The UK is notorious for restricting news and photography freedoms. It has the stricted libel laws, where the accused has to prove he is not libeling. It has an “official secrets act”. It has a culture of “it’s forbidden unless it is allowed”.

In that background, this is interesting. There is a lot of unrest in the UK as terrorism laws are being used to stop ordinary people from taking any photos.

Policing and Crime Minister David Hanson MP said, in a statement today:

“I recently met with Austin Mitchell MP, members of the Parliamentary All Party Photography Group and representatives of the photographic press and the Royal Photographic Society to discuss the issue of counter terrorism powers and offences in relation to photography.

“I welcomed the opportunity to reassure all those concerned with this issue that we have no intention of Section 44 or Section 58A being used to stop ordinary people taking photos or to curtail legitimate journalistic activity.

“Guidance has been provided to all police forces advising that these powers and offences should not be used to stop innocent member of the public, tourists or responsible journalists from taking photographs.

“These powers and offences are intended to help protect the public and those on the front line of our counter terrorism operations from terrorist attack. For the 58A offence to be committed, the information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

“I have committed to writing to Austin Mitchell MP to reinforce this message and to follow-up on the representations made to me at today’s meeting.”

This is interesting not for what it does to reassure, but for how it fails to. What is “legitimate” journalistic activity? What are “responsible” journalists? How do I become one? By never photographing anything critical of the government, one assumes?

This sounds like a press release from the Soviet Union: they used the same waffle language. The UK, I fear, is not about to become easier for photographers.

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  1. I’ve often wondered how much the movie “V for Vendetta” was a look into England’s future. You don’t have to look that far to find news items for England’s increasing Nanny State. Photography is only one aspect of the current direction of the country.

  2. I fear you are right The UK was Europe’s liberal outpost once… I grew up there so I remember.. no longer. ID cards, “responsible” journalism, “terror” as an excuse for anything… it is not surprise that George Orwell was English, I suppose. He saw what was coming?

  3. Well you know where I come from on this one Michael (hint for those who don’t know me: when I’m not snapping amateur pics, I’m a criminal defence lawyer) and these types of laws are ripe for arbitrary misuse.

    Having just returned from a week in Vancouver to watch the Olympics, I expect London to be taxed to the breaking point in 2012. Vancouver spent nearly $1B on security in an effort to keep terrorists out of Canada during the games. London is starting at a distinct disadvantage as it is already home to a significant domestic militant population and has been the victim of terrorism in the past.

    I can only imagine how many innocent tourists, amateur photographers and others will be targetted by legislation ostensibly designed to combat terrorism when a million foreigners invade the UK for the Games.

  4. Indeed, Ed. And of course in the UK, “foreigner” is not a good thing. I remember often having people raise their voices when talking to me, since “foreigners” obviously must be dim, and raining one’s voice is one surefire way of making them understand English.

    The UK is one place where I have repeatedly been challenged for having a camera – for no other reason that “you have a camera, and cameras are suspicious”. Add “foreign” to that mix and indeed, we are likely to have some fireworks in the UK.

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