London cops mug tourist for his bus-station photos

A Viennese tourist has vowed never to return to London after police officers forced him to delete photos he'd taken of the Vauxhall bus station, saying it was "strictly forbidden" and recording details from his identity papers. There's no evidence that terrorists use photos to plan their attacks, nor that preventing photography reduces the likelihood of a terrorist attack. London's police have been granted sweeping "anti-terrorism" powers, including the authority to arrest people who take pictures of the police.
But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matkza, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was "strictly forbidden". The policemen also recorded the pair's details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

In a letter in today's Guardian, Matzka wrote: "I understand the need for some sensitivity in an era of terrorism, but isn't it naive to think terrorism can be prevented by terrorising tourists?"

The Metropolitan police said it was investigating the allegations.

In a telephone interview from his home in Vienna, Matka said: "I've never had these experiences anywhere, never in the world, not even in Communist countries."

Police delete London tourists' photos 'to prevent terrorism' (Thanks, Matt!)

(Image: Vauxhall Station, a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike photo from Nedrichards' photostream)


  1. Can the police “mug” somebody, properly speaking? Wouldn’t this be a case of improper arrest, detainment, etc.? Assault?

    Cory, a helpful note, maybe, on so-called “scare quotes” and their (mis)use, from The Chicago Manual of Style:

    Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense…. They imply ‘This is not my term’ or ‘This is not how the term is usually applied.’ Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused.

    Italics mine.

  2. Did terrorism create an era of terrorism, or did our collective reaction to it create it?

  3. They used to do this sort of thing at Italian border crossings. Hmm. Come to think of it, they used to come down pretty heavy on photography at the Austria/Hungarian border crossing just east of Vienna, if memory serves.

    Man, the first time they just waved me through there instead of checking everything minutely with traffic backed up clear to Györ blew my mind. History rocks.

  4. Clearly they wanted to to prevent any images of London’s new highly secret bus launching facility from leaking out.

  5. Why would a terrorist bother? They could use one of the 65,800 photos available on Google:
    Along with the handy plan available on the Southwest trains site:
    the tech-savvy terrorist need never leave the comfort of his broadband-equipped cave (at least not until it’s time to implement the dastardly plan of catching a bus). He certainly wouldn’t want to draw attention to himself by openly photographing the building.
    A tourist on the other hand might want to take a few snaps of the £4million architectual wonder that is Vauxhall Bus Station

  6. @tdawwwg: If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and smells like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

    This is certainly a mugging, unless the cops are above the law. When two people with guns come up to you and forcibly separate you from your property, it’s a mugging. It matters not that the two guys with guns happen to have a shiny badge.

    It’s like the following: When cops confiscate someone’s life savings or home on the supposed suspicion of being a drug courier — although no evidence of a drug connection is ever found — is it any less of a highway robbery?

  7. This is the ‘n-th’ time this has been mentioned on BB. Has anyone actually organised something REALLY positive about this? There was a minor protest by some photographers. A concerted effort like (for example) people from outside the UK contacting people like Boris Johnson (London Mayor), the UK tourism Board etc would be far better than continually whining about it on a minor blog site and much more effective.

  8. He ADMITS having travelled to a communist country?? That’s basically the same as planning a terrorist attack!! Lock him up!!

  9. In the UK, police can do basically whatever they want. There is no such thing as improper arrest or detainment. They can hold you for a year without evidence or even a charge.

  10. I believe that these are not the acts of zealous enforcement. This is the real cause behind the “war on terrorism.” It’s aim is nothing less than the re-conditioning of authority and citizenry of a traditionally open society. Barring a giant moment of some kind, it is not going away in our lifetime under a Labour, Tory, Republican, Democratic or Party-du-jour administration. There’s a method and an agenda but it is hard to see, much less comprehend under the current mindset or terms of discourse. On a similar note, I find the popular debate regarding machines and “transhumanism” as equally fascinating and disturbing.

  11. @Insert, um, no, I’d call it “wrongful arrest,” “abuse of police power,” what have you…. These are probably even more serious crimes than simply mugging someone.

    I think the issue is whether or not one acts as a law-enforcement officer. Your common criminal, who mugs, does not act behind the aegis of law and order; your cop, good or bad, does. So, no mugging, but improper, and possibly criminal, behavior nonetheless. If a cop robs you while off-duty, then, sure, call it “mugging”: they’d be acting as a private citizen.

    @Flitere, sure, if it makes you happy, I’m shocked, shocked, by the police’s behavior!

  12. Sigh.

    A couple of minor corrections, though:

    “When two people with guns come up to you and forcibly separate you from your property, it’s a mugging. It matters not that the two guys with guns happen to have a shiny badge.”

    Unless they’re special police, I doubt they had guns. British police officers on the beat don’t carry guns. Thank god.

    “They can hold you for a year without evidence or even a charge.”

    Really? A year? Could you give some examples?

  13. #11 – “They can hold you for a year without evidence or even a charge.”

    This is based upon which law exactly?

  14. I think I’m finally starting to figure out the overarching UK counter-terrorism plan. Stick with me here:

    1) Get people paranoid through use of posters/billboards/TV advertisements.
    2) Prevent tourism through harassment. Eventually travel to the UK will be so undesirable that nobody will bother.
    3) Any sensible, still non-paranoid people will become frustrated with being reported by their neighbors for throwing out an old power supply (A.K.A. “suspicious looking metal box with dozens of cables hanging out”).
    4) UK is left devoid of any sensible people and tourists. Only paranoid citizens are left over.
    5) People begin to report their neighbors for suspiciously observing their neighbors.
    6) Terrorism becomes impractical, due to the lack of anybody being out in public areas. The only non-jailed citizens left will spend their time observing CCTV cameras with other CCTV cameras.
    7) Congratulations! You’ve defeated terrorism!

  15. Cory, I think you’ve been in London too long. U.K. newspapers constantly outdo themselves for sensationalistic hyperbole in their headlines, and I think it’s starting to affect your own.

    I mean, in this post, I think it’s a reasonable use – the victim used the term himself, and the police took physical property worth thousands of pounds from him.

    We need a term to describe the forceful deletion of personal data by the police, but I’m just not sure “mugging” is the right one.

    All that aside:

    Walthamstow is, erm, not exactly London’s finest suburb. (But more power to the Matzkas for exploring the grimier side of the city). I guess it’s an indication of how the oppressiveness of the London police increases the further you get from the popular tourist areas.

  16. I’ve said it before and I expect I’ll be saying it again: in my opinion there is a good case for arguing that deleting photographs from somebody else’s camera is an offence under Section 3 of the UK’s Computer Misuse Act 1990. S.3 makes unauthorised deletion of data an offence, and whilst the Act does not define ‘computer’, what is a digital camera but a computer with a lens and sensor?

    Although there are certain circumstances where the police can seize my property, they cannot destroy it without a court order. If deleting data is also an offence, then I argue that the police can only lawfully do that with a court order too.

    (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer yet. But with a law degree, a Master’s in computer and IP law, and most of the English Bar course under my belt, I don’t think I’m completely speculating on the basis of ignorance either.)

  17. “I guess it’s an indication of how the oppressiveness of the London police increases the further you get from the popular tourist areas.”

    Apart from the curfew areas in Central London.

  18. This article is one of the main reasons I have no plans on visiting London. Why would anyone want to visit a country where you are treated like a criminal? The word mugging goes hand in hand with robbery which is defined as: Robbery is the crime of seizing property through violence or intimidation. Telling someone that they will be arrested if they don’t destroy personal property is intimidation.

  19. Obviously, this is typically stupid by the police, but I’m surprised the police aren’t accusing them of trying to photograph the MI5 building that is right next to Vauxhall Bus station (which is a very very long way from Walthamstow?). Whilst equally ridiculous, because we can all see it, it would at least have some security importance.

  20. well, the police have proven they can assault and kill citizens with impunity, I suppose they will have to work their way up to mass killing before anyone does anything about it. Stuff like theft of property, violation of basic rights and general petty abuses of power hardly matter.

  21. I’m surprised no-one else has noticed this brilliant quote from the story:

    “I will be raising it with the commissioner. I have already written to him about the police taking away cameras and stopping people taking photographs and made the point that if it was not for people taking photos, we would not know about the death of Ian Tomlinson or the woman who was hit by a police officer.”

    Because I’m sure the police would be really upset if we didn’t have photos of those event.

  22. Dear Britons,

    I like you guys just fine, but your country is seriously f-ed up. Unless you have a revolution, there’s no way I’d ever want to visit Airstrip One.

  23. My boyfriend and I visited Beijing just before the Olympics. There were undercover, and not so undercover, police and military everywhere, there were tourists everywhere, everyone was taking pictures of everything (though our guide strongly suggested that it might not be good to photograph the police and the military–at least not directly).

    No one ever harassed us, ngrabbed our camera, asked to see our photos, told us we couldn’t take photos of any monument, structure or form of transport. Let me repeat: this was Beijing, just before the Olympics. Beijing–you know, the one in China?

    While it wasn’t the most hip and happening city in the world, I’d go back there ten times before I went back to London once.

  24. Despite the fact that I would dearly love to travel to London, it is officially off the list as a destination until they clean up their act with regard to this crazy stuff.

  25. “I like you guys just fine, but your country is seriously f-ed up. Unless you have a revolution, there’s no way I’d ever want to visit Airstrip One.”

    We’re all devastated. Really.

  26. “While it wasn’t the most hip and happening city in the world, I’d go back there ten times before I went back to London once.”

    Why? Because London is worse than Beijing? Seriously?

  27. to all those saying they won’t visit the UK until things change: has it occurred to you that the government that makes these hostile, aggressive policies doesn’t WANT you to visit? They would prefer the inmates not be corrupted with wild talk from outside the walls and tales of unlimited photography.

    Maybe tour groups should organized outside the UK and then come in to do en masse photography under large banners saying “NOT a Terrorist!” Make it easy for the police so they don’t have to live in fear.

    Another thing; why do no London police ever weigh in here? Is it shame?

  28. Un-deleting pictures with file-recovery software isn’t that hard… Or am I the only one who occasionally formats a memory card by accident before downloading pictures off of it?

  29. #29, you’ve got a point there about the UK government not wanting citizens to realize how badly their liberties have eroded.

    and #27, beyond the sarcasm I think you’re patriotic and rightfully proud of the UK. It’s just that from my perspective (outside the walls) I’ve watched your society and government go down the shitter. Don’t be a boiled frog. Life was rough under Thatcher, too, but at least you could snap photos, carry a pocketknife, or ride the subway without risk of detention and a cavity search.

  30. Peter Pan @11 is appropriately named, because it does seem that he has flown in from never-never land.

    Seriously, we have had a major and ongoing debate about extending detention before charge in terrorist cases to 42 days (the Government at first wanted 90). Please don’t trivialise the work of everyone opposing such measures with ignorant remarks to the effect that none of their work matters because the police can just lock people up forever. It doesn’t actually work like that, even in the UK.

  31. looks like they can execute you in the streets though. The cop that killed Tomlinson is going to walk, isn’t he?

  32. “I’ve watched your society and government go down the shitter.”

    I’d love to hear some examples of how you think our society has “gone down the shitter”. Seriously.

    Anyway, beyond that, I just find some of the reactions here pretty ridiculous.

    I’m seriously concerned about the erosion of civil liberties in the UK. I’m seriously concerned about the UK government’s foreign policies, its arms dealing, its neo-liberal, money-grubbing ideology, and so on.

    But while these police and government measures can be seen as the thin end of a very unpleasant wedge, our civil liberties and government are not, contrary to some opinions, on a par with China or the Britain of Orwell’s 1984.

    I would never consider myself a “patriot”, but I honestly believe that a lot of the assessments of Britain seen here do a massive disservice to the people of the UK, and specifically to the many people fighting to protect and promote our civil liberties. To read that someone would repeatedly visit China, a country with a long-running and truly appalling record human rights abuses, rather than the UK, a country which in the last 10 years has suffered the erosion of some of its civil liberties, is utterly morally wrong-headed.

    I’m not saying that there’s nothing wrong with Britain, but it’s not as bad a picture as some people paint.

  33. Except Tomlinson wasn’t executed. As many regular protesters know, and as the media and public are starting to realise, lots of people are beaten without cause by the police during such mass protests. I’m not convinced that that’s a new development.

    But in Tomlinson’s case, the beating resulted in a heart attack. That doesn’t, in my book, qualify as execution, as horrendous as the police’s behaviour was.

  34. Well, I’m glad that police are taking such essential steps to defend me against the evil doers of evil.

    And I’m glad that we live in a world where no terrorist will _ever_ think of concealing a small camera in a briefcase or behind his lapel or something, allowing him to take any photographs he needs without being spotted by the cops.

    After all, if it was trivially easy to take all the photographs you wanted without drawing attention to yourself, then there wouldn’t be any point in hassling visiting Austrians, would there? Happily, we all know that’s not the case, so these actions by our vigilant defenders are obviously right and necessary.

  35. Oh, and yes, the officer involved may well get away without any real punishment. That’s utter shit, and we should all be doing what we can to fight for change in regards to police transparency and accountability.

  36. #29
    You’re right, Tourism = Terrorism.
    I guess when your best news is about 13 year old inseminators, “Terrorism” jumps out as the most interesting headline.

    I was studying abroad in the UK during college, I went to Paris for a quick trip before I left the continent. Upon returning, the passport officer was incredulous to the idea that I was simply visiting Paris for enjoyment.

    I then had to answer a series of questions ranging from whether or not I had a job back in the States (and what it was) to if I had a girlfriend (the best answer being “a few”, which was quick thinking on my feet). That bit of dishonesty got me in to the country long enough so I could grab my luggage from my flat and head back home, leaving the island, and it’s bulldogs, behind.

    I’ll visit after the Collapse, I rather liked the landscape.

  37. @tdawwg: I stand by my comment. If it walks like a mugging, talks like a mugging, and smells like a mugging, it’s probably a mugging.

    I don’t care if you claim that you are acting in the public interest or to defend law and order — I have a right to my stuff. If you violate that right, whoever you are, you’ve mugged me or stolen from me or kidnapped me or whatever. The shiny badge affects the situation not at all.

  38. @ #38, REDSQUARES:

    A friend of mine works for an international human rights organisation. When she visited the US about 5 years ago, she was questioned about her visit:

    Airport Security Guy: “What’s the purpose of your visit, ma’am?”

    My Friend: “I’m attending an international conference on human rights.”

    She was then taken into a side room, where she was held for two hours and interrogated. They asked her over and over again what she was doing in the country, who she worked for, where she was from…

    Just thought you might like to hear that anecdote.

  39. I feel really sorry for the people of Britain. The police and policy makers there have really gone off the deep end with this stuff.

    Since: “Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion” I have thought from the outset of the “war on terror” that the real terrorists are the governments who are trying to take advantage of people’s fears over 9/11 as a means to coerce us into accepting a greater degree of state control.

    The citizens of Britain worked hard many centuries ago to win their current level of civil rights. These were not given to them willingly. I think they need to do the same sort of work now to require their rulers to write protection against this kind of abuse into law.

    Not that I am saying Americans are any better than the Brits. We have the mechanisms already to get laws against this sort of abuse enacted but allow ourselves to be to easily manipulated into the erosion of our rights.

  40. Seriously, if this ever happens to you do the following:

    Delete what they ask you to delete.

    As soon as they let you walk away, pull the memory card and stick it somewhere safe, and don’t use it for the rest of your trip. Use other memory cards…buy new ones if you must.

    When you get home, download a file recovery program (there are plenty of free/inexpensive ones to choose from. In fact, many storage cards these days come with file recovery software).

    Recover your “deleted” photos, post to the web for all (*cough*terrorists*cough) to enjoy.

  41. Why do Brits tolerate this crap?


    In the US, our civil liberties have been undermined in many ways, but this is lunacy.

    I just don’t get how ordinary Brits aren’t complaining about this kind of stuff? And DOING something about it?

    It’s appalling.

  42. @13Strong, thanks for the interesting perspective from across the pond.

    I would be interested to hear from someone who is actually there what your perception is of how bad the police situation actually is there.

    I know it is just as easy to get a very skewed view of what is happening in the U.S. based on the headlines:

    The grandmother in Florida charged because she was taking photos of her grandkids; the substitute teacher charged because malware on the classroom computer was displaying porn; the 16 year old girl facing classification as a sex offender for posting risque photos of herself.

    From what we see here, it seems like some of your police have become irrationally obsessed, seeing terrorist behind every lamppost. How does it look from where you stand?

  43. Just like airport (in)security, this is all about appearances. Really, doesn’t it stand to reason that a real spy would use a miniaturized/hidden camera to take surveillance photos? Or do these Bobby (English cousin of Barney) Fifes truly believe that teh terrorists are so devious they are dressing up like 70 year old Viennese tourists?

  44. Does ‘strictly forbidden’ = a crime?

    If taking photos of those places is a crime, then deleting the images is destruction of evidence of a crime which is a crime in itself (unless there’s a court order obtained through the judicial process).

    The only option in these circumstances, assuming you don’t want to go the undelete route and circumvent the petty, irrational authoritarianism is to demand to be arrested for your crime, I reckon.

  45. Organise a “flash” mob to “photograph” a key location with participants encouraged to bring their old empty film cameras.

  46. Okay…

    So, no more shots on King’s Cross’ platforms 9 and 10… And no more shots on Easton Station…

    UK, you lost a tourist!

    PS: For those who didn’t understand, it’s a reference about Harry Potter platform 9 3/4 and the platform used on HP films (JKR has wrongly visualized the platforms when writing, confounding King’s Cross with Easton).

  47. Ah, the bitter after-taste of fascism, eh? We can be indignant online and post our harumphs, but what are we actually doing about it?

    The western democracies, including here in Canada, have all gone on a campaign of fear to cover for slowly taking away our rights as citizens and human beings. Our governments are terrorizing us more than the “real” terrorists.

    Until we organize and stand outside in a public forum as a group, we will continue to lose our rights.

  48. @Big Daddy:
    What can we do? We have no power to vote for the person who actually runs the country, only our local representative (Member of Parliament, MP). Whichever party gets the most MPs is invited to form a govt however they see fit. Given that both of the parties with a chance are constantly scrapping to claim the middle ground and have exciting-sounding but poorly-defined policies on anti-terror, it’s not like a change of govt is likely to have much effect anyway.

    I’ve signed petitions on the officially sanctioned Govt petition site – every time the petition has eventually been declined with a response that boiled down to “thanks for your interest, but we know best”.

    I’ve written letters to my MP who — to be fair — generally does defy the party line and vote for things I agree with. But most MPs are cowed by the whips and vote according to their party leader’s wishes.

    I’ve written letters to national newspapers, but my views are either too unpopular, dull or poorly expressed to be published. The papers, for their part, either completely ignore the erosion of liberties or bury them at the end of dry articles.

    Short of starting my own political party (do you have a few £million for my campaigns?) or inciting a coup, I honestly don’t see what I can do to get these paranoid, oppressive idiots out of power. Heck, I’d settle for just getting Jacui Smith (who heads the Home Office, the dept ostensibly responsible for this shit) out of power but I don’t have a say in that either.

    I suppose I could start a movement to take to the streets, but we’ve all seen how well that works out. We’re not even allowed to protest within sight of the parliament buildings, so the MPs don’t have to see us.

    I’ve seen a lot of Americans saying that Brits need to stop this. But seriously, what do you suggest?

  49. Why, Bugs, we should do what the Americans did when they rid themselves of George Bush… eventually.

  50. @33 – My refusal to visit isn’t really about punishing the UK for their bad behavior, but rather that I no longer feel like I would be comfortable visiting there. FWIW Dubai is totally off my list too, although I never really wanted to go there in the first place.

  51. @bugs: What can we do? Although each of us needs to keep up the heat on our elected officials, the real change need to come from the people.

    Short term, we need to convince our fellow citizens that knee-jerk reactions to “terrorism” don’t work and only serve to diminish the benefits of our society.

    Long term, we need to make sure that our children and young adults are taught critical thinking skills so they can think for themselves and logically work out when the government pushes things like this which don’t make sense.

  52. To all our American cousins outraged at this:

    You might be surprised at how many Brits refuse to go to the U.S. for pretty much the same reasons you are refusing to go to London (perceived serious erosion of civil liberties, can’t walk down the street without being tasered,…)

    Yes, we need to make a stand against this stuff before it DOES go down the shitter, but the fact is you only see the bad news.

    Don’t base your opinions of London on the civlib category on BB. It’s not quite 1984 yet.

  53. Well, you know you’ve hit a real low when you get compared negatively to Communists. Jeez!

  54. It’s not really meant to be a contest to decide if the UK or the US is the worse offender. As a US citizen, I freely admit that we’re horrible, too. It doesn’t make the UK any better.

  55. In an interesting turn of events:

    The NYPD has issued an order reminding officers that photography and videotaping in public areas is legal.

    The order says although the city is a terrorist target, it’s also a major tourist destination and that virtually all photography has no link to terrorism.

    The order also says officers cannot demand to see someone’s pictures or order them to erase the photos.

    According to an NYPD spokesperson, there was not a particular incident that prompted the operations order. Instead, the spokesperson says the department just wanted to remind officers of the policy.


    They still (inexplicably) do random bag searches in subways though…

  56. Why doesn’t somebody create a website specifically for terrorists that people can upload photographs and videos of ‘sensitive’ sites like public streets and train stations.

    That way the genie is out of the bottle and there would simply be no point in persecuting other people for photographing them. It might also highlight the stupidity of the whole idea.


    that says alot!

    I’m seeing alot of police/abuse in the news lately and on youtube. Next they will take our right to film the actions of police away like they did in UK.

    Then our only recourse is…

  58. My earlier comment seems to have disappeared, although I saw them on the site as soon as I’d posted them.

    However, my two points were:

    “There’s no evidence that terrorists use photos to plan their attacks …”

    I’m skeptical of this. My common sense tells me that photographs of the target area would be pretty basic to planning a terrorist attack.

    Second, if we’re to do anything about the erosion of civil liberties in the UK, sensationalist, knee-jerk headlines about “mugging” and “beating the shit” out of people don’t really help. We need to talk calmly and rationally about these things, or we just make it easy for others to dismiss our concerns.

  59. @ #63:

    For a country in which the legislation states you can’t photograph or film police officers, there’s been a HELL of a lot of footage of violent police action getting into the media this past fortnight.

    Not the most effective legislation, thus far.

  60. (in his best Richard Nixon voice) “I’m saying that when the police do it, that it’s NOT illegal!”

  61. @58 “It’s not quite 1984 yet”?

    You people have an incredible amount of surveillance cameras, and police with outrageous power over ordinary citizens. I know the process of Orwellizing a city is insidious, but honestly.

    The police of New York City don’t pull the same stunts that your police do. Dare To Compare.

  62. #64

    Your points are logically sound, and I appreciate that.

    However, another good way to scout an area are to just visit, draw a picture, or just memorize.

    Should “visiting” be inhibited?

    “There’s no evidence that terrorists use photos to plan their attacks (more than any other method) …”, for example, would have been more sound.

    On a note unrelated to poster #64:

    As it’s been stated so many times before, if we are truly fighting terrorists who “hate the ideals of the west”, then western nations such as the US and the UK are doing an excellent job of restricting these ideals to the terrorist wishes. This is unless it’s just a war of bigots (which it most likely is) and certain individuals with power who actually have more in common with the aforementioned definition of terrorist than the common man are using the stupid fear of the masses to impose their restrictive values while whittling away at the less-wealthy, ethnically different. Then this is all fine, dandy, and going to plan.

    You don’t succeed against people who are willing to kill you for your values by giving up your values. If you do feel this way, an undirected fuck you should go out, and you don’t deserve to be angry with them, since you emphatically agree with the opposition.

  63. #69

    Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t suggesting that because photos are used to plan terrorist attacks, photography should be banned. I just thought the suggestion that photos of target areas aren’t used in terrorist planning was unnecessary.

  64. I know we need a police force.

    But the problem is that the police force tends to attract the sort of people who want to be police.

  65. Not allowing photographs of anything having to do with “transportation” is something you come to expect from authoritarian governments… such as I was prohibited by Chinese cops from photographing certain bridges in Tibet (they have checkpoints on the way to Mt. Everest).

    So, good on ya UK, you’re in good company there.

  66. Dave Rattigan @64: My common sense tells me that photographs of the target area would be pretty basic to planning a terrorist attack.

    Is your common sense backed by actual evidence?

    Movies and TV shows show terrorists using photographs to plan attacks, but that’s actually so the show’s creators can provide visual’s for the show’s audience. Actual terrorist attacks are usually performed by people who are personally familiar with the area being attacked.

    Bruce Schneier wrote an article for the Guardian last year in which he pointed out that the actual physical evidence recovered from the homes and workspaces of actual terrorists shows that they don’t use photos to plan their crimes:

    The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

  67. Darn Cory, you never see the good side of anything your government does for you. This is exemplary crime prevention by mugging the tourists before the are mugged by real muggers. Kind of a vaccination if you will.

  68. I commented on the Guardian article that it is trivial to restore deleted pictures, just google “restore deleted pictures”, and maybe add “freeware”. For the non-technical ones, it’s critical that you don’t take any more pictures after the deletion before you run the restore program.

    Although if this information becomes widely known, the Gestapo will hear about it too, and they’ll start confiscating memory cards. :( (though that might entail paperwork, i.e. accountability, so I guess that might be a good thing).

  69. Once again Cory tells us the law without telling us which law. If you’re interested, the law which allows a police officer to stop you taking pictures of her is Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Read all about it here:

    And please, if we’re making claims about law then it’s really easy to allow people to verify those claims for themselves – why not cite the legislation in future?

  70. The anonymous comment about the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 was by me. I didn’t intend to hide behind a cloak of anonymity; I just forgot to log in.

  71. First, to be fair intelligence agencies have sent people abroad as tourists for years to do reconnaissance. So it’s not as far fetched as you all make it out to be.

    But of course this is a troubling development because it is training the police to engage in fascist tactics. First against tourists, who are pushovers: they are at the mercy of local officials, have a limited understanding of local rights, don’t want hassle, etc. Then once police are accustomed to taking these kind of actions extending it to the locals is just a little step further.

    No one was ever corrupted all at once, it’s babysteps all the way. Oh, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  72. Damn! what’s going on with Britain? It’s getting more and more a police state every week!
    I hope we’re not next. I guess we can move to Mexico or Thailand on the beach, why not? Great food!

  73. Dominic @76/77: in this case, the police weren’t the ones being photographed (the tourist was snapping a bus station).

    There’s no legislation to prevent you from taking pictures of public buildings, unless perhaps they get you under something amazingly vague like possessing materials that are likely to be useful for terrorist purposes or something. I think it’s pretty clear there’s no real justification under UK law for this.

  74. So he admits to having visited communist countries. Perhaps he is a communist sympathize… oops, sorry, wrong hysteria. Never mind.

  75. In response to the person who asked what people who live in the UK think of the police: I must say that in general I find police on the beat here quite pleasant. One even helped us get out of ridiculously packed crowd at a festival. They’re quite happy to give directions. The PCSOs in my estate are cheery, and quite civilised even to the kids that hang around by the off-license. My one beef with them locally is that I can’t get them to do anything about the kid who drives his scooter on the sidewalk at high speeds. I’ve never fallen afoul of the cops here simply doing my thing, which is more than I can say of Canada or the US.

    I, and many of my friends and coworkers, feel that the degree of surveillance we’re under is nuts. I’ve had people asking me about the government’s new law tracking the URLs you visit, and how to get around that. We know we’re constantly under watch, and we don’t like it. Nor do we think its justified, and we take every opportunity we can to make our opinions known.

    A couple of things about this story and the comments really bug me. First off, Matkza says this never happened to him in communist countries. Well, he’s lucky then. I’ve had friends who had their film destroyed, and a professor in university had his full camera kit confiscated for taking pictures of government and public buildings. What happened to him is reprehensible, but to claim its worse than in communist countries is hyperbole.

    Second, you Americans claiming you’ll never visit the UK because of this are really bugging me. My wife was screamed at by an American customs official for trying to take a Clementine on to a plane. He told her she could be fined or jailed for that. A Pakistani woman in my mothers church missions group was detained overnight twice while changing planes in the UK simple for being brown. And then there’s the scores of people who’ve enjoyed vacations abroad on your government’s dime through the extraordinary rendition programme. Have you even apologised to Maher Arar yet? Nope, you still claim he’s a terrorist.

    Seriously, people. You have the moral high ground to tell us we need to do something to change this? You endured eight years of worse. Take the plank out of your own eye before you go banging on about the speck in ours.

  76. Sorry, that was “changing planes in the US”.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I’m some America-hater, or that I’m okay with what’s going on here (or back in Canada, either) but these comments, and the lack of self-awareness really bug me.

    Rant over.

  77. I’d like to advance the idea there is a real terrorist threat in UK cities and that the (alleged) terrorists do use photography.

    Since 7/7 there has ben 1 non-lethal set of explosions and 3 further sets of arrests over ‘credible’ teror plots, the latest just this month. After the recent arrests, BBC news explicitly stated those arrested had photographed sites in Manachester, including shopping malls and nightclubs.

    There may be a deeper question as to whether there were any plots and whether the photography statement is true. But a very wide segment of government, policing, judiciary and the media is asserting there has recently been more than group bent on terrorist murder. While I may suspect that there is a deep and wide conspiracy by government to control and terrorise its citizens, it seems equally – no, more – likely there are terrorists. Maybe with cameras.

    I have more than once had to return to school/work after an IRA bomb in the immediate vicinity: to me terrorism is not an abstract or something seen only on the news.

    Ed Griffiths (non wishing to be anonymous, but incapable of remembering passwords/logins lately)

  78. “Seriously, people. You have the moral high ground to tell us we need to do something to change this? You endured eight years of worse. Take the plank out of your own eye before you go banging on about the speck in ours.”

    See, I agree with this to some extent. People should be careful when commenting on the state of other countries that their remarks not come off as smug, snide or superior. I’m sure the Americans here know what that’s like, given the significant amount of criticism sent their way in the last 8 years.

    But at the same time, people should be allowed to criticise other countries, and it’s really important that such valid criticism not be deflected with a “Well, YOUR country did this awful thing…”. That’s a defense used by a lot of vile and corrupt governments and regimes, and it’s nothing more than a diversion tactic.

    So while criticisms of the UK police and government are totally justified, try to avoid offending people, and make sure you do your research.

  79. “So while criticisms of the UK police and government are totally justified, try to avoid offending people, and make sure you do your research.”

    I’m confused, your comment sounded like you were going to disagree with me, but then you pretty much said what I was saying, though more succinctly. :)

    Criticisms of governments and police are not only justified but necessary. It’s a truism that people condone as a group what they would never dream of as an individual. I’m sure most of the people saying “hey, waterboarding’s okay” would never be able to bring themselves to make a person suffer like that. Government is that impulse writ large. The police are that impulse writ large and then armed.

  80. ANDREW W:

    Nah, we’re more or less on the same page.

    I’m just wary of the “Yeah, but you guys do bad things too” response as a defense against criticisms of state action, as its too often used by oppressive or totalitarian governments to deflect criticism from more democratic states – see Russia or China’s response to Western criticism, for example.

    I welcome criticism of the UK’s government and police, and I’ll be near the front of the line to mete it out, but some of the comments here are coming across as too smug for my liking.

  81. Call me an Ugly American, but if a Bobby comes up to me making all these demands, and I KNOW he doesn’t even carry a gun, how am I supposed to take him any more seriously than shopping mall security. I would be afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop laughing in his face.

    On a practical note, were I to go to the UK, I would consider the following:

    That wireless card you can get to put in your camera that uploads the pics you shoot to a server.
    That is expensive and slow, but then there is nothing to delete.

    having several extra memory cards, and uploading the images every time I get back to my hotel. Plus a copy of file scavenger on my laptop to recover and “Erased” photos from my memory cards.

    and then always have a friend with me who also has a camera to shoot any encounter with these “Bobbys” from a distance. should my friend be noticed, I am imagining a Benny Hill-like chase around Trafalgar Square, complete with that bald guy and some bikini- clad women thrown in, oh yeah, and that music, too.

    Makes me want to travel to the UK just to be an asshole (why not, I’m an asshole here in the US…).

  82. As an amateur photographer who loves both architecture and transport, I’ve been encountering this sort of treatment fairly regularly in my travels (though, obviously, not to the point where I’ve ceased to snap pictures).

    I had a very similar experience in Valencia (Spain) in 2007 in which I was hustled off to a security office by a VERY agitated police officer and made to delete all of the photos I had taken of the station (a beautiful Modernista structure) and the train I that had just gotten off of (the very kind of high-speed inter-city train that so many of us dream of here in the States). It was both an upsetting incident and a horrible entry into a city that I had been hoping to visit for so long.

    I completely understand the nervousness that exists in countries (like Spain and the U.K.) that have experienced terrorist attacks focused on their public transport infrastructure. Prohibiting tourists (or locals, for that matter) from taking photographs of these often quite remarkable facilities, however, is a wholly irrational response in that these images simply do not reveal ANYTHING that isn’t already visible to the naked eye. The primary reason I document my surroundings photographically is that I find it complements my mental recollections of a particular place and time. Moreover, it allows for a later visual focus that is difficult – if not impossible – to achieve during my travels when I am already processing a near overwhelming quantity of new visual data (not to mention novel smells, sounds, etc.). I would suggest that the would-be criminal/terrorist – with his or her very specific agenda and extremely narrowed focus – has absolutely no need for such a mnemonic device. They will internalize what they see quite effectively without the need for a camera.

    And as for treating curious visitors (curiosity is one of the primary reasons we travel, after all) as potentially deadly threats, it seems highly counter-productive in terms of encouraging tourism, with its concomitant goals of fostering economic development and greater inter-cultural understanding.

    An especially delicious irony in this situation was that a temporary exhibit of photographs of trains and railway stations had been set up in the lobby of the station.

    In short, I wholeheartedly empathize with my Austrian friends and hope that we soon adopt a more rational and less intrusive/abusive approach to public security.

  83. #60 Antinous, It’s not really meant to be a contest to decide if the UK or the US is the worse offender.

    I disagree. It is. I’ll wave to you both as you pass us on the way down. #61 OneAmp’s post about the NYPD order is really one huge step back though.

    I have some suggestions to the police on how to make better progress.

    1) Do not tell tourists to delete digital photos. Confiscate the memory cards. As #46 gmr2048 pointed out, there’s a ton of free software out there, who’s sole purpose is to help you recover deleted photos. Even if your middle-aged technophobe tourist cannot do this himself, you can be sure there’s a kid back home who’ll gladly do it for him.

    Also note that some cameras stores images in internal memory on the camera itself. So removing the card may not be enough. Just to be safe, confiscate the camera as well.

    2) Ban camera sales. What good reason could there be for private citizens to own cameras? If they really want their photos taken, they could go to a photo studio. Only terrorists and paedophiles takes photos.

    And people who snap videos and photos of cops assaulting the citizenry for no good reason. When these photos and videos gets released, we have to convened expensive investigations before letting the cops go scot free. If there’s no video or photo, these would remain unsubstantiated rumours without evidence. We could just ignore then and save much expense on the entirely unnecessary investigation to white wash the whole thing.

    3) Camera owners should be licensed like gun owners. People like professional event photographers, photo studios, TV stations, etc will still need to take still photos and videos. We need to record the serial number of each device they own. The devices will also have to embed these identifying numbers into each photo and video. We need to know who took which photo so that if inappropriate photos are released to the public, we can withdraw the culprit’s license.

    4) We should establish a photo censor board. Every photo taken should be uploaded to this board’s website, and the original immediately deleted. The board will immediately review all photos submitted, and after removing objectional photos (photos that are indecent, violent, gross, or shows the authorities in bad light), sign them digitally and return them to the photographer. The digital signature also ensures that image and metadata in the photo is not modified.

    Anyone found in possession of a photo older than 2 days, without this digital signature, should be thrown in jail.

    5) There is no reason for anyone to leave their house and wander the streets aimlessly. Before they leave their homes, they should apply for a permit from the home ministry.

    Technology has progressed to the point that this can be done efficiently and automatically. Applicants who has had a good record will have their applications approved automatically without human review. Those applications that are flagged as exceptional will be reviewed by humans. Automatically processed applications would be decided in a fraction of a second. Those reviewed by humans need not take more than a few minutes.

    “Passes” could be issued for regular trips, to/from school/workplace so that you do not need to apply for permits each time.

    6) Each person could be fitted with an RFID chip, and the entire country covered with readers. This will let us detect when someone makes an unauthorized trip, or deviates from the approved path. They could be punished with fines, and their record modified so that it will be harder for them to get permits in the future.

    Disclosure: I work in a photo shop, that will suffer from the loss of camera sales and photo processing, but will benefit from the increase in studio portraits.

  84. I’m a (English-born, white) London resident, and I’ve been stopped from taking shots of that location. I guess it’s just because of the MI5 building that I had in the background but still, had to prove that it was just for a Uni project.

  85. I’ve been stopped by the police today for taking photographs in a quiet leafy Essex suburb. One of the house holders asked why I was taking a photograph of her house and I explained that I was trying out a new camera. Later I was stopped by the police (a PCSO and a rather pretty looking PC). I explained again what I was doing and was asked for my details. I refused and at this point they got pretty riled. The PC said that I had to (it turns out that I didn’t) and quoted PACE at me. The PCSO mentioned the Steven Lawrence case, which was laughable. Eventually I relented and showed them my drivers license. When I asked why they had stopped me and asked me for my details, the PC said “because a crime might be committed”.

  86. If MI6 don’t want pictures taken they would put their building in a desolated place or stop building photo worthy buildings around it.

  87. While it does sound heavy-handed, it must be noted that Vauxhall Bus station is almost right across the road from the MI6 building (think James Bond, Secret Service). In 2001 the IRA fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the bus to London from close by. You can kind of understand why the police round there might be a little jumpy.

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