London’s Metropolitan Police Launches Anti Photography Propaganda Campaign

London's Metropolitan Police Launches Anti Photography Propoganda Campaign

In what I can only view as troubling and a move surely to invite more backlash against photographers, London’s Metropolitan police has launched a new counter-terrorism PR campaign complete with anti-photography propaganda.

The campaign is meant to encourage people to turn in “odd” seeming people that they see taking photographs.

“Thousands of people take photos every day,” reads their advertisement being run in London’s major newspapers. “What if one of them seems odd?”

Having personally been harassed in the past by the U.S. police while out shooting, I worry that this kind of a campaign will result in even more harassment for photographers going forward. In addition to police harassment, I think that this campaign also sends the wrong message to people about photographers and photography. I think it encourages people to think suspiciously of photographers and to add to the climate of fear associated with photography.

Photography is not a crime. Taking photographs is part of a rich tradition of art, social commentary and historical documentation. I’m very disappointed seeing London’s Metropolitan Police decide to take this course of action and worry that this sort of backward thinking will continue to spread the boogeyman myth that photographers and photography are the enemy when they very much are not.

Having people report “odd seeming” photographers will only take important police time away from ways that it could better be spent in really fighting crime and terrorism.

Thanks Nick for this important heads up.

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  1. William Beem says:

    Photography is the new Sorcery. How long before we have witch trials and then burn us at the stake?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I guess we all need to registrar our cameras now.

  3. CJPhoto says:

    How many people take pictures of the British houses of parliment each day?? Thousands. Maybe that is because it is a tourist/terrorist attaction.

  4. choffee says:

    Not that suprising. Last week they where telling us to report anybody who has two mobile phones because “That’s what terroist do”. It’s getting to be a bit counterproductive in my opinion.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You missed the subtext of that advert. ‘Odd’ is a euphemism for “dark skinned or bearded.”

  6. Thomas says:

    Did you even read the rest of the advertisment. It says if you see people taking photographs of security cameras or security installations and taking notes then you should report it, which seems like common sense to me. This is in no way an anti-photography campaign or even propeganda. Perhaps you should read the full thing before going all chicken little.

  7. Duke Geren says:

    How many mainstream photographers might be considered odd? I can think of a few, that are brilliant, but just a little off kilter. Watch out for those crazies, who knows what sort of plotting they are up to.

  8. Heather says:

    Watch them have us get licenses to take photographs when we go traveling. With my luck, I’d lose mine at the bottom of my purse, and get hauled away and my P&S; confiscated. 😛

  9. Ted says:

    @thomas – haven’t you ever seen artistic photography? Its not usually pointed directly at the subject, and maybe – just maybe – in an “odd” direction. Also, most all photographers take notes as they shoot. Clearly you are not a photographer – an artistic one at least – and maybe you might be just a bit of a jackass. IMHO.

  10. thomas: Why on earth is it a bad thing to take a picture of a camera? They started it!

    I don’t always agree with Mr Hawk’s ignoring of posted signs and such, but taking a picture of a camera or cop/guard in a public place is not only fine, but an important right. Until it’s recognized as such, william‘s assessment is correct. What are these tourist-rich cities going to do when word gets out they harass photographers?

  11. TranceMist says:

    I see that Witchcraft is still alive in England. Perhaps they need a Tea Party.

  12. TranceMist says:

    I hope Canon goes after them for using an image of one of their PowerShot models.

  13. Ulrich says:

    Ah yes. Next will be the ad where they say that millions of people drive cars and everyone should be suspicious about the drivers because they might have a terrorist attack in mind. I am sick and tired of all these campaigns where things are demonised which are perfectly legal. We must not give up our personal freedom.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Hawk,

    Thanks for posting about this important topic. I felt compelled to actually email the police in London my opinions. I hope they realize this issue is larger than London.

    @ Thomas,

    Have you been to London lately? They have so many security cameras it might be impossible to point your camera in any direction without getting one in the frame. I sincerely think they have more surveillance there than they do in Las Vegas.

  15. Phil says:

    “If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.”

    I find this sort of thing genuinely depressing. It is a misguided attempt at security that will result in nothing more than innocent people being harassed and the police being flooded with call about suspicious bearded men taking pictures.

    Someone taking a picture of a security camera tells you nothing about their intent. Let’s be honest if you are going to blow yourself up on a train or plane you don’t really need to worry about security cameras watching you do it. The July 7th bombers were caught on CCTV cameras in train stations but why would they care? They didn’t need to ascertain the positions of such “security” installations as it wouldn’t affect their plans at all.

  16. ade says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Thomas. I live in London. It’s the CCTV capital of the world. Fast becoming a dystopian nightmare.

    And this is a deeply misguided and depressing turn for the worse.

  17. owenblacker says:

    Their whole campaign is ridiculous — Bruce Schneier has already pointed out that it contains all the worst parts of the “War on the Unexpected”.

    For example: using two mobile phones is suspicious, is it? Is the Met completely unaware of the number of people who have one phone for work and one for personal use.

    Bloody idiots, the Metropolitan Police Force.

  18. nickp says:

    I brought this to Thomas’ attention not because I disagree with the basic notion, but because this is a blatant example of the “theatre of security” in action. (i.e. it does nothing to actively improve security but allows the police to reassure the public by looking like they are taking action)

    Considering the fact that in the major cities of the UK it’s almost impossible to shoot anything without getting a CCTV camera in your shot, this is just going to result in members of the public seeing someone with a camera taking a shot of a building and reporting it to the police.

    Photographers in our cities get hassled enough already and this is only going to make things worse.

  19. dibss says:

    Another one of Thomas’s fear mongering posts. Somewhat but I do agree to a degree. Where is it that the line is drawn.

    If I lived in a city where my subway had been bombed by political activists then I would want the authorities to be proactive about doing something about it.

    Times change and society has to change with it. We live in a time where we sometimes have to encroach on peoples civil liberties in order to stay safe.

    As a shooting professional I recognize it is not our god given right to shoot everything and anything. I have no issue with being challenged by a law enforcement officer as has happened to me in the past. I produce credentials that I am a working photographer and have never been detained for more than a few minutes. Certainly an inconvenience that I can live with if it is making our cities a safer place.

    Quite honestly I doubt that many serious photographers would worry about having to obtain a permit to photograph. The people that I see taking exceptions to this whole process is the wannabe amateurs who consider themselves god gift to photography (did I hear the name Thomas).

    What I do take exception to is the rent a cops that think they are the real thing and have powers that they don’t. I’ve done some assignments for shopping malls and apparently the security cops did not read that I was going to be there. Once I showed them the letter authorizing my presence it was normally no big deal.

    I have to ask those that are serious about photography. What would be the harm if the government , whether it is the UK,Canada, US or Zimbabwe, required us to submit to a security check and then supply us with some sort of verification that we could produce in time when we are stopped.

    We do live in weird times and as such we have to expect that that the status quo is not an option. We need to stop the terrorist elements of this world and if I have to accept some inconvenience in the mean time I am ok with that.

  20. It seems ironic that a government that’s known for the amazing amount of surveillance it does is worried about someone else watching them.

    As a shooting professional I recognize it is not our god given right to shoot everything and anything. I have no issue with being challenged by a law enforcement officer as has happened to me in the past. I produce credentials that I am a working photographer and have never been detained for more than a few minutes. Certainly an inconvenience that I can live with if it is making our cities a safer place.

    Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

  21. Phil says:

    dibss – what a funny post. I assume you were being ironic right?

    Your proposal is that anyone taking a photograph in public should have a permit as you assume that people only should be taking photos if they are a “serious” photographer?

    Apart from the ridiculous unworkability of such as scheme it would have a massive impact on tourists and other amateur photographers with zero benefit.

    How would everyone with a camera prove that they weren’t a potential terrorist? Would being in possession of a passport or driving license do it? Or perhaps a clean criminal record would prove non-terrorist status? Actually it wouldn’t. You can’t prove someone’s intent from their identity.

    Whilst your desire to stop all the scary terrorists is very admirable there’s no reason to believe that issuing permits to everyone with a camera would actually do this.

    However as long as only pros like yourself get to take photos that’s OK right? I mean why should the “wannabe amateurs”, tourists and so on be taking photos anyway – they’re not the expert you are.

    I agree that living in a city which had been bombed might scare you into wanting “things done about it” but surely you’d want things done that actually improve security not just make you feel better?

    Incidentally, I travel to London frequently. I was there on the 7th July when the trains and bus where blown up. I had just walked past the bus when it blew up behind me. It was scary but not enough to make me want to allow a police state where everyone reports their neighbours for being different.

    Putting posters up around the place saying “watch out for something unusual” is doing the terrorists job for them. It scares people and reduces their freedom which is what terrorists want.

    You should consider reading the Bruce Schneier articles that have been linked to in the other comments above. Bruce is a security expert who is very widely regarded.

  22. susi says:

    It is already intimidating going out with a camera and now this. It really is a stupid move, but I most certainly think that the people they will really look for is people with instant digital cameras and not people with professional SLR’s, hopefully anyway. I do agree that it does send the wrong message though.

  23. nickp says:

    I was going to comment on dibiss’s rather peculiar comment, especially with regard to his/her obvious belief that amateurs shouldn’t even be thinking about trying to improve their photographic skills when there’s people like him/her around, so what’s the worry!

    However Phil has very accurate summed up everything I was going to say so I’ll just reiterate the comments about checking out the Bruce Schneier articles which clearly define the difference between real security and the theatre of security. This definitely falls into the latter.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm… these things do nothing for your security and well-being really.. If anything they make it worse on a day to day basis, because they just add to the culture of fear and make the place you live in even less desirable to live in…

  25. JeffH says:

    One question that came to mind while reading dibss’s post is, why would or should photography require any type of permit any more than picnicking or tossing a Frisbee in the city park would. I do not get what there is about the activity of capturing a photograph that is threatening or odd. Might we also require artists and poets to get permits while in public also? After all, an artist creating an oil painting of the London Bridge is pretty threatening, just as a poet inspired by the natural beauty of the city park or the cityscape who sits on a park bench and composes a poem would be equally threatening using the twisted logic of the London Metro Police.

  26. Luis Cruz says:

    Want to make sure you get harassed while shooting? I’ve written a little tutorial on how to shoot (photographs) like a terrorist. I’m so sick of being harassed for simply bringing around a camera. By the way, I apologize in advance for the sarcasm.

  27. wSchwach says:

    I actually like that poster. It is so surreal that it looks to me as a hoax of an art-collective or something and should be treated like that. I want this on the cover of my photobag or printed on a t-shirt.

    But what i like most is the general concept behind this campaign: Never ever be without fear. A paperclip can be an instrument of mass destruction in the wrong hands. Ever be afraid – everybody may want to harm you.


  28. Fergus says:

    Lord above! Thanks for bringing attention to this. Terrorists also take notes! Be suspicious of odd-looking people with notebooks, or cameras, or just eyes – you know the types, shifty-looking, brown skin, that sort of thing. Report any and all suspicious activity, also suspicious inactivity, to the Ministry of Truth for full investigation.

    Thank you citizen, the Computer is your Friend.

  29. sfoist says:

    SFO BART station has this exhortation to call authorities whenever you see anything “unusal”. San Francisco has about the most unusual people I’ve ever seen, and I’d like to see what happened if the authorities actually got calls whenever anyone saw something “unusual”.

  30. Andrew Barczak says:

    “Quite honestly I doubt that many serious photographers would worry about having to obtain a permit to photograph. The people that I see taking exceptions to this whole process is the wannabe amateurs who consider themselves god gift to photography (did I hear the name Thomas).”

    This is just about the most disturbing thing I have heard since 9/11 happened and this quest for the illusion of “security” started. Please tell you are not serious. A background check for the right to use a bloody camera?? It a camera for christ’s sake, not a handgun.

    I find statements like this positively scary. How far have we fallen that someone would even suggest requiring a security check to take a picture. This is very disappointing to to hear from you dibss.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I saw this advert in the London Metro yesterday and I was stunned. Fergus mentioned the “Ministry of Truth”, and that was my first thought as well. I’ve taken many pictures of CCTV cameras before, mainly because I find them interesting, I guess I should be turning myself in so the authorities can decide if I’m a terrorist.

    The full range of adverts is designed to install fear of everything and everybody. It’s almost like the Daily Mail itself designed the campaign!

    If your interested, the full range of scare mongering posters can be found here:

    Stay afraid, stay very afraid…

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  33. Tanie auta says:

    good article…;)

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