Snapping or writing on coppers to be a crime?

RESEARCHING the details of individual police officers or members of Her Majesty's armed forces may soon become an imprisonable offence, under the Terrorism Act 2008, which received Royal Assent in November.

The new law's clause 102 states that "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 [a "constable" being the legal term for all police officers] or (b) publishes or communicates any such information."

It's not at all clear whether "attempts to elicit information" include photographing police officers on duty, and the new legislation would seem to effectively knock on the head or at least obstruct an awful lot of investigative journalism or documentary photography and video.

Citizens who are subject to police searches are entitled to ask for a record of the search. If they are then handed a completed search docket with the arresting officer's name filled in illegibly, (we've heard this happens a lot) would they then be breaking the law if they asked an officer to confirm their name? Former MI5 operative Annie Machon spoke at a fringe meeting of the 2007 NUJ conference: would asking her questions at such a meeting now land you in prison?

It appears that the above clause 102 will "come into force on such day as may be appointed by order of the Secretary of State". Often this means when police have been trained up in the application of these clauses, which would mean the measure would come into effect soon. Other similar restrictive clauses in policing legislation passed in the 1980s are still waiting to be put into effect, so the clause apparently forbidding the photographing of police may remain a potential threat still waiting for a very long time to be used. We've no way of knowing yet what the fate of the clause on "eliciting information" from police,spooks or military clause will be. Watch this space for developments and, most probably, test cases.

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