A tourist’s innocent snapshot of a police officer is not likely to pose a terrorism threat, police chiefs have been told.
Earlier this year photographers staged a mass protest outside Scotland Yard when it emerged that it is now an offence to obtain or attempt to obtain ‘information’ about a police constable that is ‘likely to be useful’ to a terrorist.
Section 58a of the Terrorism Act – which applies to photographs – states that a person found guilty of such an offence faces up to ten years in prison or a fine, or both.
New government guidance – issued to police chief constables by way of a Home Office circular – makes clear that it is a ‘statutory defence’ for a person to prove that they had a ‘reasonable excuse for eliciting, publishing or communication the relevant information’.
The circular adds: ‘Important: Legitimate journalistic activity (such as covering a demonstration for a newspaper) is likely to constitute such an excuse.
‘Similarly an innocent tourist or other sightseer taking a photograph of a police officer is likely to have a reasonable excuse.’
However, the circular contains no specific reference to photography enthusiasts.
And it seems the Home Office has gone back on its word by failing to release a draft copy of the guidance to the magazine for comment ahead of publication. A Home Office spokesman had yet to explain this apparent oversight at the time of writing.
The circular followed calls for a common sense approach on police use of anti-terror laws amid mounting complaints from photographers.
In March Amateur Photographer (AP)’s news editor delivered a dossier, containing details of photographers being stopped in public places, to the Home Office in central London.
This followed talks held in Parliament between AP and the counter-terrorism minister. The meeting was brokered by photography rights campaigner Austin Mitchell MP.
Speaking in March, lawyer Rupert Grey warned that the new Section 58a legislation involves a ‘presumption of guilt’ on the photographer.
He told us: ‘This is a radical departure from the basic principle of English Law: that you are innocent until proved guilty. Until the new Act took effect, you did not need to have ‘an excuse to take photographs’. It is difficult to envisage what a valid excuse might be. A holiday snap? To illustrate an article? For fun? Because it’s a free country?’
The new guidelines also tell police that sections 43 and 44 of the Terrorism Act do not prohibit the taking of photographs, film or digital images in an authorised area, and that members of the public and the press should not be prevented from doing so.
It states that police stop and search powers should be used ‘proportionately and not specifically target photographers’.
To read the Photography and Counter-Terrorism legislation guidance in full see HERE.