Feeds

Home Office guides plods on photography

'There are no restrictions, but...'

High performance access to file storage

Terror Laws due to be passed this autumn, could provide Police with a new and significant power to stop individuals taking photographs.

This follows reassurances from Home secretary Jacqui Smith that there is "no legal restriction on taking photographs in public places", which is why she will shortly be issuing police with updated guidelines on ... how to enforce legal restrictions on photography.

Our Jacqui hasn’t completely taken leave of her senses. The real question is whether this particular bit of bureaucratic madness represents an official lightening of the stance on photography – or a tightening up.

To begin with, some restrictions do exist – most notably the Official Secrets’ Act 1911, which makes it an offence to take photographs of certain prohibited places (like dockyards and power stations). However, it seems unlikely that she has instructed the National Police Improvements Agency (NPIA) to carry out such a far-reaching exercise just to remind local coppers of their duty to keep an eye open for spooks.

Over the last couple of years, there has been increasing pressure on the humble photographer. First the public suspected them of being paedophiles, then covert terrorists.

The official police line has been reasonable. ACPO and some regional forces (including Nottingham and the Met) issued guidelines that make it very clear that the police have no general legal right to remove cameras or film, or stop individuals from taking photos.

However, the Met blotted their copybook with a campaign urging the public to be on the alert for terrorists with cameras. Matters were not helped during the summer when Jacqui wrote to Jeremy Dear, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists that there is "no legal restriction on photography in public places".

However, she qualified this by adding: "Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation".

This is a very odd formula. If there is no legal restriction on photography, then it is not entirely clear what powers the local Chief Constable would use to enforce this non-existent restriction.

The most recent use of this formula – "no restrictions, but..." – surfaced in a parliamentary answer to Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, who was asking about the right of police to stop and search individuals under s.44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

There have been a few high-profile cases in which the Police appear to have used this power in circumstances where suspicion of Terror was unlikely to be justified - and a very few cases where it appears to have been used to put pressure on photographers. But it's still only about the grounds for stop and search.

The NPIA would not be drawn on precisely what its Practice Advice would cover, stating that it "will help the police service maintain and enhance good community relations and increase public confidence when undertaking counter-terrorist operations". The full guidance is due to be published in November.

Far more worrying is s.75 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill, even now tracking its weary way through the Lords. This makes it an offence to "elicit or attempt to elicit information about" members of the armed forces, intelligence services, or policemen, where this information could be of use to a terrorist.

Names? Addresses? Photographs? Since almost every other item of anti-Terror law has eventually been broadened out beyond its original scope, there must be some concern that once in place, these new powers will be used to make life uncomfortable for anyone wishing to photograph police at demonstrations. Or just police anywhere?

After all, if you are out demonstrating, you probably have a political axe to grind, and as far as New Labour are concerned, the dividing line between political activism and involvement in Terror is increasingly fuzzy. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.