Photographers’ rights: Police warn of terror law ‘misuse’ (update)

February 17, 2009

The Metropolitan Police Federation (MPF) has come out in support of photographers by condemning the latest anti-terrorism legislation as ‘unfair’, ‘poorly drafted’ and open to misuse.

The body, set up to ensure high standards of policing, backs the campaign led by Labour MP Austin Mitchell who is calling for the introduction of a photography code to be followed by officers on the ground.

Last year the MP for Great Grimsby launched an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, highlighting photographers’ right to take pictures in public.

The petition has won cross-party support from more than 240 MPs and was drawn up largely on the back of the experiences of Amateur Photographer (AP) readers.

In a statement the MPF said: ‘The code should be drawn up jointly by the Home Office and the various professional bodies representing police and photographers. Its aim should be to facilitate photography wherever possible, rather than seek reasons to bar it.’

Yesterday, amateur and professional photographers staged a demonstration outside Scotland Yard over fears that police will enforce Section 76 of the Terrorism Act 2008 to stamp out photographs of police officers.

As reported by AP, Section 76 of the new Act (which came into force yesterday) expands on Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which made it an offence to record an image likely to be useful to a terrorist.

The MPF warned that Section 76 is open to ‘misinterpretation’.

It adds: ‘How, for example, will it be expected to apply to the 2012 Olympics which will be both a photo event, par excellence, and subject to an intense security operation?

‘Does the law mean tourists are going to be rounded up and arrested en masse for taking suspicious photos of iconic scenes around the capital? That will work wonders for the international reputation of the London Bobby and for the city as a whole as a welcoming destination.’

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police claimed that taking photographs of police officers would not – except in ‘exceptional circumstances’ – be covered by the new offence.