Thursday, 8 January 2009

Camera terror

Thinking of taking some photos? Just be careful. To official eyes, you might be a terrorist. You might be plotting a serious attack on national security.

Photographers in different parts of Britain - both professional and private - have been harassed by police officers, railway staff and other officials and told they're contravening section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

They're being told it's an offence to photograph public servants, public buildings or even members of the public, as it goes against anti-terrorism provisions.

This is actually complete bollocks, as MPs, the National Union of Journalists and others have pointed out. Such restrictions simply don't exist and the bogey of national security is being used to hound innocent people.

One person was stopped as he photographed a derelict government print works, another as he photographed a traveller wedding in London's Docklands. Trainspotters are regularly swooped on as they photograph old locomotives. What the hell is going on in this so-called cradle of democracy?

Somehow I thought terrorists were people carrying bombs or guns and threatening some sort of mass slaughter or mayhem. Apparently not. What we should really be looking for is furtive individuals with small metallic objects known as cameras, exchanging remarks like "What a beauty. They don't make locomotives like that any more, eh Stan?"

Those who keep warning that new anti-terrorism laws are unnecessary and will only be misused to restrict civil liberties and intimidate innocent people, while the real terrorists still don't get caught, are clearly right.

Those who take a delight in imposing their authority on people they don't like the look of have a wonderful new weapon at their disposal, quoting laws most of us aren't familiar with to send us scurrying away in confusion, worrying that we might end up in court.

So why aren't more MPs making more of a fuss about it and demanding a stop to this nonsense? Are they all completely spineless?


Mudflapgypsy said...

MPs will only sit up and take notice if it will directly affect them. The photographic industry has been shouting about this for some time....though they have been preaching to the choir. The police will use made up nonsense to bamboozle those innocently using a camera. Does anyone really think that a terrorist will openly take photos near police officers and risk being detained?
They have consistently been much cleverer than that in the past. This is an abuse of power directed against everyone, as most people with a mobile phone have a camera built in nowadays.
I personally had film taken from my camera after being trailed off the pavement into the road at the cityhall man many years ago. I was accused of taking photogrpahs of a police officer. I wasn't. This was back in the days when being put in the back of a landrover meant coming out with bruises you didn't have earlier.
If I get stopped now I will argue and puseue the matter through legal channels afterwards.
Makes me mad!

Nick said...

Muddy - I didn't know the photographic industry had been shouting about this (and getting nowhere). Interesting that it's happened to you too. It's a crazy abuse of power that only fuels antagonism to the police and officialdom generally.

Quickroute said...

I remember after 9/11 it became impossible to take fun photos with police / army etc - looks like we'restill stuck there

Hullaballoo said...

How frustrating to be constrained by people with a traffic warden 'job's worth' level of consciousness.

Wisewebwoman said...

1984 creeping closer and closer, Nick. Restriction of personal freedom being one of the signals.
Gives me a creepy, crawly feeling.

conortje said...

Terrorism seems to be used as as an excuse for any questionable behaviour by the law enforcers. Very frustrating!

Nick said...

Quicky - Once anti-terrorist paranoia gets entrenched, it's hard to shift it.

Hulla - More than jobsworthery, I think, an absurd belief that there's a terrorist lurking on every corner about to bomb us all into oblivion.

www - It does get creepy when just taking a photo might attract an officious uniform.

Conor - Indeed, terrorism is being used as a pretext to harass people who aren't sure what the law actually says.

gaudiumdegaea said...

That sucks!

Also, I just found out from my sister, when I was trying to get her to listen to my latest fav song "God Thinks", that the Turkish government banned Youtube. Do you remember I was telling you about it a bit while we were chatting away in Sydney? I am so enraged!

Nick said...

Gayé - Banning YouTube is absurd. What on earth do they think they're gaining from that? There's no limit to official paranoia about any number of quite innocent activities.

gaudiumdegaea said...

"official paranoia" exactly.

I think it is possible that they recognised because in Turkey if you open your mouth and demand that the government piss off and leave the country alone, you get arrested and have an unfortunate suicide (jumped out of the window during questioning), or spend quite a bit of time in prison for conspiring against the unity of the country etc etc. So, people were distributing anti-government and anti-fundamental-islam speeches, protests, and so on. This is my guess, I have only just heard about it so I don't really know. Youtube is actually a very powerful media the light, fluffy stuff and songs, etc. You can put truth out to great masses of people; the truth which isn't allowed to get out and about. Didn't China ban something similar?

Nick said...

Gayé - Yes, music can be a very powerful vehicle for political messages our rulers don't want people to hear. I believe China still blocks quite a lot of 'undesirable' internet sites (with the approval of Google and various ISPs in return for general access to China).

Baino said...

I take a camera with me everywhere and feel so self conscious sometimes. It's a digital SLR so not a point and shoot unfortunately which makes me look and feel so conspicuous, it isn't fair and its not just terrorism that's caused this paedophilia means we can no longer take pictures of our kids at sports carnivals, I know one school that banned parents from taking pics at their swimming carnival but charged a fortune for an official photographer. Madness.

Buddha01meister said...

Ever thought of the aviation spotters? Being one myself i can tell you that,at least in the Netherlands, we can still make photos of both military and civil aircraft. I don't know how it is in the UK. But even over here it's getting harder by every threat alarm that is given. Civil police harassing you,military police asking you what you've shot and demanding to look at you photos on your camera. Just to check if you didn't make photos of the installations. Thinking of it, aviation spotting was invented by the British. They still have the Royal observery corps.
To me it's just a way to say that someone who makes photos is a spy and is a public enemy!
Lucky those who live in the Netherlands where at least most policemen and security agencies are sober enough to let you carry out your hobby and don't over react on every photocamera they see.
André de Wit
The netherlands

Nick said...

Baino - True, people are getting totally paranoid about paedophilia as well, to the extent that even taking photos of your own children can raise eyebrows.

André - I hadn't thought of aircraft spotting. No idea whether that's equally hazardous in the UK. Good to know the authorities in the Netherlands take a more rational view of innocent hobbies.

Mudflapgypsy said...

Speaking about aviation enthusiasts, don't forget the guys from the UK that the Greek govt put in jail. They got out on bail but had to return to Greece for trial. They were innocent of any wrongdoing. The charges of spying were eventually dropped. Scary.

Nick said...

Muddy - Ah yes, I'd forgotten about them. I guess a lot of it is just politicians wanting to show the public that they're catching "terrorists" so they encourage the police to round up a few likely faces.

Buddha01meister said...

I know that case very well. it happened in the 1990's. There was also a Dutch spotter involved then. I know this guy.
When they had the trail the court dismissed all charges after a expert witness stated that all aircraft registration numbers where already published for some 20 yrs and that the Greece government gave photo permission for this group. This expert was then, and still is, a member of the Dutch parliament.
The main reason, as my friend told me later, was that one of the British spotters went earlier to Turkey and had in his passport a Turkish stamp and visa. This was the main reason they all where arrested in the first place. Also this expert declared that all planes where photographed earlier and that all registration numbers where also available on Internet, including all the airbases and the locations of those airbases. Just look at Air forces monthly. I have the issue at home where they had a special about the Greece air force. So they got reliesed as time already being served and the case was declared back then as not receivable by court. Also The Greece High court ruled the same over this case.

Nick said...

André - That's even more ridiculous, isn't it, jumping on them simply because of a Turkish connection? And as you say, how ludicrous when all the information is already publicly available. There have been similar UK cases where the defence has pointed out that everything at issue is in the public domain anyway.