Arrests for taking pictures continue in the UK

Despite repeated government and police assurances that it would not be happening any more, ordinary people are still being arrested for taking pictures in the UK, under the pernicious terms of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, and not just in London. This time, a photographer video camera user managed to film the process of his arrest. There particularly ridiculous aspects of this case are firstly that the officer, when challenged on his assertion that this was a terrorism-related offence, changed her charge to that of anti-social behaviour (which isn’t a crime as such, anyway), and secondly that the first officer was not even a proper police officer, but a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) AKA ‘plastic police’. PCSOs do not have the training or powers of the regular police but they are increasingly acting as if they do, and since they look almost identical to the untrained eye, they frequently get away with it. They shouldn’t: PCSOs need to be more clearly trained as to the legal and moral limitations of their role.

The second time he was stopped, it was by a police officer who had been informed by the PCSO, however the police officer too was unable to give reasons as to why they wanted the details of the photographer. They seemed to think that just because the officer was suspicious that was enough, whereas in law they must have a ‘reasonable’ suspicion. There were no such grounds. The officer refused to give reasonable grounds other than the fact they were taking pictures and refused to say whether they were being arrested. So they left, but they were later arrested by another officer for ‘anti-social behaviour’ (which is not a crime, and certainly taking pictures is not inherently ‘anti-social’ – or if it was, then the state’s CCTV systems would be equally ‘anti-social’). This seemed to have nothing more than a matter of the officers being annoyed by the fact that they challenged the officers. The police need to remember that they serve the public and are not there to tell the public what to do when they are doing nothing unlawful.

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

3 thoughts on “Arrests for taking pictures continue in the UK”

  1. “The police need to remember that they serve the public and are not there to tell the public what to do when they are doing nothing unlawful.”

    There is a viewpoint which has been actively supported by governments over many years which belies that statement. Briefly:-

    The police are an arm of government. The government identify in legislation, guidance and by their actions (individual and group) what they want the police to do and how they believe the populace should act. This is not too unreasonable a logical set of circumstances in many situations.

    One example of that in practice would be draft letters of an aggressive nature to housing residents which state the police and housing authority disagree with the way people are acting (anti-social – not illegal) and that they should adapt their behaviour or action would be taken against them. Take that example and another from the political sphere, with politicians openly promoting breaches (unlawful breaches) of the legal regime when it suits political purposes in seeking legislative change. Both of those can appear as examples of either functional or dysfunctional aspects of that perspective, as is the photography issue.

    The police can assume the appearance of moral guardians of the public good in some facets of the perspective, be it telling people how to behave, or themselves promoting legislative change. The population behavioural issues were strengthened considerably some years ago now by the anti-social behaviour legislation requiring the police to act more openly when people are not breaking the law, but may be causing some disturbance within the community. (Some people obviously consider photography is a cause of disturbance within communities! Perhaps it creates disquiet.)

    My own experience in the UK, where I worked within the police for many years, reveals the chosen sentence is increasingly a fallacy.


  2. Ian – thank-you: that is entirely consistent with the direction I’ve seen in the UK. The sentence you refer to was more of an injunction than a statement of fact. I certainly don’t disagree that the police have been, ever since they were first formed, but particularly again in recent years, considered by government as ‘moral’ guardians of a particular kind of public order agenda.

  3. Yah, those papparazzi blogs are still hitting the press as rabbits would a fight club, but what’s new. The Beebs didn’t see it, meaning our webcam hacking placebo Chinese interrogation leaves alot to the imagination, I know.
    Secular no-go areas are intrinsically obsolete targets of terrorist incidence. Despite humble offerings, the spectrum slashes the myopic intentions frightfully vividly to create some form or other, not quite sure, that makes payback the last person you’d want to Google, believe me!

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