Scotland Yard Issues New Photographer Search Rules

(Press Gazette) – SCOTLAND YARD HAS ISSUED new guidance to officers about the use of terrorism laws against photographers following criticism of how police have applied the rules.

The new guidance has warned officers to be cautious about using stop and search powers under sections 43 and 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to demand to see video film or photographs captured by journalists as a court order may be required to see material if it is ‘created for the purposes of journalism.’

The guidance says officers are not allowed to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a stop and search exercise.

It also reminds them members of the public and the media do not require a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.

Police officers were also reminded that section 43 of the Act only gives an officer the power to stop and search ‘a person who they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist.’

The changes come after an earlier version of the guidance was criticised by the National Union of Journalists for suggesting police and community support officers had greater powers than they were actually granted under the law.

In June, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, who reviews anti-terror legislation, warned that police were wrongfully applying anti-terror laws to stop photographers taking pictures of officers, adding that officers who used force or threats against photographers to make them delete images could themselves face prosecution.

Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal officer, said: ‘It is good to see the police have listened to some of what we’ve been saying and the new guidance is certainly an improvement.

‘We still have significant concerns about the way counter-terrorism legislation is being used to impinge on media freedoms, so it is vital that any guidance issued by the police is accurate and recognises the importance of a free press.

‘Let’s hope that this marks recognition on the part of the police that they must take the concerns of photo-journalists seriously. We will be monitoring to see if the changes are reflected in practice.’

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4 Responses

  1. So terroists now get a free reign to collect intelligence on their targets under the guise of being citizen journalists?

    Set up a blog, get some business cards printed and hey presto you can photograph anything and anyone as long as you are in a public place.

    This is a recipe for disaster

    • If it were that easy I might agree with you, Cynical; but the fact is that all bona-fide journalists carry special ID cards that can be easily verified – and that all UK police forces are trained to recognize.

      No police officer is going to place any faith in a business card or any other claims to be a journalist.

      In other words, unless you are bona-fide Press, police officers have every right to examine your images and decide whether to confiscate them and take you into custody to investigate your actions further. What they cannot do is just destroy your film or images and tell you to ‘move on.’

      That seems perfectly reasonable to me, and I think it should reassure the public.

      From a personal perspective, I have no problem with being challenged and having my identity checked out. But there is no way I would allow my images to be examined without a valid court order.

      • But if your images could identify the perpertrator of a crime, i take it you would have no objection?

        • If a crime was being committed, Cynical, I would hope that I’d intervene or phone the police rather than standing around taking pictures; but I take your point.

          The answer is ‘No.’ I would still require a court order.

          What you need to understand is that, just as a quote can be taken out of context and used to support a particular point, one or more images can be taken out of sequence to ‘prove’ a particular case.

          On a demostration that gets out-of-hand, for example, a good photo-journalist will cover events from all angles – and that material could probably be used to support both news headlines: ‘Thugs take over rally’ or ‘Brutal police tactics used against peaceful protesters.’

          The truth lies in the full coverage and it is therefore important to document each individual frame so that both the prosecution, and the defence, can rely upon the material in a court of law.

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