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Photographers Rights and Anti Terrorism measures
A brief guide for street photographers.
(© urban75, updated May 2017)
With the increasing paranoia over security and terrorism, photographers being have been increasingly challenged by police when taking photographs of potentially sensitive subjects like power stations, refineries, bridges and ports.
Photographers taking innocent photos of such places may find themselves being questioned about the nature of the business and the purpose of their photos, with the police citing the Official Secrets Act 1911 (that's pushing it) or the handy catch-all of The Terrorism Act 2000 (Section 44 has been erroneously used several times by PCSOs to take details of photographers deemed to be acting 'suspiciously').
Section 44 information
12 Jan 2010: Stop-and-search powers ruled illegal by European court
"Police powers to use terror laws to stop and search people without grounds for suspicion are illegal, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled."
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Unless you've crawled into a nuclear bunker and have been caught red handed taking photos of things marked 'TOP SECRET' it's unlikely that you've actually broken any laws.
However, if you're snapping in an area that could be deemed sensitive, it's generally wisest to calmly answer their questions and put up with them rummaging through your camera bag - but remember they have no right to seize your equipment or demand that memory cards are deleted/confiscated.
For press photographers, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) national police-press guidelines makes their rights clear:
"Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and [police officers] have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record."
"It is a matter for their editors to control what is published or broadcast, not the police. Once images are recorded, [the police] have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order, even if [the police] think they contain damaging or useful evidence."
The guidelines also warn that any police officer who deletes a photographer's images could face criminal, civil or disciplinary action.
Update: 5 May 2017 Professional photographer Eddie Mitchell detained by Sussex police under anti terro laws after he was seen taking pictures of Hove Town Hall. Read more here.
Update: 4 Dec 2009. Statement sent out by the Association of Chief Police Officers to Chief Constables and Commissioners across England and Wales:
Section 44 Terrorism Act and Photography
Adverse media coverage of the police service use of Section 44 powers, when dealing with issues relating to photography, have recently hit the headlines again and suggests that officers continue to misuse the legislation that is available to them. The evidence also suggests that there is confusion over the recording requirements of 'Stop and Account' and the actual police powers of 'Stop and Search'. The purpose of this letter is to clarify the legislation and guidance in relation to these matters.
Stop and Search
Section 44 gives officers no specific powers in relation to photography and there is no provision in law for the confiscation of equipment or the destruction of images, either digital or on film.
On the rare occasion where an officer suspects that an individual is taking photographs as part of target reconnaissance for terrorist purposes, then they should be treated as a terrorist suspect and dealt with under Section 43 of the Act. This would ensure that the legal power exists to seize equipment and recover images taken. Section 58A Counter Terrorism Act 2008 provides powers to cover instances where photographs are being taken of police officers who are, or who have been, employed at the front line of counter terrorism operations.
These scenarios will be exceptionally rare events and do not cover instances of photography by rail enthusiasts, tourists or the media.
The ACPO/NPIA Practice Advice, published in December 2008, is again included with this letter and specifically covers the issues surrounding photography. The guidance also includes the need for clear briefings on the use of Section 44 and it may be appropriate to include photography issues within those briefings.
Stop and Account
Encounters between police officers and PCSOs and the public range from general conversation through to arrest. Officers need to be absolutely clear that no record needs to be submitted to cover any activity that merely constitutes a conversation.
Only at the point where a member of the public is asked to account for their actions, behaviour, presence in an area or possession of an item, do the provisions of the PACE Act apply and a record for that 'stop and account' need to be submitted. Even at that point, such a discussion does not constitute the use of any police power and should not be recorded under the auspices of the Terrorism Act, for example.
Officers should be reminded that it is not an offence for a member of the public or journalist to take photographs of a public building and use of cameras by the public does not ordinarily permit use of stop and search powers.
Andrew Trotter OBE QPM
Head of ACPO Media Advisory Group
Iím a Photographer, Not a Terrorist!
Stop and Search Bust Card
(downloadable PDF file)
Next: Photographing the police (Sect. 76)
Note: This article attempts to be a brief educational guide to the sometimes-complex matter of your rights as a photographer. It is not legal advice and we recommend seeking out proper legal advice if you encounter problems or contributing to our bulletin boards. Some material in this article has been sourced from the UK Photographers Rights website.
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