UK Government on Photography

I recently signed a petition against restriction placed on photographers in the UK under the Counter Terrorism Act, that was sent to 10 Downing Street, and have now received a reply, which is at: (now only from the Wayback Machine).

The petition said:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to remove new restrictions on photography in public places.”

Details of Petition:

“On the 16th of February, the Government passed a law (in the Counter Terrorism Act) making it illegal to take a photograph of a police officer, military personnel or member of the intelligence services – or a photograph which “may be of use for terrorism”. This definition is vague at best, and open to interpretation by the police – who under Home Secretary guidelines can “restrict photography in public places”. We call for these vague restrictions to be lifted, as they can easily be mis-used by the police.”

You can see the whole response at the link above, but these are the relevant extracts so far as I’m concerned:

“An officer making an arrest under section 58A must reasonably suspect that the information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. An example might be gathering information about the person’s house, car, routes to work and other movements.”

Which sounds fair enough – but will officers actually restrict themselves to only making arrests in those circumstances? If they don’t, how heavily will the law come down on them for exceeding their powers? But that’s always the nature of policing; nothing new there.

However, it goes on:

“It is a statutory defence for a person to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for eliciting, publishing or communicating the relevant information. Legitimate journalistic activity (such as covering a demonstration for a newspaper) is likely to constitute such an excuse. Similarly, an innocent tourist or other sight-seer taking a photograph of a police officer is likely to have a reasonable excuse.”

That’s even less reassuring. There’s no mention of someone other than a journalist taking photographs at a demonstration, perhaps for the purpose of initiating proceedings against a police officer using unnecessary violence. Would a freelance journalist, covering the demo speculatively, be okay? Where does one draw the line between that freelance journalist and any ordinary member of the public? Where does one draw the line between any “other sight-seer” and other members of the public? How does one distinguish between the keen amateur photographer, intent on documenting the world as it is, warts and all, and someone taking photographs “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”?