[hat tip to Johnny Void]
Photographic Surveillance in public can be, and is, used deliberately as a legal harassment technique, both by Police Forward Information Teams (who may sometimes be civilian photographers / videographers) and sometimes by their opponents e.g. Fit Watch.
According to the British Journal of Photography (NJP), back in May, the General Secretary of the the National Union of Journalists *NUJ), Jeremy Dear, wrote a letter to the Home Secretary, complaining about such harassment, even of Press Card accredited journalists and press photographers. He also staged a "one man protest" outside of New Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan Police HQ in London.
It seems that the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has replied, with even more evidence that Britain is a "surveillance society", where basic freedoms are being curtailed, not just through the law, but by administrative policies.
The BJP now reports that:
The British Journal of Photography
1 July 2008
Local restrictions on photography in public places are legitimate the Home Secretary has stated in a letter to the National Union of Journalists.
While Jacqui Smith reaffirmed that there are no legal restrictions, she added that local Chief Constables were allowed to restrict or monitor photography in certain circumstances.
The letter dated 26 June, which BJP has seen a copy of, is in response to correspondence sent by the Union secretary general, Jeremy Dear, who expressed concern at police surveillance of journalists, in particular photographers.
'First of all, may I take this opportunity to state that the Government greatly values the importance of the freedom of the press, and as such there is no legal restriction on photography in public places,' Smith writes. 'Also, as you will be aware, there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.'
However, the Home Secretary adds that local restrictions might be enforced. 'Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation.
Under what law is such an "operational decision" to be made ?
Are these decisions to be made in secret, so that the public does not know when and where and for how long such restrictions are in place ?
The evidence of the illegal secrecy surrounding the supposedly temporary, time and location limited Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 stop and search without reasonable cause powers, leads us to believe the worst of the Home Secretary.
'It is for the local Chief Constable, in the case of your letter the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force, to decide how his or her Officers and employees should best balance the rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the need for public protection.'
The Home Office does not produce any guidance on photography in public places, and has not produced any specific guidance to [Forward Intelligence Team] officers, the Home Secretary says. 'I recommend, therefore, that the questions in your letter are best put to the Commissioner.'
This shows how reflexively authoritarian and bureaucratically secretive the NuLabour government is, even when there is no practical reason for them to be so.
Over a third of Members of Parliament have signed Austin Mitchell's Early Day Motion 1155:on Photography in Public Areas:
PHOTOGRAPHY IN PUBLIC AREAS
That this House is concerned to encourage the spread and enjoyment of photography as the most genuine and accessible people's art; deplores the apparent increase in the number of reported incidents in which the police, police community support officers (PCSOs) or wardens attempt to stop street photography and order the deletion of photographs or the confiscation of cards, cameras or film on various specious ground such as claims that some public buildings are strategic or sensitive, that children and adults can only be photographed with their written permission, that photographs of police and PCSOs are illegal, or that photographs may be used by terrorists; points out that photography in public places and streets is not only enjoyable but perfectly legal; regrets all such efforts to stop, discourage or inhibit amateur photographers taking pictures in public places, many of which are in any case festooned with closed circuit television cameras; and urges the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to agree on a photography code for the information of officers on the ground, setting out the public's right to photograph public places thus allowing photographers to enjoy their hobby without officious interference or unjustified suspicion.