Photographers win British war on photography?


42 Responses to “Photographers win British war on photography?”

  1. Russell Letson says:

    If they want that memo to work, they ought to have DS Dalziel promulgate it–Fat Andy would make it stick.

    (And why does Section 44′s notion of special secret designated locations make me think of Animal House?)

  2. PalookaJoe says:

    IamInnocent @ 8

    My feelings about this kind of news depend a lot on my goals.

    When my goal is change, then this is great news. It sounds like a large step in the reconciliation of the police and the public.

    When my goal is revenge, then the news isn’t good at all. I’m hurt. I’m angry. I want to strike down the guilty party, stand over their cringing form, raise my voice and shake my finger. Until then, they can take their policy changes and go pound sand.

    I think a lot of the happy responses are coming from people who want to see change. This isn’t a flaw in their character. They aren’t whipped dogs licking the hand of their abuser. They’re just people who have different priorities than yours.

  3. Mark Crummett says:

    >>(And why does Section 44′s notion of special secret designated locations make me think of Animal House?)<<

    You don’t _ever_ want to get Double Secret Probation in the UK!

  4. Matthew Walton says:

    The only criticism I have is that they didn’t clamp down on this from the start. Everybody who actually looked at the laws concerned in detail realised that the ‘war on photography’ was never provided for in law, at least not to the extent that it happened. I’m fairly sure there’s a way through some part of the law that allows an officer to stop someone taking pictures under certain circumstances, but that’s likely to be very rare indeed… and this is not what took place in practice.

    The resulting destruction of an already shakey trust between the police and the public is one of the saddest things of the modern UK. I hope we can get that trust back one day. This, and more importantly the effects we hope it will have, is a step in that direction and I welcome it.

    Of course, the Chief Constables don’t always have the respect of the officers on the street, either…

  5. andygates says:

    “Photographers should be left alone to get on with what they are doing. If an officer is suspicious of them for some reason they can just go up to them and have a chat with them – use old-fashioned policing skills to be frank – rather than using these powers, which we don’t want to over-use at all.”

    That’s lovely to hear. I hope they don’t need reminding again in a few months…

  6. humanresource says:

    Whether or not this memo amounts to a good thing, isn’t it great to know that the English police have a spokesman called Mr Trotter?

  7. hbl says:

    Well dice me gently with a chainsaw?!? I am totally printing off a copy of this statement to put in my camerabag.

  8. vendorx says:

    arkizzle : IamInnocent, What’s with the unrealistically absolutist stance on people’s commentary of the political mechanism? All or nothing can stay in the fantasy land you occupy.

    Hear, hear! Any major social or political condition comes with inertia, and about the only time sudden, drastic change occurs is at the barrel of a gun. One of the best skills to have is the ability to scan for warning signs of change, see the beginning of trends or in this case, the hopeful reversal of them. One of the cheapest social philosophies out there is, “if it isn’t working with absolute perfection, it isn’t working at all.”

  9. shadowfirebird says:

    Frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

    We had a new official policy on photography that said police shouldn’t do this sort of thing. That was, what, six months ago?

    Maybe it’s all having a gradual effect. Or, maybe not.

  10. querent says:

    Innocent and Ark both got a point.

    Like, if the US actually had discontinued the use of torture (instead of downplaying and outsourcing), it would be both a victory, and shameful that we would think it a victory.

  11. andygates says:

    Torture and hassle are orders of magnitude apart, though, so the shame is orders of magnitude smaller: we get to harumph and shuffle our feet a bit.

  12. DominicSayers says:

    Detective Superintendent Chris Greany of City of London Police clearly didn’t read the memo. Today he said of two men apprehended for filming in a tube station “the pair may have been the fundraising and research arm of an al-Qaeda-linked group”

    Their crime? Filming a tube station with a mobile phone.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry, but you can’t say

    “Everyone… has a right to take photographs and film in public places. Taking photographs… is not normally cause for suspicion and there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place.”

    on one hand, and run adverts like this:

    on the other. Either this is a climbdown over deliberate, knowingly abusive policy, designed to cause fear and paranoia without basis, or it was massive incompetence on the part of the met’s PR department (and by association, the top brass that would have had to approve it). Either way, someone should resign.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Having been stopped in the past I doubt this will change anything. Chief Poilce Officers say one thing to the media, but it’s what diseminated to PC Plod on the street and his/her policing on the cheap PCSO buddies that counts.


  15. bellebouche says:

    Whilst a ‘strongly worded memo’ doesn’t constitute a U-turn it’s at least a step in the right direction.

    The Guardian recently reported a significant decrease in the number of Section 44 stop and searches but to put this in context – during 2008-09 more than 256,000 people were stopped in the street and searched by the police without the need for reasonable grounds of suspicion.

    350 people a day is a staggering amount to think about and the road back from that level of mistrust wont be at all easy.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The FBI here in the US also checks up on photographers. I discovered that four years ago, when two FBI Agents appeared on my doorstep a few weeks after I had made a business trip to Delaware.

    Why? Because my co-worker took a picture.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Good to know even the coppers are getting embarassed by getting in the way of photographers. See this video about what happens when they and others (security guards, Jobsworths etc) get in the way of free speech: Freedom to Film,

  18. Dave Murray says:

    In many of the reports we have about police harassment of photographers, the general consensus seems to be that it is those openly using their cameras who are targeted. I have started to modify my behaviour. I avoid carrying a camera bag. I use a small, RF/DF type camera (Leica) with a couple of lenses, a meter a nd a few rolls of film. I use an old army ‘camo’ jacket from the army stores as it has large pockets. These can also be bought in places like Next and Burtons. I look around carefully before getting my camera out and make sure there are no plod or even traffic wardens. If I see someone watching me who then pulls out a mobile phone, I nip off quick. Likewise, after taking my shot, I move away quickly. I call it avoidance and evasion. Try it, it might add a new dimension to your photography. Oh, watch out for the CCTV cameras.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I guess they feel that photographs are a group that is more likely to complain in media. And that it could lead to a stronger scrutiny of the powers police corps have after 9/11 and the abuse of them.

  20. Boondocker says:

    Well, that’s great news! Hopefully the same attitude will make its way over the pond.

  21. winkybb says:

    This is encouraging. However, I was a little perturbed by the statement that “…there are no POWERS prohibiting the taking of photographs…” (emphasis added). Should this not be “LAWS”? Or do the Police believe that they now have “powers” that are above, or need no law? Generally speaking, police can’t require you to stop doing anything other than those things which are illegal.

    • AlexG55 says:

      Not the case. For instance, it is not illegal to drink alcohol in most public places in the UK (assuming you’re of age to do so and not drunk and disorderly), but there are still places where you are required to put your drink away if a policeman tells you to.

  22. Anonymous says:

    “If an officer is suspicious of them for some reason they can just go up to them and have a chat with them…”

    I don’t know about that statement. Isn’t having officers randomly walking up to photographers to “chat” with them half the problem?

  23. phillamb168 says:

    @winkybb That seems like a semantic/editorial difference to me. He’s a cop, not a lawyer.

    This is very encouraging news. Next on the list, getting rid of that damned national DNA database.

  24. Simon Bradshaw says:

    winkybb @2,

    It’s a terminology issue. In English criminal and police law, it’s common to talk about a certain piece of legislation as conferring particular powers upon the police.

    To unpack that statement, what he meant was ‘there are no elements of the law that give police the power to prohibit the taking of photographs’.

  25. jessemoya says:

    This is fucking excellent news to wake up to. And I’ve never even been to the UK.

  26. Hanglyman says:

    GOOD news from Britain? It must be some kind of trick.

  27. poopdog says:

    It’s a Christmas miracle! I can’t believe how much hope this story has brought me. I’ve been monitoring Britain as a sort of pre-cursor to American policies.

    Good to see calmer heads prevail and rational thought still wins.

  28. Anonymous says:

    It’s nice to hear, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is still a country in which the majority of junior officers and PCSOs measure your behaviour using the “attitude test.” Refuse to provide your details, even when you’re not required to by law? You failed the attitude test and now we’ll find a reason to stop you for a while.

    Nothing makes me pack up my camera and tripod faster than a couple of PCSOs wandering in my direction. Doesn’t matter that they have no legal power to detain or arrest me. Doesn’t matter that S44 requires them to be under the supervision of a police officer in order to be able to stop and search me. That won’t stop them.

    It’ll take more than a strongly-worded memo to make photographers trust the police about this again.

  29. IamInnocent says:

    Is there any critical sense left among the BB community members? Or guts?

    Accordingly to you all, the fact that the police admits that they did something illegal, since by the chiefs own admittance the law didn’t give them the power to harass photogs in any way, and kept at it for a least a couple of years and get away with it (except that they suffer a bit of the depression) is good news?

    To me it just show how terrorized they all got you.

    • arkizzle / Moderator says:


      You well know we’ve all been criticizing this shit for a long, long time. Let people feel relieved when the powers-that-be acknowledge the issue.

  30. Baldhead says:

    So sometime in the next five years we’l begin to see the regular Bobby get this message?

    Sorry for being cynical but it can take police a rather long time to parse, then act on new information that means not harassing certain groups.

  31. gramiq says:

    Well, this is GOOD news in that the police will no longer use a bad law to do bad policework.

    But it’s not GREAT news — because the law still exists, and cops can still stop anyone they want, in “secret designated areas” for whatever reason they want.

    I’d be curious if this is grounds for a class-action lawsuit.

  32. meeware says:

    I’ve been in the weird possition of discussing the privacy and civil liberties issues around other areas of technology with the home office and senior police officers for a couple of years, in an unofficial capacity. One thing I have learned is not to pre-judge the attitudes and perspectives of anybody in the police or engineering or science fields associated with these decisions. I can fully believe that there are ‘top cops’ appalled by the miss use of the current powers, just as there will be more junior cops who treat all members of the public with a confrontational disdain and use any excuse to persecute us, or worse.

  33. IamInnocent says:

    Actually Arkizzle, I don’t see the people who were the main actors of those critics around anymore. Any idea why?

    And no, there is no relief to be had, no arms to be lowered and on cry of victory of any sort should be uttered. People are being bashed upon the head and they should be thankful when it stops? Seems to me that the bashing had its effect.

    • arkizzle / Moderator says:


      What’s with the unrealistically absolutist stance on people’s commentary of the political mechanism? All or nothing can stay in the fantasy land you occupy. Things happen in order, this is a step forward. People will continue to fight for civil liberties and demand that inequities are righted. A positive way to keep your strength up is to enjoy the little victories, even those that are only the Powers admitting culpability.

      And mischaracterizing everyone involved as pitiful wretches, only too happy to kiss the boots that kick them is a load of broadstroke nonsense.

      ..and they should be thankful when it stops?

      No, who said that? They should be appropriately angry.

    • Itsumishi says:

      I assure you if you were being beaten in the head for years you would indeed be grateful when it stopped.

      You would still be angry that it happened, but you’d be happy that it’s stopped regardless.

      It is good that the police have issued this statement. Hopefully it will have some sway to stop the practising of harassing photographers, if it does then it is good. Yes it’s still shitty that it happened for years but what do you expect to be done after the fact apart from an apology and the ceasing of the practice?

      The terrorism laws will unfortunately be on the books for a while, I doubt they’ll ever disappear completely but perhaps they will fade into insignificance. Perhaps they’ll fade into near insignificance then be used in some kind of high-profile case where people will be outraged and they’ll be stricken, but that’s a pretty unlikely scenario.

    • mdh says:

      Actually Arkizzle, I don’t see the people who were the main actors of those critics around anymore. Any idea why?

      Must have something to do with the smarmy jackasses who hint that they have something worthwhile to say, but only ever communicate their disdain for others.

      • IamInnocent says:

        Of all the epiteth the English language offers you chose ‘smarmy’ to describe me? Are you trying to ridicule yourself utterly or do you just don’t know the meaning of the word?

  34. Blue says:

    “The last thing in the world we want to do is give photographers a hard time or alienate the public.”

    Clearly that’s not the case. This has been going on for, what, a couple of years or more, now?

    And the police only care about them having a tough time as a result of this. They still routinely harass people who have been at protests via Automatic License Plate Recognition. Perhaps these people are designated ‘protestors’ though, rather than ‘members of the public’.

    How long will that go on for before it’s “the last thing we want to do”?

    What’s that line?’The cops are just the lackeys for the ruling classes’. That’s all they really give a crap about, as a collective body.

  35. Kenny Park says:

    I filmed the Wave Scotland march and rally in Glasgow yesterday without any interference from the police (who were present in force). I half expected to get one of those harmless wee chats alluded to by Trotter, but they were very civil. Well, they ignored me. Perhaps this memo was why.

    Anyway, good.

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