New Law in the UK May Make it Illegal to Photograph the Police After February 16th

New Law in the UK May Make it Illegal to Photograph the Police After February 16thI was disappointed to read a post that Paul Buchheit posted on FriendFeed today regarding recently passed legislation in the UK which might make it illegal to photograph the police there. The article, from Prison Planet, cites the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 as containing the relevant legislation:

From Prison Planet:

“According to the British Journal of Photography, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which is set to become law on February 16, “allows for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone who takes pictures of officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.” The punishment for this offense is imprisonment for up to ten years and a fine.

However, even before the passage of the legislation, police in Britain have already been harassing and arresting fully accredited press photographers merely for taking pictures of them at rallies and protests.”

In the UK, the section of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that deals with this is in section 76, where it states that it will now be a crime to “elicit, publish or communicate” information about members of armed forces etc.

From the legislation:

“(1) A person commits an offence who—

(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been—

(i) a member of Her Majesty’s forces,

(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or

(iii) a constable,”

While I’m still not exactly 100% sure what “ellicting and publishing information” about members of the police might entail, I could certainly see the issue being raised where an officer was identifiable, perhaps even with their name on their uniform. In any event, it certainly would seem to give the police more ammunition, so to speak, to be able to use when asking photographers not to photograph them.

This legislation would appear to be yet another chilling move by the UK in encouraging harassment of photographers. Last year you might remember that the London Metropolitan Police launched a very public advertising campaign asking people to turn in “odd” looking photographers.

Retaining our rights to photograph the police is important. Whether the Rodney King case or the more recent case of BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle’s killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, it is important that as citizens we be allowed to record the day to day activities of our police officers. Police officers wield an incredible amount of power over the general citizenry in our day to day lives. Being able to record their activities (as certainly they record ours) is an important right and power in ensuring that they handle their own power with the responsibility with which they should.

This law in the UK is unfortunate. It further muddies the water for what photographers can and can’t photograph with regards to the police and further paves the way for police officers to harass photographers. While the law seems to be targeted towards people who would photograph the police with the intention of using it for terrorism, I could easily see how it could be used by any police officer to try and stop photographers from photographing them. I would much rather have seen wording in this legislation that specifically said that regular citizens have every and all rights to photograph the police at any time.

I’ve taken a lot of photographs of the police here in the U.S. You can see my photoset “Cops” here.

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16 Comments

  1. yewenyi says:

    some poor soul will need to go to court in a show case trial to get the court to throw out such stupid behaviour and laws.

  2. Nick P says:

    Yep – I’ve also just posted on this and as a photographer in the UK its a very worrying trend. Be lucky you’re over in the US!

    There have been many attempt to get the UK Government to clarify its position on photography following the ad campaign by the UK Metropolitan Police early last year which itself triggered a lot of controversy. Since then hassle and stop and search requests of photographers by Police seem to have become standard. The only Government response was early this year when they replied to a petition in a rather weak manner which didn’t really clarify anything.

  3. Zen Elements says:

    Yet more marvellous laws trying to be introduced to make the UK a wondrous place to live… Wonder what will be next; No pictures of buses, trains or public transport routes?

  4. Patrick says:

    Here in the UK when I was growing up we used to laugh at the strict laws about behaviour in Singapore – laws about chewing gum, spitting and jaywalking are those I remember. No one is laughing now.

  5. Roland Hesz says:

    It’s ridiculous. Last time we had similar rules in my country we were – according to the UK – a “communist dictatorship”.

    And Zen Elements, there was a guy who had a hobby of taking pictures of buses. He was reported and the police told him not to do it again.
    It was for the “safety of children”, not a terrorism related thing though.

  6. […] New Law in the UK May Make it Illegal to Photograph the Police After February 16th […]

  7. Tina Harris says:

    Wow — this is really frightening! I thought things were bad here in the U.S. with security guards and police officers intimidating photographers for merely taking pictures of buildings from public streets, but at the moment we still have the law on our side.

  8. Horrible, but not at all surprising. Even before the rise of the “war on terror” Britain has been walking down the path toward becoming a tightly controlled police state. This is just another step that the UK government is taking toward its fascist future.

  9. Dave Kelly says:

    My father fought a war to stop dictators like Tont Bliar and Gordon Clown having power. Stop and ask yourself why this rotten government is giving the fascist police more and more power to act undemocratically? The answer is simple: They know the British people will eventually say enough is enough. Remember to poll tax riots that brought Thatcher down? NuLabour will do anything to avoid that scenario, including shooting people (more and more police are routinely armed)in the streets, if necessary.

    It is likely this fascist government will be brought down in the next election..that is, if there is one.

  10. PC says:

    This law makes it an offence IF the photographs/film is used in or in preparation for an act of terrorism. Not hobbies or media, unless it’s in a zone which the legislation prohibits.
    This isn’t an erosion of liberties, it’s common sense, providing police services with the appropriate means to combat people who want to blow us up.

  11. andy says:

    So how are we supposed to protect ourselves from rouge officers?

    This means that if i film a policeman while he is questioning me about an incident, as a record and perhaps evidence of such event, i would be commiting an offence which rather than protect me, could get me imprisoned?

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