Britain's no-photographing-cops law: even the cops hate it

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's radio show As it Happens did a great job covering the new British law that makes it a crime to take a picture of a police officer or a building, where that picture might be useful in "planning an act of terrorism." First, they interviewed Peter Murray, Vice-President of the National Union of Journalists, who, predictably, worries that his members will find themselves with arrest-records as terrorists for violating the law.

But then, they talked to Peter Smyth, Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, who also thinks the law is ridiculous -- and this is just stupendous. Smyth says that there's no evidence that terrorists use photographs to plan attacks, admits that this is an invitation for scared officers to abuse the law, and says that it will needlessly create conflict with journalists and the public.

The program tried to locate someone -- anyone -- who supported the law, but no one was forthcoming.

FEB 16, 2009 - As It Happens

MP3 link

My photos from the National Union of Journalists demonstration at New Scotland Yard


  1. So what’s the general conclusion on who came up with this law? An MP with a large frightened police population in his riding? A clueless politician who wants action on terror-prevention but really dislikes research or anything that involves alot of reading? Is it a misinterpreted law that is actually supposed to keep constables from goofing around with their camera phones? What?

    Also, Carol Off and Barbara Budd are gems even among the talent you find on CBC Radio. Cheers to them.

  2. the law came from politicians that want anyone taking an interest in what they are doing to not. If it’s a law, cops have no say. They must arrest anyone taking a picture of political will being forced through on people. The cops secretly love it, and are lying .

  3. Nah. I suspect something a little less conspiratorial. Somebody proposes a stupid law like this. Everybody knows it is stupid, but nobody will vote against it because they don’t want to look like they are “soft on terrorism”, which seems to be an open invitation for the opposition to take your seat in the next round of elections.

    Look into how Prohibition was passed in the US. This has worked before and I am quite certain it works now.

  4. Once the police can just arrest people for dumb things like this, then they can lower the bar to hiring more (and dumber) police officers. Crime rate is up, right? I mean, if you create laws that catch more people, that means there’s more crime!

    Are laws proposed in Parliament anonymous as to their source or something? I’m unclear on the “who wrote it?” confusion.

  5. I wonder what would happen if someone took a picture of a cop committing a crime or abusing someone? They get away with it because the pic was illegal and can’t be used as evidence?

  6. It’s a ‘use at your discretion’ law: entirely arbitrary – especially since the New Stasi Party made every offence, however trivial, grounds for arrest.

    In other words: keep your head down and don’t piss us off and we won’t ruin your miserable, worthless little life, maggot; ie. jackboot on the back of the neck.

    The people who wrote and passed this law, and all the others like it, hate liberty, freedom and democracy.

    Almost as much as they fear them.

  7. Next up… No looking at a police officer or a building, where looking and remembering might be useful in planning an act of terrorism.

  8. Passing a stupid law is bad enough, but stupid laws can be changed.

    Laws (or rules) that are not enforced uniformly are signs of weak and capricious leadership.

    The quality of leadership is directly proportional to the effort put into process of selecting that leadership.

  9. [quote]The cops secretly love it, and are lying .[/quote]

    I don’t know whether you’re being serious, but either way, could we stop this kind of automatic police demonization, please? Aside from being ridiculously unfair, it also undermines credibility for times when it really is important to speak out.

  10. Since it’s well known that the Amish are averse to having their pictures taken, I suspect they have somehow infiltrated Parliament.

  11. I believe the proper next step would be for a large group of reporters to start taking pictures of police officers in front of buildings that could be a possible target of a terrorist attack. This should force the police to enforce the law, causing a problem and hopefully make headlines in more mainstream media.

  12. This is a brutal, authoritarian law that takes away power from the hands of the public and gives it back to the police. It allows police privilege to hassle anybody with a camera or seen holding a cellphone like a camera in public. It removes a lot of the personal accountability from the police for their abuse of power.

    We won’t be seeing too many incriminating, embarrassing photos of British police choking and beating down protesters or tasering naked streakers in Wembley Stadium from now on.

  13. Maybe this is one of those things where they pass a very unpopular law and later change it to a less offensive law, but one which wouldn’t have been tolerated previously. If you know what I mean.

  14. Crikey, that’s a bit embarrassing. I didn’t realise this was part of the 2008 Act.

    Expect this one to go to Strasbourg before too terribly long. Declaration of incompatibility anyone?

  15. how could anyone with any integrity remain a policeman when basic rights and liberties are being stolen and destroyed? Time is long past for any honest and ethical person who signed up to uphold the law and protect society to have said “That’s it,I quit!” They are all responsible, no one held a gun to their head to wear that uniform or keep it on after their honest work became repression and terrorizing the innocent. There are other ways to make a living.

  16. But Takuan, the retirement benefits are really good.

    A better way for police officers to make a statement about their displeasure with the law would be for them to get their unions to lobby against it – if they have a union, or get together with the media and announce their position against that ridiculous law.

  17. Some months ago, a man in Oxford was irritated by a police car driving down a pedestrianised street, almost running over him. It parked outside a shop and one of the crew went inside to purchase food. When he came out, the man photographed him and remonstrated with him for driving onto a pedestrianised area needlessly. The policeman’s response was to wrestle him to the ground, handcuff him and then take him to the police station, where he was charged with assault. After some hours, his colleague, realising she would now have to tell lies as well, spoke up and related what had really happened and the man was freed. At a subsequent hearing, this dishonest officer was admonished and allowed to keep his job – most likely because his Asian ethnicity would preclude him being sacked. This then is the policing we now have in Britain, where officers are roundly despised by everbody as corrupt, dishonest and useless at their jobs.


    Hopefully, for every bad example like that, there are many, many good examples where police officers went out of their way to help a citizen.

  19. OK, Citzens Vote For Police Day. Every person in the UK is given their choice of an egg, a tomato or a handful of manure. Every cop has to parade in uniform down the middle of the street. Each citizen can elect to throw theirs at the cops, or at people throwing at the cops. Wonder who would be cleanest at the end of the day?

  20. C’mon Takuan, you should know as well as I that most people like police officers – at least they do in the U.S. – But that has nothing to do with the horrid law we’re talking about does it? – The police didn’t make this law. I know a ton of police officers and when the uniform is off, they’re just regular folks.

  21. You know what’s weird, I would be a police officer now, except I got a speeding ticket en route to my interview. I said F it and applied for the job I have now instead.

  22. “how could anyone with any integrity remain a policeman when basic rights and liberties are being stolen and destroyed? Time is long past for any honest and ethical person who signed up to uphold the law and protect society to have said “That’s it,I quit!” They are all responsible, no one held a gun to their head to wear that uniform or keep it on after their honest work became repression and terrorizing the innocent. There are other ways to make a living.”

    My eyes are rolling so hard it’s actually painful.

  23. #19, #20 – the other way the police could protest against this would be to enforce it. Arrest all the tourists photographing Big Ben or something.

  24. Bah, thinko there – the law isn’t “targets”, it’s “police”. Still, you could find some place where tourists regularly photograph the police (an honour guard, perhaps).

  25. I’ve transcribed the relevant part below. Starts at 9 minutes 20 seconds:

    AIH: Peter Smyth is in London too. He’s the Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation. My Smyth, How do police enforce this Law?

    PS: Well that’s one of the problems. It’s a brand new law, we’ve received no training about it. It’s never been explained to us. We fear that it’s going to bring the public and professional photographers into conflict with police officers that is totally unnecessary.

    AIH: So the police have a problem with this law then?

    PS: Absolutely, we’re not aware of any case in British history where this sort of activity has led to a terrorist incident or assisted in a terrorist incident so we don’t understand why the government has brought this law in. They haven’t explained it to us, and we are somewhat concerned about it.

    AIH: If your federation hasn’t asked for it, the police haven’t asked for it, where does the inspiration come to have this law?

    PS: Well I can only assume it’s come from the government, because, um, I don’t know who else it could be.

    AIH: They didn’t consult you about it?

    PS: Not at all, no. We only knew about it last week. And the law comes in today.

    AIH: So what do you understand the police are expected to do now with this law?

    PS: My understanding would be that if someone is taking a photograph in a public place which involves a photograph of a police officer or a member of the armed forces, they will be spoken to by police officers and asked to justify why they’re doing that and if they can’t justify it they could be arrested.

    AIH: Arrested as what? For what reason?

    PS: Well, under terrorism legislation, so potentially they’re being arrested as a potential terrorist.

    AIH: Well, how are the police to determine there’s pictures being taken that could be used for terrorism purposes?

    PS: That’s exactly our point. We think it’s impossible for any sensible person to judge that. We think it will bring us into conflict with professional photographers, with tourists, ordinary law-abiding citizens going about their business, for little or no good reason.

    AIH: Is there a chance that he police could use it – just for there own purposes. I mean, I’m thinking of times when .. ah .. police would like there not to be a photograph of something they’re doing, breaking up a demonstration. We’ve certainly seen it in Canada when police would like to be able to say … well I want to stop this photograph from being taken, or being used. Is there a chance the police could use it in that way?

    PS: Quite clear that there is. We would hope that all our officers would be sensible enough to try and use this law sparingly, and with proper justification, but obviously, with no training, with no clarity from the government about what’s expected, inevitably there are going to be some confusing situations and I think there are going to be some situations that will arise into a conflict.

    AIH: How much discretionary power do the police have to use this law then?

    PS: You know, if someone’s taking photographs of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and there’s a police officer in the shot, then hopefully people are going to be sensible enough to realise that is just someone, a tourist or whatever going about their business, erm, but obviously with no clarity, with no instruction from the government about how to administer this law, we can’t be sure exactly what’s going to happen, and that’s the problem.

    AIH: Are you asking for the law just to be clarified, or to be scrapped?

    PS: Well, in the first instance we would seek some clarification, but if they scrap this law we wouldn’t be at all sorry.

    AIH: You know, it just seems like every country I’ve worked in that has had totalitarian laws, where someone can come up and arrest you for taking a photograph of almost anything. It’s, er, it has alarming possibilities doesn’t it?

    PS: It’s very alarming, and that’s why we’ve come out so strongly against it. There’s an English word that your listeners may not be aware of … what we call barmy, which means crazy, mad and we think this whole situation is just barmy.

    AIH: Sounds pretty barmy to me. Thanks Mr Smyth.

    PS: Thank you

    AIH: Bye-bye. That was Peter Smyth, Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation in London. As it happens, hope to speak with someone in Britain who supports this new law, but unfortunately no-one was available today.

  26. “wait, let me guess how you make your money.”

    I assume you’re implying that I’m involved in law enforcement, but I’m not. Not even remotely. Nor is anyone I’m related to or personally friendly with. I also happen to think this is a ridiculous law. I just don’t have anywhere near the level of self-righteous, hyperbolic tinfoil-hattery that I would need for that level of sweeping prejudice. Not to mention the fact that they’re doing a necessary and dangerous job (which they’re spit on for by people like you), or the fact that there’s no evidence whatsoever that the cops “secretly love” the law, and quite a bit that they don’t. Isn’t there enough to get mad about in what people actually do, without needing to dip into groundless assumptions about what entire groups are secretly thinking?

  27. it’s OK if you can’t understand it Moriarty, you are not required to understand everything. On the other hand, some of us do have to be paying attention or the terrorists will win.

  28. Police officers in the UK aren’t allowed to join any unions. And I’m just about to join the Met police and largely think to stop people taking pictures of structures and buildings is pretty stupid (I take them myself all the time for my previous job) but I may be a little bit anxious about having pictures of me in uniform on the internet in case any person I’ve charged with a criminal offence decides to make it a vendetta and seek retribution on me. I think some posts on here have already illustrated that there are a lot of people out there who demonise police officers and who wish harm on you, regardless of what sort of person you are in or out of uniform, and those are the people you’d be a bit anxious about seeking out your face, especially when we are being encouraged to police our own communities. Do I want a gang knowing where I live and seeking revenge on me for locking up a member of their gang who was sentanced for commiting a crime? Even if you do think all police officers ‘have made that choice’, why should my family, friends and neighbours suffer for my career choice?

  29. why would a policemam who has done nothing wrong have anything to fear from being photographed? If you have nothing to hide, that is. Any criminal with a grudge just has to wait outside the police station with a shot-gun – they wouldn’t need or use the web for that. Is assassination of honest cops a common thing now? Has it ever been? If it is, forcing your citizens into a prison – society will only make it worse. Look at Mexico. Nope, this law is all about political repression and power grabbing. And no metter what the police might publicly protest, I have never, ever, not once, seen them anywhere turn down another weapon to use on the public. Or any expansion of their arbitrary powers either.

  30. FIT Watch, yep:

    The group of free (for now) citizens who try to witness the criminal activities of the secret police intimidation squads that roam around trying to frighten people into not politically protesting. In a democracy, what the police “Forward Intelligence Team” do is technically treason. Under natural law, people have a right to defend themselves from the goons of tyrants. I suppose the tyrants and goons feel otherwise.

Comments are closed.