Steps to a police state

Today, 16 february 2009, a law has come into force in the UK making it illegal to photograph a police officer.

To be precise, it is section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 which states:

A person commits an offence who elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been ... a constable ... which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or publishes or communicates any such information.

On the surface that appears entirely reasonable. The police do a difficult and dangerous job protecting citizens of the UK.

But think about the ramifications of this law and the way it’s worded.

... eliciting information .. likely to be useful to a person ... preparing an act of terrorism ....’ can mean pretty well anything.

Notice the vagueness of the wording. Any information could be construed as “... likely to be useful ...”. By its very definition, information is useful. That’s why it’s information. And then there's the catch-all qualifier, 'likely'.

The law is wide open. ‘Eliciting information,’ could mean writing down the colour of a police officer’s hair, or recording something he says, or asking for his police number when confronted ... or taking a photograph.

And, given the propensity for police officers to harass anyone legally taking a photograph in public places – from a 15-year old schoolboy in school uniform to UK Members of Parliament – it is very likely that this law will be applied vigorously.

Some points to consider:

a) The majority of people in the UK are photographed several times a day by the ubiquitous (and spreading) CCTV cameras. They probably do not know that they’re being photographed and they do not know what happens to the images that have been made of them. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing – many crimes have been solved as a result – but why is it legal in one direction, yet illegal in the other? And what is done with all this information that is gathered. Do you know?

b) More sinister, the police themselves use photography threateningly. According to a UK newspaper, the Brighton Argus, members of an environmental organisation who were having a meeting in a local club were confronted by police officers wielding high-powered cameras. One of the club members, David Biset, said:

"There was no suggestion of anything going on ... The police had no reason to be there beyond intimidating people. You shouldn't be put on a database simply for attending a meeting."

The local MP, David Lepper, agreed that the police operation was designed to scare activists rather than prevent crime. And, revealingly, when asked about it, a spokesman for the police said that the photography was “ ... part of ongoing police work to gather information to support future operations.” Future operations? Chilling stuff. (See the full article here.)

c) The police in the UK have been known to use brutal tactics and excessive violence when suppressing legal demonstrations, making arrests, even when simply questioning people. Occasionally, in the past these tactics have been shown to the rest of the world by journalists and film-makers or someone who happened to have a camera with them.

Now, under this new law, the police can arrest anyone taking such photographs, and the photographer can be convicted for up to 10 years in prison.

Watch this incident ...

It was recorded in November 2008.

If, instead, that video had been taken today, it might never be seen. And, for taking it, the photographer could find himself in deep trouble.

Think about it.

It matters. Even if you're not a photographer.


Interestingly, no lesser body than the Metropolitan Police Federation oppose this law too.

See here for details.

In short, this is a poorly-drafted law from a Government that has consistently reneged on its principles since coming to power.


Suzanne said...

Good post. Thank you.

Unfortunately the vast majority of people in the UK couldn't give a tinker's cuss about this.

In fact, when I've talked to people about the increasingly draconian powers that the police have in the UK I very often get the stock response, "What are you worried about? If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear."

That shows a touching faith in the police.

Try telling that to the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, Derek Bond or Omar Ahmed, to name just 3 cases.

Bill said...

And of course there was the recent case of the police actually beating up a person, lying about it, getting the supposed criminal convicted in a magistrates court, then having their lies exposed in a later crown court case and denounced by the judge as he quashed the earlier conviction:
- the original incident happened in September 2008 and the conviction was quashed in November 2008.

The video which demonstrated this police brutality and the lies that followed would now itself be illegal and open the photographer to criminal conviction and upto ten years in prison.