Yeah, I know there’s no law against it, but I don’t care enough to get involved, so I’m not going to do anything about it.”

  37. Simon Bradshaw says:

    Sebflyte@37: Yes, faced with a copper insisting that the policy is that you can’t take pictures, you’re unlikely to get far by arguing.

    However, if things escalate to legal trouble, then any policy where it turned out that the Chief Constable had ‘abdicated’ responsibility would be liable to be torn to pieces in court. One of the crumbs of comfort I take from the Home Secretary’s letter is that it makes it clear that policy decisions on this have to be taken at a level where judges will not stand for that sort of thing.

    But, this is still far short of being satisfactory. I shouldn’t have to bring a case for judicial review to establish whether or not a police policy on photography is justified.

  38. skarbreeze says:

    I would imagine there are circumstances where photography shouldn’t take place in public places – for safety of course. There must be such times, no?

    Ah well, if they keep harassing the photog’s day in and day out, eventually they’ll get the circumstances right! /cheers

  39. Sean Eric FAgan says:

    blink

    It’s up to the police to decide how to balance rights?

  40. RocketshipX41 says:

    I would rephrase it differently:

    “I, as a high ranking government official, can’t decide on the balance between civil rights and security, so I’m going to leave it to untrained local officials to do so.”

    It seems the days are gone when you could avoid legal hassles simply by not doing anything illegal.

  41. Simon Bradshaw says:

    Tubman@51: I fear you have grasped completely the wrong end of the stick regarding what I was trying to say.

    Of course I don’t think we don’t need judicial review – it’s one of the most powerful tools we have in the UK for controlling the excesses of both national and local government. What I was saying was that it is a national embarrassment that the policy re street photography is so broken that we even have to consider using the very valuable tool of judicial review as a remedy.

  42. ElBiggus says:

    I would imagine there are circumstances where photography shouldn’t take place in public places – for safety of course. There must be such times, no?

    I can imagine “standing in the middle of the M25 in rush-hour taking pictures” may be frowned upon for safety reasons, but the photography is pretty much incidental — it’s the standing on the M25 that’s dangerous, not the photography.

    When taking “safety reasons” in to account, the only activities I can think of that may be unsafe to do whilst operating a camera are things like driving, cycling, flying a plane, performing brain surgery, etc. However, you also shouldn’t do those whilst using a mobile phone, playing with a yo-yo, making a cup of tea, or restoring an antique chest of drawers; in other words there’s still no reason to single out photography as forbidden for reasons of safety. (Unless it was meant in a menacing sense, like “that’s a lovely camera you’ve got there, and it would be a real shame if something… happened to it…”)

  43. HotPepperMan says:

    Put simply, the comments made by the Home Secretary have placed what was a clearly understood situation “yes, you can take photos” into a ‘well, it MIGHT be OK but you will not necessarily know until we decide to bust you’ nightmare. I am sure that memo’s will be coming down from Chief Constables with ‘guidelines’ for questioning photographers. this will not be ‘law’ but advice from a CC. The general public will discover these guidelines when they get arrested for ‘failing to obey an officer’ who will be enforcing the opinion/interpretation of the Home Secretary.

    Every tin-pot personal dictator (not police but Joe Public) will be going “What do you think you are doing? Don’t you know the Home Secretary says you cannot do that” and essentially being ‘nosey-parkers.

    Conflict at a social level for something that is still legal but might not be.

    This is total FUD.

    REMEMBER – Careless Snapshots Costs Lives.

  44. Daemon says:

    Well, there goes what remained of the US tourist industry.

  45. Avram says:

    Did you mean the UK tourist industry, Daemon?

  46. efergus3 says:

    For once this isn’t the US. Asshole.

  47. Daemon says:

    Yes. Yes I do.

  48. skarbreeze says:

    @ #6 ElBiggus

    I didn’t really mean to play the troll, my post was purely sarcastic.

    There are a dozen scenarios (voyeuristic, impeding traffic, violating a curfew, etc) that could mix into this in a legitimate way. But the things that offend our sensibilities are obvious. Sadly, this isn’t being reflected in public policy anywhere in any 1st world country in the world.

  49. Mitch Tishmack says:

    How can this one official change case law and due process in the UK? I thought the police enforced laws, not interpret them? Or is the UK literally dropping the judicial review of law enforcement?

    @10 I think the dollar to pound conversion rate did that already.

  50. Mitch Tishmack says:

    @14 All of those should be covered under the existing laws. Taking photographs by itself in a public place shouldn’t be a crime.

    For example: I photograph where I parked my car with my camera phone. Is that a crime?

    Is it a crime if a police officer sees it and overreacts to the act?

  51. zuzu says:

    Did you mean the UK tourist industry, Daemon?

    Either way; the signatories to the UK-USA Security Agreement share the same agenda.

  52. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Wow, people (especially Cory) are reading way to much into this. Shrilling to the extreme.

    It’s a national official saying “local police may decide, based on the circumstances, that you can’t stand around and take pictures.”

    I can think of a few cases in which that decision is perfectly reasonable: a crime scene, traffic accident, fire, or other public safety hazard. Also keep in mind this was a response to a journalists’ union. Police are well aware some types of reporters will make things worse by getting in the way: British tabloid journalism is notorious.

    I can think of cases where restricting photography is not justified as well, and I know cops make bad decisions in that regard. I don’t see a green-lighting or condemnation of anything, just an acknowledgment of existing policy

    A letter was written to the UK home office, and they replied it is an issue that should be handled locally. What part of the third paragraph is unclear? Should big government micromanage everyone and everything? Or just when it’s convenient?

    I’ll restore the last part of the response:

    The Home Office does not produce any guidance on photography in public places, and has not produced any specific guidance to [Forward Intelligence Team] officers, the Home Secretary says. ‘I recommend, therefore, that the questions in your letter are best put to the Commissioner.’

  53. kenmce says:

    ‘Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved”

    Translated, this means photography is a crime if an officer wants it to be.

    >Tishmack
    >I photograph where I parked my car with
    >my camera phone. Is that a crime?

    If a passing officer says so then it is in fact a crime.

    >Is it a crime if a police officer
    >sees it and overreacts to the act?

    A Bobby is probably immune to misdemeanors.

  54. zuzu says:

    Translated, this means photography is a crime if an officer wants it to be.

    Don’t they already have ASBOs for that? (Or are those meant only to apply to chavs?)

  55. mdhatter says:

    is it now a crime, or is it now officially a potential nuisance which the police are allowed to manage?

    I read post as saying the police can tell you to move along if the circumstances dictate, that it is now, officially, their call to make. If you were to get arrested that would be for refusing to comply, not actually for the photography itself.

    As I’m an American, my grasp of British law is not terribly well informed. So I may be wrong. Anyone?

  56. Tubman says:

    @#44, Simon Bradshaw: What alternative mechanism to judicial review do you propose? Rock, paper, scissors with the Home Office Minister?

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