Photographers not all terrorism plotters, security staff told
Private security guards taking part in nationwide anti-terrorism training have, for the first time, been told to adopt a common sense approach when considering whether to report photographers for ‘hostile reconnaissance’.
Detective Sergeant David Parkes, a counter-terrorism advisor at the Metropolitan Police, has instructed private security staff to consider why a terrorist planning an attack would openly take photos in locations that can be readily viewed on the internet.
The crackdown on security personnel follows campaigning by photographers who complain that many officials behave in an overzealous fashion when stopping or questioning people taking pictures in a public place.
‘Why would a terrorist put himself at risk of being caught if he can get [the image] by logging onto Google,’ said DS Parkes who was speaking at a Project Griffin counter-terrorism awareness day, organised by the City of London and Metropolitan Police forces.
Project Griffin is a controversial police initiative that calls on security guards to report people suspected of taking 'hostile reconnaissance' photographs.
Parkes - who delivers training for Operation Fairway as part of the Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) unit of the Metropolitan Police - stressed that ‘covert filming’ posed a greater risk of someone planning an attack through reconnaissance of a potential terrorist target.
Amateur Photographer (AP)'s newsdesk was invited to observe the Project Griffin session, which took place at the City of London Police headquarters following talks with photography campaigners at the Home Office during the summer.
The Project Griffin audience mainly consisted of private security staff, based in the City of London.
First introduced by City of London police in April 2004, Project Griffin is being rolled out to all police forces across the country before the end of this year.
And AP has now learnt that plans are underway for the scheme to be extended to police forces across Scotland.
Parkes said that when approaching a suspect, security staff should also consider whether the area is a vulnerable target, if the images are available elsewhere, as well as the type of equipment the person is using.
He was asked to clarify this last point by Royal Photographic Society treasurer Walter Benzie, who had also been invited to observe the Project Griffin training, along with the Society's president Rosemary Wilman.
Parkes replied that the type of equipment is of ‘no significance’ to the risk a person may be planning a terrorist attack, adding that he believed ‘the bigger the camera, the less likely they are going to do anything [suspicious] with it’.
Parkes also urged security officials to consider whether the suspect has been seen taking notes and whether they have taken any other pictures at the location in question.
He said staff should also assess a person’s reaction to being stopped and ask themselves whether they are being hostile or ‘overly helpful’.
However, he told the audience not to ignore their ‘gut reaction’ to a situation.
Speaking to AP after the one-day training session, which was held earlier this month, Parkes said this latest anti-terror advice on photography would be repeated at future Project Griffin sessions organised by police forces nationwide.
One security guard highlighted a problem facing many photographers, however. He told AP that he works at a building in Canary Wharf that stands on private land, insisting this gives him the right to stop photographers who have not sought prior permission to take pictures.