Questions over how police treat photographers under the Terrorism Act

28 Feb

On the first post on this blog we looked at the issue of police confiscation of mobile video footage. Complaints of this practise have continued to rumble, although recent

One of the pictures that the student was taking, prompting officers to search him.

operations at the student protests have shown a willingness by police to allow people the right to video. This though could be down to the huge media presence keeping an eye on them and the sheer number of people with their mobile devices out, waiting to catch a police officer acting inapropriately.

An equally contentious issue for mobile journalists is the continuing behaviour of certain police forces to use legislation to confiscate equipment from photographs. What is shocking though is that anti-terrorism legislation is used to justify this.

Photographers have long held a grudge against over-zealous police officers for their illegitimate use of this legislation and in January a review recognised this.  The Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers recognised this.

Home Secretary Theresa May, said legislation was needed for protection but that ‘the public otherwise have a right to take photographs without fear of being stopped, questioned or searched by police.’

s.44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gave police stop and search powers if there was reasonable suspicion. Photographers feared this was being misused and May admitted “this targeted measure will also prevent misuse of this [anti-terror] power against photographers which I know was a significant concern with the previous regime”. The section was suspended last July.

But it appears there is still confusion in police forces about when they can use the powers. Last week, Amateur Photography carried a story about a student who was stopped under s.43 of the act (the section now used in place of s.44), which allows officers to stop and search photographers if they have reasonable suspicion they are a terrorist. However, upon inspecting the student’s camera they found only images of birds.

It seems strange how the police could misconstrue the rules so significantly.

Obviously, the January review has called for this stance to be reviewed but it’s clear such abuse of power still permeates certain areas of the force. And as photographers and mobile journalists will testify, the job can be hard enough without being stopped under the pretence of being a terrorist.

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