U.K.'s Anti-Terrorism Act is nothing but an anti-photographer act
Photo by Will Wintercross
The Global War on Photographers continues as U.K. police continued their trend of harassing photographers and accusing them of being terrorists.
The latest incident occurred two weeks ago in London when police arrested Reuben Powell, described by The Independent as a “white, middle-aged, middle-class artist” who has been photographing and drawing life in South London for 25 years.
When police saw him photographing a building which happened to be near a police station, he was treated as if he were about to blow up the building.
“The car skidded to a halt like something out of Starsky & Hutch and this officer jumped out very dramatically and said ‘what are you doing?’ I told him I was photographing the building and he said he was going to search me under the Anti-Terrorism Act,” he recalled.
For Powell, this brush with the law resulted in five hours in a cell after police seized the lock-blade knife he uses to sharpen his pencils. His release only came after the intervention of the local MP, Simon Hughes, but not before he was handcuffed and his genetic material stored permanently on the DNA database.
So does the Anti-Terrorism Act permit police to freely harass photographers? According to a U.K. police organization, it does not.
According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the law is straightforward. “Police officers may not prevent someone from taking a photograph in public unless they suspect criminal or terrorist intent. Their powers are strictly regulated by law and once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order. This applies equally to members of the media seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places,” a spokeswoman said.
But obviously police are not heeding this “straightforward” law. And like in the U.S., police have an issue with people photographing trains. Yes, trains.
Philip Haigh, the business editor of Rail magazine, said the bullying of enthusiasts on railway platforms has become an unwelcome fact of life in Britain. “It is a problem that doesn’t ever seem to go away. We get complaints from railway photographers all the time that they are told to stop what they are doing, mainly by railway staff but also by the police. It usually results in an apologetic letter from a rail company,” he said.
So obviously last year’s new guidelines regarding photographers’ rights have made absolutely no difference.