JPaul23 PRO 4:17pm, 12 January 2009
Well, kind of.
www.number10.gov.uk/Page17959

"Thank you for your e-petition asking for clarification of the law on photography in public places.

There are no legal restrictions on photography in public places. However, the law applies to photographers as it does to anybody else in a public place. So there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations, inflame an already tense situation, or raise security considerations. Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace, to avoid a public order situation, or for the person’s own safety or welfare, or for the safety and welfare of others.

Each situation will be different and it would be an operational matter for the police officer concerned as to what action if any should be taken in respect of those taking photographs. Anybody with a concern about a specific incident should raise the matter with the Chief Constable of the relevant force. "

So, I hope that's clearer to everyone than it is to me.
-RobW- PRO 10 years ago
It's perfectly clear.

1. You can take photos of whatever you want, whenever you want.
2. Except if we don't want you to.
Jim Skea 10 years ago
Yes, lots of room for interpretation so the policemen can cover their asses.

"We were doing it for the safety of the photographer, even though he made it perfectly clear that he was willing to risk his life for the photo".
Ben Cooper PRO 10 years ago
That's pretty much word-for-word what the current apologist-in-chief said...
Jelltex PRO 10 years ago
Try taking shots at a railways station and see how quick you get a visit from attentive jobsworths.
Briggate.com PRO 10 years ago
The reply is clear. Don't make it appear less so.

You can take photos in public.

If, for specific reasons (which they should give you) the police are concerned, they may ask you to move on.

Nothing at all contentious in that. That summarises the options open to the police. To do anything more, or anything else, they must have specific grounds for believing that you are committing a specific offense.

That's clear.

Keep it so.
Ben Cooper PRO 10 years ago
Well, there are some problems:

The first is "raise security considerations" - does that mean taking pictures of police officers? Taking pictures of CCTV cameras? Photographing police tactics at demonstrations?

The second is "for the person’s own safety or welfare" - that could cover such a wide range of things - including probably every press photographer.

Photographers are not above the law - but equally these get-out clauses are so vaguely worded that an individual police officer on the ground could use them to ban photography in just about any situation.
JPaul23 PRO 10 years ago
Dear Briggate, its far from clear, as all the people who have been harassed and even arrested for taking photos of places that have about as much risk to "national security" as a childrens playgroup can attest. There was one last week, an artist in London arrested for photographing an avbandoned print-works who was only released after his MP intervened.
Whats clear about that?
Jim Skea 10 years ago
Exactly, Ben.

Take for example this shot by Gareth Harper at a recent shoe-throwing demo in Edinburgh

Farewell Mr Bush by Gareth Harper


You can see, clearly, that Gareth is behind police lines (as were many other photographers) and in danger of being hit by flying shoes (as, indeed, he was on more than one occasion by his accounts). To their credit, the police didn't move the photographers on. But under the guidelines above, they certainly could, by justifying that it was for the photographer's safety or 'to avoid a public order situation' (they could argue that the presence of photographers incites the crowds to perform illicit acts).

There is little clear about that reply.
E Welthorpe 10 years ago
Well, what would you have?

the police may not require a person to move on even if it's in order to prevent a breach of the peace, to avoid a public order situation, or for the person’s own safety or welfare, or for the safety and welfare of others

Do you seE the problem?

It's the situations in which the taking of photographs may...raise security considerations part that is worryingly vague to mE and seEms to bE the excuse most often used.

T@
Pacdog PRO 10 years ago
You blokes have it rough!
alert secretary [deleted] 10 years ago
A lawyer friend explained to me some time ago that this government specialises in woolly legislation specifically so that it can get it through parliament and the Lords on one pretext and then apply it to a whole lot of other previously unmentioned things once the legislation is passed. The use of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act to seize Icelandic assets was one recent example. The fork-tongued response cited above indicates another, this time impacting on photographers.
monaxle Posted 10 years ago. Edited by monaxle (member) 10 years ago
Jelltex PRO 10 years ago
If we do not question what is being done, just accept it then we really could be in trouble.

I have met some really nice and fair policement, but then again, like in all aspects of life, some are Dicks.

Be worried.
bashful clam [deleted] Posted 10 years ago. Edited by bashful clam (member) 10 years ago
Given that the petition requested a clarification (for the benefit of the police and photographers alike) and not merely a paraphrasing, this is a pretty contemptuous response. Like swatting an annoying fly. Oh what a tiresome nuisance the electorate can be sometimes...

I love the way the first sentence (legally, you can do what you want in public) is completely at odds with the rest of the response (the police can stop you doing what you want as long as they can dream up some half arsed excuse).
Briggate.com PRO 10 years ago
The principles are clear. They always have been.

The way they are put into practice varies from place to place and changes over time... in response to events, in response sometimes to aspects of individual behaviour.

That is what is meant by a "principle". . . it is never something that decides every dispute in advance. To expect it to do so is childish.

JPaul23 nothing intelligent can be said about "ALL the people who have been harassed and even arrested" . . . No one was present at all the incidents. As reported they represent a diversity of incident and had a range of different outcomes.

What a pity that we have once again missed this opportunity to recognize the clear statement of important principles. So many people choosing instead to sound off self-indulgently.
Briggate.com PRO 10 years ago
The UK's unique common law tradition of jurisprudence ( i.e. the organic or historical development of the law is not framed by a constitution in the same way as the US or most of the states of Europe) makes it more difficult to say with precision which rights are enjoyed and on what basis.

Nevertheless the first words of the preamble to the US constitution should be remembered... "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . ."

The principle that in public you are free to do what does not harm another is fairly self-evident. . . . as a principle. One that might allow lots of dispute.

The American War of Independence was one such dispute.
bashful clam [deleted] Posted 10 years ago. Edited by bashful clam (member) 10 years ago
Briggate, nobody here is arguing the toss about precisely what the law actually is. The point is that there is a clear divergence on the part of the police from reasonable treatment of photographers in public, and this is fueled by a lack of understanding of the law on their part (and pressure to "fight terror").

Personally, I think all that is required is some police training on this area, particularly for special constables, who account for a disproportionately large number of such incidents. And everyone should take a deep breath.
matt Posted 10 years ago. Edited by matt (member) 10 years ago
What a pity that we have once again missed this opportunity to recognize the clear statement of important principles.

A clear statement of important principles that are to be upheld by the police, at their discretion, as an "operational matter," with appeal only to, er, the police.

And the police have been so understanding on this matter thus far. I can see why you're so pleased.

The government is perfectly capable of issuing guidance to the police in such matters, funding and mandating appropriate training, or providing directives for investigation to any number of bodies. The fact that they have not, preferring to allow things to proceed as they stand, is to me a the truly telling statement of their principles. Principally, they want you to fuck right off, you stupid fucking prole.
...Steve Posted 10 years ago. Edited by ...Steve (member) 10 years ago
To use the vernacular, what a load of bollox! That has clarified nothing, instead it reinforces the police's authority to prevent photography on any number of real or spurious grounds.

"I'm sorry, sir, but your big, long lens is causing fear and trepidation amongst our more gullible citizens and is likely to lead to a breach of the peace. I'll have to ask you to move along."
Walwyn PRO 10 years ago
Basically it says don't argue the toss on the streets just sue the bastards later.
monaxle 10 years ago
Like so much that most governments put out the message is conveyed in a way such that anyone who argues against it can be made to seem unreasonable and going against the greater good.

Sure we can all agree how wrong this is and feel mildly empowered by the consent that is formed in groups within a common interest. As individuals though I would bet heavily we would find ourselves hung out to dry while the masses looked on if we ever dared to test the extent of our rights to freedom and self determination.

It does not take much to see through the facade yet sadly the general public have very little influence or power to change these things.

I wish I had something upbeat and powerful to say about this but I have nothing. Of course this is not just about photography. The same stance is applied wherever governments wish to exercise control. Our freedom is being eroded in the name of protecting our safety and welfare. Opposing a stance like that is like wrestling with jelly.
JPaul23 PRO 10 years ago
Wrestling with jelly? I've seen ladies do that on the internet.....
That's not helping any is it?
Extra Medium PRO 10 years ago
Yes, it basically says, "it's always good and legal, unless one of our super-trained, educated police officers deem it not to be"
monaxle 10 years ago
JPaul23 That's wresting in jelly. I'm all for that.
Crick3 10 years ago
Does the gov't supply the really rough sandpaper And the funnel?
Gareth Harper PRO 10 years ago
Try taking shots at a railways station and see how quick you get a visit from attentive jobsworths.

A railway station isn't automatically public, you are taking pictures on the railway companies property therefore you need their permission or they can ask you to stop taking pictures and/or leave.

Basically if you are on public land you can generally photograph as you please (with the exception of police cordons etc), but as soon as you step onto private or government property that all changes.

To their credit, the police didn't move the photographers on.

Approaching the American Consulate

There were already snappers in place behind the police lines. I would have had a fair chance of negotiating my way in there, but I decided to come up with the march and see what happened.

I ended up pinned tightly against the barrier as the crowd came forward, then a handful of folks started shaking the barrier about and stuff. I didn't like the idea of going over with a camera bag and two cameras round my neck, so I climbed over the barrier and in with the police. If you are a photographer you don't pose a real threat to 'public disorder' - generally. But my getting over the barrier does reinforce, for me anyway, that the demonstration was peaceful, the anger was symbolic, if it was a riot the crowd would have had no problem getting over that barrier.

I can't say I've had that many problems with taking pictures in public but I know people have done. The best advice is always to know what you can and cannot do, to be firm but always polite.

Having said that, in Scotland we have 'breach of the peace' which basically means not a lot, other than it does give the opportunity for arrest on a whim.
Dan (aka firrs) 10 years ago
Sorry, but that statement looks perfectly clear to me. There are no legal restrictions on photography in public places - but simply having a camera doesn't excuse you from all the laws that are there to protect your safety and the safety of others. What on earth do you expect them to say instead? I challenge you to write a better statement.
Briggate.com PRO 10 years ago
Well put, Dan.

As official statements go it is remarkably clear.
matt 10 years ago
"What on earth do you expect them to say instead? I challenge you to write a better statement."

Ahem...

"Be assured that in respect of the widespread concern, the Home Office will examine the current standards and practices of the various Police Forces, ensuring that a uniform policy, as well as adequate training and advice for officers, and will offer guidance the ensure that we can all continue to exercise this right in safety and security."

Which seems a lot better, at least to me. OK, I'm not 100% sure if it's the Home Office that would advise the Police on such matters, but you can substitute in whichever particular bureaucracy you find appropriate.

Again: a statement is meaningless if all it does is reinforce an entirely unacceptable status quo. Saying that "it's up to the interpretation of the Police" when the Police are clearly abusing this power may well be clear, but it's also clearly a big "fuck you."
Dan (aka firrs) 10 years ago
I agree - but the petition was "asking for clarification of the law on photography in public places". If it were more explicitly asking for better training of police it might have got that response.
monaxle 10 years ago
Dan (aka firrs) - because politicians and the government are well known for directly answering the question they are asked!!!
Jelltex PRO 10 years ago
Gareth:

I draw your attention to these links and you will see that railway stations are public spaces. Both Network Rail and the BTP have guidelines for staffl

www.nationalrail.co.uk/passenger_services/guidelines_for_...

www.btp.police.uk/passengers/advice_and_information/rail_...

It is only untrained jobsworth, killjoys or assholes that stop photographers on stations.
numberless number [deleted] 10 years ago
Out of interest, has anyone who's reading this thread actually been prevented from taking photos in a public place by a PC or PCSO?

If so, what were the circumstances?
Dan (aka firrs) 10 years ago
monaxle Have you never met a Genie? They give you what you ask for but it might not be what you want.
alert secretary [deleted] 10 years ago
@ Jake - before Christmas, the British Journal of Photography ran a long feature article on this topic and cited many instances in which police, council workers or other authority figures had stopped photographers from taking pictures. Haven't got a copy here with me right now but I recall that the instances included a man who was told he couldn't take photographs of his own children in a playground, and another who was told he couldn't take pictures of a playground that was entirely empty at the time.
monaxle 10 years ago
Jake Perks - Yes. When attending the Climate Camp for Action near Kingsnorth in Medway, Kent. I was threatened with arrest for a breach of the peace when taking pictures of police and protesters activities. The (widely criticised) approach of the police during the camp needed to be recorded and shared by as many people as possible in my view. The reason given for asking me to stop was due to a supposed risk to my own and others safety. I took care not to cause any obstruction. The only risk to my safety that I felt was from the police themselves.
pamelaadam PRO 10 years ago
Two weeks after the tube and bus bombings in London while outside downing street i took a photo of the cctv camera, looked right into it. Not to prove a point I just didn't think, it's a blonde thing.

The troops didn't come running, no one did
Walwyn PRO 10 years ago
monaxle So have you sued them, or at least lodged a complaint with the IPCC?
monaxle 10 years ago
Walwyn - Though not proud of the fact I'm far to cynical to have even thought of doing either of those things.
numberless number [deleted] 10 years ago
How many is "many" instances? Five? Ten? Twenty? Two hundred? I'm just trying to get a sense of perspective on how much of a problem this really is. The trouble is, there are no reported cases of incidents of non-intervention to balance it up. It's clearly a concern when it does happen (and it makes my blood boil when I read about it), but surely it doesn't happen far more often than it does, if you see what I mean. However, when it does happen it needs to be highlighted and reported in a very loud fashion because if it isn't then I don't think the new police guidelines (see below) would ever have seen the light of day.

To me, the response in the opening post was quite clear, but I'll paraphrase it in my own simpleton terms: "It's legal to take photos in public, but play nice, be polite and try not to wind anybody up, especially the police because we all know they're prone to be irritable, tetchy gits at the best of times, doubly so when stressed" . Sure, monaxle had a bad experience, but on the other hand the last time I pointed a long lens in the direction of a pair police officers they struck a pose and smiled for the camera. The photo was crap, but that's a different story...

I had a quick read of your blog, in which you state your view to the response in the original post. I won't reproduce it here as it's your text and I don't have your permission. It may interest you - and others - to know that clearer guidelines have been issued to police. This was reported in the Jan 09 issue of Amateur Photographer and also on The Register:
The Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place. Officers should not prevent people taking photographs unless they are in an area where photography is prevented by other legislation.

If officers reasonably suspect that photographs are being taken as part of hostile terrorist reconnaissance, a search under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 or an arrest should be considered. Film and memory cards may be seized as part of the search, but officers do not have a legal power to delete images or destroy film. Although images may be viewed as part of a search, to preserve evidence when cameras or other devices are seized, officers should not normally attempt to examine them.

Cameras and other devices should be left in the state they were found and forwarded to appropriately trained staff for forensic examination. The person being searched should never be asked or allowed to turn the device on or off because of the danger of evidence being lost or damaged.
I'm thinking of printing that text out and keeping a copy in each camera bag in the (hopefully) unlikely event that I may have a reason to produce it.

The incidents that we hear about do indeed seem to be a bit of an own goal, as The Register puts it, since the police do seem to be attempting to clean up their act where the law as it applies to photography is concerned. There hasn't been a change in the actual law, but it would appear that the limitations of police offiers' power under the existing law is being clarified and actively reinforced.
tad.ok 10 years ago
Out of interest, has anyone who's reading this thread actually been prevented from taking photos in a public place by a PC or PCSO?

I've not been prevented from taking pictures but I have been stopped and searched twice (forms issued) and questioned many times for photographing the Houses of Parliament.

In one of the forms, I was cited for photographing the building without a permit and in the other form, I was cited for photographing the building with a Canon DSLR.
Walwyn PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Walwyn (member) 10 years ago
monaxle Walwyn - Though not proud of the fact I'm far to cynical to have even thought of doing either of those things.

According to one of my lecturers I could get a PhD in Cynicism. In my time I've instigated well over 30 official complaints against the police 4 in my own name. The other 26+ by proxy - cops said that it was a all a horrid communist plot organized by 'walwyn' but they never had proof. You can run a complaint through the system for months, escalate it into the Home Office, both directly and via your MP.

For the Home Office you need to be inventive in your complaint so that they can't just fob you off with a standard response, make the complaint unique, and refuse to accept any answer that does not address the unique circumstances. You'll also need to jolly the MP along so that (s)he doesn't just accept the first bit of crap that comes out of the HO. Write directly to Whacky jacqui

Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP
Secretary of State for the Home Office
3rd Floor, Peel Buildings
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
Fax: 020 7035 3262

With very little effort you can cause them to run up costs of several £1000s and several days of manpower spent dealing with it.

Mostly they get away with it because few make a fuss. And no you are unlikely to succeed in getting the PO that stopped you fired or whatever, but thats not really the point.
numberless number [deleted] 10 years ago
I was cited for photographing the building with a Canon DSLR

Obviously a Nikonian officer :-p

With very little effort you can cause them to run up costs of several £1000s and several days of manpower

Ahem - taxpayers money! As if enough isn't being wasted on stop-and-search on the grounds of using a Canon DSLR ;-)
Walwyn PRO 10 years ago
Jake Perks Ahem - taxpayers money!

Sod it, this is your Rights is it not?

Problem with petitions and such, online or not, is that they only have to deal with one of complaint. They can simply craft a response to that single vector. It is much harder when there are multiple vectors to deal with. The system isn't designed to deal with that, and can easily fall apart. The offices of the Local Chief Constable isn't geared up to dealing with 100s of complaints on an issue. The Home Office can't deal with 10,000s. At the very least the system becomes swamped such that is no longer able to deal with its normal work load. Write to Whacky Jacqui at her constituency offices not the Home Office etc. Spread the joy.
Walwyn PRO 10 years ago
Another thing they DO NOT like to be sent money, it causes all sorts of administrative problems. So the addition of the price of a stamp 34p (stick in 40p and ask for the change) adds immensely to the cost of dealing with the mail.
numberless number [deleted] 10 years ago
Thanks, but I'll decline. It's neither my mission nor my desire to be disruptive or agitative just for the sport.
alert secretary [deleted] 10 years ago
@ Jake - how about you buy and read the BJP yourself instead of expecting others to do your homework for you?

Just sayin'.
monaxle 10 years ago
Jake Perks & Walwyn

I agree with the view that complaints should be made if there are good grounds to do so. I should not allow my cynicism to get the better of me.

Jake - I could indeed provide far more instances where I have not been stopped from taking pictures. Sure I've been approached many times and questioned but I don't have a problem with that either.

Thanks for going to my blog. Mostly my own text but admit to a little ironic paraphrasing of my own. Thanks DrNickBurton

Thanks also for pasting the guidelines. I actually recall now seeing them before but had forgot about them. I'll have to include them in my next blog post and print them out for reference in times of need.

All said and done though - bahhhh - down the oppressors :)))
Walwyn PRO 10 years ago
Jake Perks nor my desire to be disruptive or agitative just for the sport.

Isn't that what Government is?
Dan (aka firrs) 10 years ago
In my humble opinion I think this kind of militancy is potentially dangerous to the future of photography in public. If this ever got to be a big political issue I think the general public would come down on the side of privacy (their freedoms) rather than the freedom of photographers.

I dread to think what will happen as soon as someone invents software that can quickly trawl images on the web to match faces.
numberless number [deleted] 10 years ago
how about you buy and read the BJP yourself instead of expecting others to do your homework for you?
I'm not sure what you mean by that.

Isn't that what Government is?
No. At least it isn't how I see it.

I'll have a more thorough read when I get some more time. I like to read 'tog's blogs now and again. I appreciate the time you take to post to it :-)
purple way [deleted] 10 years ago
Move on now, don't doddle all day, there's nothing to look at here.
Walwyn PRO 10 years ago
iowapix One should get arrested for loitering with intent to harass the rozzers at least once.
Happy Tinfoil Cat PRO 10 years ago
Locally, we had an incident a couple weeks back where five police officers were interrogating three unarmed men sitting against a wall in a train station. They handcuffed one of them and tied his legs, face down. One officer kept his knee on the man's neck while the other stood up, took aim, and executed the man.

Luckily, the other three officers had not prevented the upset witnesses from photographing it. Due to the miracle of cellphones, we have three videos of the incident. The initial police report had to be changed after the videos surfaced.

The normal police procedure is to take the suspect out of sight, then execute him claiming "he grabbed for my gun". ;^)

I think the right to photograph should be protected to the maximum extent possible.
Jim Skea 10 years ago
HTC: ah yes, but that was in the USA, wasn't it?

<irony>
The police would never shoot an innocent person without good reason in the UK.
</irony>
Gareth Harper PRO 10 years ago
Jelltex,

Both the links you provide make it clear you are not on public land and you must ask permission and/or make staff aware of your presence.

It is only untrained jobsworth, killjoys or assholes that stop photographers on stations.

If you follow the guidelines you have provided you won't have any problem.
Jelltex PRO 10 years ago
Gareth:

There is a thread in Rail magazine where this is being challenged that it is public space and there should be no need to check in with the station manager; although I do and have for the most part been treated well.

It is poorly trained staff and those wishing to exercise what little power they think they have to ruin others day.
Gareth Harper PRO 10 years ago
Jelltex,

It's not public space.

But yeah people will take photos on the platform and on trains etc, as I have done from time to time. But if you are a train enthusiast or you just want to spend a little time photographing a train station it makes a lot of sense to let your presence be known. It's common sense, good manners and takes very little real effort.
Happy Tinfoil Cat PRO 10 years ago
Jim, Yes, in the USA. Same as being a Brazilian in London. But my feelings are the same about allowing photography, in any country.
(deaf mute) Posted 10 years ago. Edited by (deaf mute) (member) 10 years ago
Jake Perks "Out of interest, has anyone who's reading this thread actually been prevented from taking photos in a public place by a PC or PCSO?"

Actually, I was put in the back of a police car for my own protection after a random thug took exception to me taking photos in public and performed a rather violent "citizen's arrest". I had to undergo a criminal record check, but I was quite pleased to see the policeman didn't take me back to the station, since it was obvious I'd not done anything illegal. He should have arrested the thug for false imprisonment or common assault, but there are more important things to worry about.
In my experience, it's other people that you need to worry about, not the police. Take photos of whatever you like, but if someone in authority tells you to stop, it's best to do so.
Ben Cooper PRO 10 years ago
"Take photos of whatever you like, but if someone in authority tells you to stop, it's best to do so."

Hmm. I'd prefer to say: "Take photos of whatever you like, but if someone in authority tells you to stop, and has a valid reason to do so, it's best to do so."
Walwyn PRO 10 years ago
He should have arrested the thug for false imprisonment or common assault, but there are more important things to worry about.

You can do that yourself.
numberless number [deleted] 10 years ago
Hmm. I'd prefer to say: "Take photos of whatever you like, but if someone in authority tells you to stop, and has a valid reason to do so, it's best to do so."

100% with you there.
it's alive! 10 years ago
I'm with Briggate, the statement is clear. I have to admit to having to read it twice to be sure.

I also agree that it would help if it were supported by guidance to the police forces (which also appears to have been provided elsewhere). As this was not requested by the petition it is unclear what the current guidance is.

Walwyn - I only have to ask what is achieved by the disruptive activities you promote? It certainly costs money that would be used to better effect elsewhere. You may see that as an end in itself but I puzzle to reason why. I suspect that it is in order to feel some kind of self righteous satisfaction at having exercised your rights to their fullest extent, though I retain a moderately open mind. If that is the case then I would be delighted if the authorities reciprocated and charged you for making frivolous complaints and wasting time. I prefer the money I work hard to supply the government to be spent more effectively (albeit imperfectly).
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