Met's photo-law guidance published, criticised as misleading

Out-Law News | 14 Jul 2009 | 9:51 am | 1 min. read

London's Metropolitan Police force claims that terrorism legislation gives police officers the right to view photos taken on mobile phones or cameras and to sieze equipment. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) disputes the accuracy of the advice.

The NUJ and civil liberties groups have become increasingly worried in recent months on apparent restrictions by police on the taking of photographs in public places.

Reports have emerged of police stopping people taking photos or arresting those who do using anti-terrorist laws. In one reported case the photographer had taken pictures of a police van reversing the wrong way down a one way street.

The Met has now issued guidance detailing the rights it claims anti-terror legislation gives to its officers.

"Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S[ectin] 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, provided that the viewing is to determine whether the images contained in the camera or mobile telephone are of a kind, which could be used in connection with terrorism," it said. "Officers also have the power to seize and retain any article found during the search which the officer reasonably suspects is intended to be used in connection with terrorism."

The guidance claims the same rights under section 43 of the Act. The guidance concedes that sections of the law which deal with the photographing of police officers should not stop people taking pictures of police at work, including at demonstrations.

"There is however nothing preventing officers asking questions of an individual who appears to be taking photographs of someone who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s Forces (HMF), Intelligence Services or a constable," it says.

The NUJ said that the guidance is misleading. "The police do not have the right to view photographs unless they reasonably suspect the photographer to be a terrorist – that’s a far higher test than this guidance suggests," said the body's legal officer Roy Mincoff.

"What’s more, the special nature of journalistic material means that the police will need a court order if they want to see photographs taken by professional journalists. To suggest that police have the power to see anyone’s photos is not just hugely misleading, it’s factually wrong."

Home Office advisor and anti-terrorism law watchdog Lord Carlile also condemned indiscriminate use of the laws to stop photography in his most recent annual review of the use of laws.

"It should be emphasised that photography of the police by the media or amateurs remains as legitimate as before, unless the photograph is likely to be of use to a terrorist. This is a high bar," he said. "It is inexcusable for police officers ever to use this provision to interfere with the rights of individuals to take photographs."