U.K. police allowed to set their own restrictions on public photography


If you think it’s getting bad for photographers in the United States, just be bloody glad our forefathers broke allegiance from the King of England centuries ago.

After all, United Kingdom Home Secretary Jacqui Smith recently declared that local Chief Constables (police chiefs) have the right to restrict or set their own standards for public photography, according to the British Journal of Photography.

In other words, police in England will not only enforce the law, they will also interpret the law when it comes to photographers.

Smith announced the news in a letter to the National Union of Journalists, which had raised issue with the Home Secretary after it was determined that police were photographing and keeping a file on photographers and journalists documenting protests.

So while police in England are free to photograph photographers, photographers are restricted from photographing police.

Judging by this video, this decision is not going to be taken too kindly by the English people.

Smith stated the following in her June 26th letter:

‘First of all, may I take this opportunity to state that the Government greatly values the importance of the freedom of the press, and as such there is no legal restriction on photography in public places,’ Smith writes. ‘Also, as you will be aware, there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.’

However, the Home Secretary adds that local restrictions might be enforced. ‘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.

‘It is for the local Chief Constable, in the case of your letter the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force, to decide how his or her Officers and employees should best balance the rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the need for public protection.’

The Home Office does not produce any guidance on photography in public places, and has not produced any specific guidance to [Forward Intelligence Team] officers, the Home Secretary says. ‘I recommend, therefore, that the questions in your letter are best put to the Commissioner.’

However, the NUJ is expected to meet with Member of Parliament Tony McNulty – Minister of State for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing – to further discuss the issue.

The issue came about because Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, had written a letter to Smith protesting against police surveillance of journalists and photographers.

Dear’s letter, sent to Jacqui Smith on 22 May, states that journalists and photographers are being monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police’s Forward Intelligence Team (FIT), adding that this surveillance amounts to virtual harassment and is a serious threat to the journalists’ right to carry out their work.

‘As you will be aware,’ he writes, ‘the FIT team have a responsibility to provide intelligence to police units in respect of individuals who may be involved in public order issues. “Targets” whose likenesses are retained by the police are given four-figure Photographic Reference Numbers and held on a database.

It appears that this “War on Terror” that the United States and United Kingdom have been engaging in is nothing but a War on Photographers. Or more precisely, a War on Civilians.


Citizen Journalism