More than 350 photographers have issued a joint plea to end the hostile and humiliating use of anti-terror laws to prevent them taking pictures in public.
The professional and amateur photographers have signed a letter, published in
The Sunday Telegraph, calling on ministers and the police halt the practice of them being stopped and searched while they are taking images in public places.
The letter, whose signatories include Rosemary Wilman, the president of the Royal
Photographic Society, and the photographer and historian Professor John Hannavy, says:
As professional and amateur photographers, we are deeply concerned about the treatment of those taking pictures in public places.
Photographers using equipment larger than a compact camera are frequently stopped and searched under anti-terrorist legislation, which they find humiliating.
We do not believe it likely that real terrorists would
bother to set up a tripod or use a heavy single-lens reflex camera, as perfectly satisfactory pictures for their purposes could be taken on a discreet camera phone.
If our photography has an effect on law and order, it
is beneficial, as wrongdoers are unlikely to commit crimes in close proximity to someone visibly holding a camera.
Meanwhile, some in the police, especially PCSOs, believe it is illegal to take any pictures of a police
officer. This is because of ambiguous legislation, introduced earlier this year, which made it an imprisonable offence to collect information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism . Given the
existence of Google Street View, we do not believe the legislation should be used against ordinary photographers.
In March, at a meeting with representatives of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), the British
Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) and Amateur Photographer, the Home Office agreed to issue guidelines to police forces spelling out that the law must not be misused against those engaged in legitimate photographic activity. This does not
appear to have had the desired effect.
Rather than treat photographers as terrorists, the Government should amend the Anti-Terrorism Act to prevent its misuse and explain to police forces that a hostile attitude
towards photographers is unwelcome.
For those with an axe to grind over authority, the past week or so has been great fun: but has something fundamental changed in the way the public now respond to being policed?
After a year in which the policing of photography has been something
of a minority interest, there has been a parade of stories about photographers arrested or stopped for apparently spurious reasons and a flurry of journalists out and about waving cameras in the faces of police and community support officers. YouTube is
growing fat on footage of police-camera confrontation.
This is heavy stuff: no wonder a series of senior officers have started speaking up. In November HM Inspector of Constabulary warned of the perils of police losing the battle for the
public's consent . Andy Trotter, a rising star in the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said much the same thing last week. This week, it was the turn of John Yates, widely regarded as one of the Met's safest pairs of hands, to remind the
rank and file, in no uncertain terms, to respect the public right to photograph.
Police community support officers (PCSOs) stopped Italian student Simona Bonomo under anti-terrorism legislation for filming buildings in London. Moments later, she was arrested by other officers, held in a police cell and fined.
student has described how she was stopped by police under anti-terrorist legislation while filming buildings, and later arrested, held in a police cell for five hours and given a fixed penalty notice.
Simona Bonomo, an art student at London
Metropolitan University at London Metropolitan University, filmed the moment on 19 November when she was approached by two police community support officers (PCSOs) in Paddington, west London.
When Bonomo was challenged by one PCSO, she said she
was filming just for fun . He replied: You like looking at those buildings do you? You're basically filming for fun? I don't believe you.
Bonomo then declined his request to see what she had filmed. I can have a look if I want to,
if I think it may be linked to terrorism. This is an iconic site, he replied.
Bonomo then said she was an artist. You're an artist? Have you got any proof or any identification? he said. After accusing Bonomo of being cocky, the PCSO
said she had been cycling the wrong way down a one-way street and threatened to fine her. After she apologised, the PCSOs departed, but returned moments later with about six police officers, she said.
She was searched and, after an altercation
with one officer, was accused of being aggressive, bundled to the ground and arrested. The PCSOs were not involved in the arrest. After five hours in a police cell, Bonomo said she was told to sign an £80 fixed penalty fine for a public order
offence. She plans to contest the penalty, which stipulated she caused harassment, alarm and distress in public.
Bonomo returned the next day to interview builders who had witnessed her arrest. Footage of the interviews appears to
corroborate her account. I was disgusted, one said. They were terribly out of order. There was one officer who was spiteful to you.
Mass Photo Gathering Saturday 23rd January 2010, Noon Trafalgar Square, London
I'm a Photographer, Not a Terrorist! invite all Photographers to a mass photo gathering in defence of street
Following a series of high profile detentions under s44 of the terrorism act including 7 armed police detaining an award winning architectural photographer in the City of London, the arrest of a press photographer covering campaigning
santas at City Airport and the stop and search of a BBC photographer at St Pauls Cathedral and many others. PHNAT feels now is the time for a mass turnout of Photographers, professional and amateur to defend our rights and stop the abuse of the terror
Offsite: Police snapper silliness reaches new heights
The City of
London's police decision to stop and quiz London Tonight reporter Marcus Powell, who was out with an ITN crew filming a story about Grant Smith's little contretemps with the boys in blue shows extreme dedication to the cause of foot-in-mouth
According to a spokesman for City of London Police, Powell was initially asked whether he had a permit to film, and then on showing his press card was allowed to continue.
The real question now is: will police efforts to alienate
the public and piss off press photographers continue into 2010. Early indications are that common sense should soon reassert itself and we will finally be able to stop reporting on the increasingly silly interactions that appear to take place on an
almost daily basis between police and photographers.
In August I wrote that the Home Office advice to police forces would be tested on the ground. It is clear that both the police and government have failed photographers as the abuse is still taking place. If the government is
really serious about protecting public photography – and many photographers would doubt this – then the first place to start would be to scrap section 44 once and for all.
This is why I will be in Trafalgar Square at 12 noon on Saturday 23 January
2010 for the I'm a Photographer Not a terrorist! mass picture taking event along with hundreds of other photographers to exercise our democratic right to make a picture in a public place.
Police forces across the country have been warned to stop using anti-terror laws to question and search innocent photographers after The Independent forced senior officers to admit that the controversial legislation is being widely misused.
strongly worded warning was circulated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) last night. In an email sent to the chief constables of England and Wales's 43 police forces, officers were advised that Section 44 powers should not be used
unnecessarily against photographers. The message says: Officers and community support officers are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos. Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist
or professional, is unacceptable. Related articles
Chief Constable Andy Trotter, chairman of Acpo's media advisory group, took the decision to send the warning after growing criticism of the police's treatment of photographers.
in today's Independent, he says: 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.
He added: We need to make sure that our officers and Police Community Support Officers [PCSOs] are not unnecessarily targeting photographers just because they are going about their business. The last thing in the world we
want to do is give photographers a hard time or alienate the public. We need the public to help us.
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.
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act allows the police to stop and search anyone they want,
without need for suspicion, in a designated area. The exact locations of many of these areas are kept secret from the public, but are thought to include every railway station in and well-known tourist landmarks thought to be at risk of terrorist attacks.
Many photographers have complained that officers are stopping them in the mistaken belief that the legislation prohibits photographs in those areas.
The abuse has resulted in nearly 100 complaints to the police watchdog. Since April 2008
every complaint made by a member of the public about the use of Section 44 powers, unlike other complaints, must be forwarded to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In the past 18 months there have been 94 complaints. Eight of these
specifically mentioned the fact that the issue arose around photography.
This is part of the message circulated by Andy Trotter, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, to police forces in England and Wales.
Officers and PCSOs are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos.
There are very clear rules around how stop-and-search powers can be used. However, there are
no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.
We need to co-operate with the media and
amateur photographers. They play a vital role as their images help us identify criminals.
We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more
However, unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional is unacceptable and worse still, it undermines public confidence in the police service.
Police have been accused of misusing powers granted under anti-terror legislation after a series of incidents, ranging from the innocuous to the bizarre, in which photographers were questioned by officers for taking innocent pictures of tourist
destinations, landmarks and even a fish and chip shop.
Police are allowed to stop and search anyone in a designated Section 44 authorisation zone without having to give a reason. But amateur and professional photographers have complained
that they are frequently being stopped and treated as potential terrorists on a reconnaissance mission. Last night the Government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws warned police forces to carefully examine how they use the controversial
Speaking to The Independent, Lord Carlile of Berriew said: The police have to be very careful about stopping people who are taking what I would call leisure photographs, and indeed professional photographers. The fact that someone
is taking photographs is not prima facie a good reason for stop and search and is very far from raising suspicion. It is a matter of concern and the police will know that they have to look at this very carefully, he added.
comments come just days after a BBC journalist was stopped and searched by two police community support officers as he took photographs of St Paul's Cathedral. Days earlier Andrew White was stopped and asked to give his name and address after taking
photographs of Christmas lights on his way to work in Brighton. And in July Alex Turner, an amateur photographer from Kent, was arrested after he took pictures of Mick's Plaice, a fish and chip shop in Chatham.
Most of those stopped are told they
are being questioned under Section 44, a controversial power which allows senior officers to designate entire areas of their police force regions as stop-and-search zones. More than 100 exist in London alone, covering areas such as the Houses of
Parliament, Buckingham Palace and other landmarks. Every train station in the UK is covered by a Section 44 order. But, due to the fear that the information could be used by terrorists to plan attacks, most of the the exact locations covered by Section
44 authorisations are kept secret, meaning members of the public have no idea if they are in one or not.