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Photographers Rights And The Law In The UK - the law and photography
Photographers Rights And The Law In The UK

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Photographers Rights - photographing the police
Can you take photos of the police? Yes you can!
(©urban75, updated December 2009)

The events of the G20 march in London underlined the importance of media coverage at political protest. Despite some attempts to use terrorism laws to stop people taking photos of the police in action, the public are perfectly entitled to take their photo in most circumstances.

Photographers Rights In The UK: A GuideBackground:

In Feb 16 2009, the external link Commencement Order No 2 brought several sections of the Counter Terrorism Act 2009 into force including external link Section 76 which could make it an offence to photograph police officers at, say, a political demo.
external link Taking photos of police officers could be considered a crime (BJP Jan 2009)

Protest against Section 76
» Scotland Yard, London, 16th Feb 2009

external link Justin Tallis, a London based freelance photographer and NUJ and BPPA member, was grabbed by a Metropolitan Police Forward Intelligence Team sergeant when photographing a Gaza protest against the BBC on Saturday 24th January 2009.

Tallis explains what happened:
"The police officer said 'let me have a look at that picture.' I said, 'No'. The police officer then said, 'You’re not allowed to take photos of police officers'. I then said, 'Don't be ridiculous of course I can take pictures of police officers'. The police officer then tried to take my camera from me.

After a bit of time I think the police officer realised he was in the wrong trying to forcibly take my equipment from me. He then got very close to me, way into my personal space, and said again 'you shouldn't have taken that photo you were intimidating me'. I think that if Marc had not been there taking these photos the situation could have ended very differently.
external link Via

UPDATE: 1st APRIL 2009. Parliamentary discussion
When questioned about the ramifications of section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 (which was inserted by section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Shahid Malik) said

"I want to be clear about this: the offence does not capture an innocent tourist taking a photograph of a police officer, or a journalist photographing police officers as part of his or her job. It does not criminalise the normal taking of photographs of the police. Police officers have the discretion to ask people not to take photographs for public safety or security reasons, but the taking of photographs in a public place is not subject to any rule or statute.

There are no legal restrictions on photography in a public place, and there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has said that we will issue all police officers and forces with a circular on the new offence. It will set out the policy intentions behind the offence and make it clear that it does not criminalise legitimate photographic or journalistic activity. The circular will be discussed with interested parties before it is issued."

external link Read the full transcript on the Hansard site

All the video and photographic leaking through into the mainstream from the G20 protests is going to make it really hard for the police to try and stretch anti-terrorism legislation to cover banning photography at future demos.

Surely even the most right wing media must now appreciate the importance of recording protests from all sides now.

Even if the police do try and implement terrorism laws to force photographers to hand over their cameras and video footage, new mobile streaming technologies will soon make it a redundant gesture.

Using fast 3G connections, protesters will be able to take movies/photos on their mobile phones and upload them directly onto YouTube from within the 'kettle,' so there's no way the cops can stop the footage getting out (unless they delve even deeper into their dodgy powers and force a mobile signal blackout - a move which would surely prompt questions from the general public).

Quite a few phones are already capable of uploading videos directly on to websites and as the technology becomes more commonplace it's going to become increasingly difficult for the police to try and suppress legitimate press and personal coverage of demonstrations.

external link Woman 'detained' for filming police search launches high court challenge. (Guardian, July 2009)
external link Jail for photographing police? (BJP)
external link 'I'm a Photographer... not a Terrorist'
Join the discussion:
external link Taking photos of Police to be considered a crime under terrorist legislation

Next: Your rights on arrest


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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