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Photocops: Home Office concedes concern

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These powers apply to "designated areas", which the Met confirmed last night currently cover the whole of London, subject to review of this status on a 28-day basis.

Despite this issue finally being debated in Parliament, there is still a good deal of confusion over what the issues are and what is going on.

The incidents that John Randall describes are at the extreme end: they involve police over-stepping the mark and requiring members of the public to hand over film or delete film despite the fact that no such power exists. This is confirmed by existing police guidelines.

A spokeswoman for the Met confirms that the police are committed to allowing photographers to continue their work as normally as possible. She told us: "Any allegations or complaints about police treatment of photographers is taken very seriously by the MPS."

The second is a much broader issue of fearfulness on the part of photographers, brought about by the way in which police are increasingly using a range of stop powers to gather intelligence or, as some activists have argued, to exert social control.

A further issue is that "stop and account" exists in a grey area between formal and informal policing. Serving officers have complained to us that it should not be in any way surprising if police occasionally stop individuals and ask them to explain their presence in an area. However, the formalisation of this process under PACE, combined with form-filling and database, creates a much greater degree of public suspicion on the part of some sections of the public.

Thus, Mr Mason appears to have been stopped not under terror legislation, but simply using PACE. "Reasonable suspicion" in this and similar cases boils down to the fact that bad people have been known to take photos of public buildings – so talking to Mr Mason was justified.

However, as we have reported previously, the way in which the Met is increasingly redefining the boundaries of what counts as suspicious activity is itself worrying and begins to look like law-making by default. This is an issue that needs to be kept firmly under the spotlight. ®

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