Do anti-terror police have the legal right to view a photographer's digital images and to delete or destroy them? A leading photography rights lawyer speaks to Amateur Photographer.

Anti-terror police have the legal right to view a photographer’s digital images [under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000] but they have no power to delete or destroy them without a court order, says a photography rights lawyer.

Amateur Photographer sought to dispel potential confusion surrounding advice published last week by London’s Metropolitan Police and subsequent reaction by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

Aimed at photographers and officers the Met’s guidance states that officers have the right to seize and retain any article found during a search that they reasonably suspect is intended to be used in connection with terrorism.

Rupert Grey, a media lawyer at Swan Turton, said: ‘This is correct as far as the powers conferred by Section 44 are concerned. But the Advice fails to point out that although film and memory cards may be seized as part of a search, officers do not have a legal power to delete images or to destroy film.’

He added: ‘The Association of Chief Police Officers’ Practice Advice on Stop and Search in Relation to Terrorism makes this clear; so do Guidelines for MPS staff on dealing with media reporters, press photographers and television crews: “Once images are recorded, [the police] have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order.”

‘Further, the Practice Advice points out that although under Section 44 an officer is entitled to look at images on your data card, they should not normally attempt to do so.’

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act gives police the power to stop and search people whether or not there are grounds to suspect a connection with terrorism. The Met states that officers are allowed to view images provided this is to determine whether the images could be used in connection with terrorism.

Authorisation given to officers to use Section 44 must be confined to a geographical area and length of time.

Responding to the Met’s photo advice, the NUJ tells its members: ‘Whilst recognising the rights of photographers to take photos in public places, the guidance goes on to inaccurately say that, under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, police can demand to see the images that have been taken. Under the section such a demand can only be made where the person is suspected of actually being a terrorist.’

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