Mixed messages on the right to take pictures

The hokey Coaker

HOME OFFICE minister Vernon Coaker has confirmed that it is policy that photography can be "limited" in public places in "special circumstances". In a letter to the NUJ dated 3 December 2008, following up on his meeting with NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear on 5 November, Coaker gave an alarmingly broad definition of such special circumstances, which "may be on the grounds of national security, or there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or inflame an already tense situation... Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace or to avoid a public order situation or for the person's own safety and welfare or for the safety and welfare of others." Many law enforcement and security people seem to be making up the law on filming in public as they go along anyway.

Smile, please, ossifer © Guy Smallman
Well over 100 photographers gathered at the Metropolitan Police headquarters in London for a mass snap-in of police, protesting the part of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 allowing for the arrest of anyone whose pictures are "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" - or, it seems, anyone who snaps a policeman.

A short video posted on YouTube  shows numerous examples of police and Community Support Officers and security guards cluelessly telling the public they're not allowed to film or photograph in a public place, or photograph or film police officers. Big Brother Hates Being Filmed! at www.NuffRespect.notlong.com also features an appearance by our own NUJ Freelance Organiser, John Toner,  reiterating that "If you are on public land in a public place there is no law to prevent you either taking still pictures or moving images." (See warning below!)

Coaker, giving evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Human Rights on policing and civil liberties, made several references to his earlier meeting on police obstruction of journalists with NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear (see www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0812met.html).

Coaker said that since the meeting with Jeremy there is now "revised guidance making it clear that the Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images."

The guidance also makes it clear, he went on, that "memory cards may be seized as part of a search but officers do not have a legal power to delete images or destroy film... we must not under any circumstances unwittingly put ourselves in a situation where photographers, journalists or others may feel that they do not have the right and do not believe that they can pursue their professional job and the public interest."

The minister also told the Committee that "Mr Dear" has been invited to be with the police during some of the demonstrations while they are taking place to see what is happening and to advise the police on some of the procedures that they may change": See the full text: www.coaker.notlong.com

They've been framed

Be warned before you view the video or forward a link to colleagues that YouTube has marginalised it into a page featuring thumbnails advertising "Relevant Videos" of an, er, "adult" nature. These are in fact mostly censored extracts from American Big Brother and actually not-very-rude clips of people verbally giving sex advice, but the in-your-face titles for these clips that appear on the page may lead you believe otherwise. The creator of the Big Brother Hates Being Filmed! clip has complained to YouTube about this, to no avail.

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