It is inexcusable for police officers ever to use this provision [Section 58A] to interfere with the rights of individuals to take photographs, says the terror law watchdog, Lord Carlile.
On page 39 of his annual report, released today, Lord Carlile specifically focuses on the introduction of the new law (Section 58A of the Terrorism Act) that makes it a potential offence to photograph a police officer.
He states: ‘A number of professional and amateur photographers have approached me to complain that this provision is being used to threaten them with prosecution if they take photographs of police officers on duty.
‘In one case a correspondent informed me that a police officer used the section to force him to delete from his camera a photograph of a police officer on traffic duty, in circumstances in which the member of the public had a legitimate reason for taking the photograph in connection with his own impending traffic case.’
Lord Carlile continues: ‘It should be emphasised that photography of the police by the media or amateurs remains as legitimate as before, unless the photograph is likely to be of use to a terrorist. This is a high bar. It is inexcusable for police officers ever to use this provision to interfere with the rights of individuals to take photographs.
‘The police must adjust to the undoubted fact that the scrutiny of them by members of the public is at least proportional to any increase in police powers – given the ubiquity of photograph and video-enabled mobile phones. Police officers who use force or threaten force in this context run the real risk of being prosecuted themselves for one or more several possible criminal and disciplinary offences’.
In his response to Carlile, Home Secretary Alan Johnson admitted: ‘It is true that since section 58A came into force in February this year, there has been some controversy surrounding it; especially with concerned members of both amateur and professional photography organisations.’
He added: ‘As you are aware, counter-terrorism laws were not designed nor intended to stop people taking photographs and the Home Office is working towards providing further clarification both for the public and those involved in its enforcement.’
Three months ago the Home Office invited Amateur Photographer magazine to help draft guidance that will aim to ensure police do not misuse Section 58A to unfairly stop photographers.
In February, photographers staged a protest against the new law at Scotland Yard.