Photographers' rights in UK remain undefined as harassment continues

Carlos Miller

Photographers' rights in UK remain undefined as harassment continues

Several incidents of photographers getting harassed, accused of terrorism and threatened with arrest in the United Kingdom over the last few months have put more pressure on politicians to define the laws regarding photography.

The incidents include:

  • A wedding photographer who was stripped of her camera and detained for 45 minutes under the Terrorism Act on December 15.
  • Two photojournalists who were obstructed from documenting a protest in front of the Greek embassy in London, including one who was physically removed from the area and another who had an officer attempt to snatch his camera on December 3 (check out above video).
  • A photographer who was fined for photographing a drunk woman on a sidewalk in October.

Unlike the United States, where several court cases have already determined that photography is a First Amendment right (not that American cops are aware of this), laws in the UK regarding photography are vague. And the current crop of politicians is not doing much to clarify the law.

Although the law states that photographers do have the right to take pictures in public, there are some exceptions. And these are just as muddled as an East London Cockney accent.

Vernon Coaker, the Minister for Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing wrote to Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists. His letter, dated 3 December 2008 confirms that photography can be “limited” in public places in “special circumstances”:
“This may be on the grounds of national security or there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or inflame an already tense situation or raise security considerations.

So it’s basically up to the officers, not the law books, to determine when and where photography is allowed, as well as whom can be photographed.

Earlier this month, the National Policing Improvement Agency published new guidelines regarding photography.

And while they do seem to respect the rights of photographers, they also give the officer the authority to arrest the photographer or seize his memory card, if he is suspected of being part of a “hostile terrorist reconnaissance”.

So in other words, if you look Middle-Eastern or have an Irish accent, your chances of getting arrested for photography increase significantly.


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