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More on Britain’s War on Photography

Posted by James Hammerton @ 3:18 pm on 21 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, British politics, accountability.
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Further to my recent article on Britain’s war on photography, I came via UK Liberty across septicisle’s excellent article on his blog “Obsolete” about the new powers in Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008:

With this in mind, it’s incredibly easy to be greatly cynical about the new offence created in the latest and greatest “Counter-Terrorism” Act. Contained in section 76 is the criminalisation of “[E]liciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc“, which you would imagine ostensibly is intended to stop individuals, such as those convicted of plotting to kidnap and behead a Muslim soldier, from compiling information on potential targets, whether it be home addresses or photographs of soldiers themselves. That alone is contentious; what is even more contentious is that this covers not just members of the armed force and the intelligence services, but also humble police constables.

It’s rather difficult not to connect this directly to what has become more than just individual, jumped-up officers of the law asking members of the public what they’re doing when they’re seen taking photographs of almost anything, as has become almost routine for some whose simple pleasures including taking pictures of buildings, or even getting a camera out in the vicinity of children. While this does not directly cover that, what it will directly cover is the photographing of police officers, which has also become something of a point of concern, with those photographed routinely demanding that such pictures be deleted, even going so far as to confiscate the devices if they’re digital and doing it for them. This has been especially noted on demonstrations, where ironically there are now almost always dedicated teams of officers, known as Forward Intelligence Teams, who film and take photographs of everyone, regardless of whether there is even the slightest likelihood of violence or the breaking of the law. FIT was originally set up to monitor football crowds for hooligans; now those exact same methods are used to do little more than intimidate peaceful protesters.

In response, the likes of FIT Watch have been set up to give the officers a taste of their own medicine. It could be argued that the archives of FIT Watch could be used by those with less salubrious methods to target officers for far more than just tit for tat gestures, but the chances of this seem to be negligible. Rather, what section 76 does is simply put into law what the officers have already been unofficially practising for some time.

The consequences of this could not potentially be more serious. It essentially means that anyone who comes across an instance of the police abusing their powers and manages to record it can have their evidence destroyed with next to no powers of appeal. It will further empower officers to intervene with photographers regardless of what they are doing. It in effect gives carte blanche to the police to stop anyone from recording almost anything, with the excuse being they themselves might be the ones being targeted. Furthermore, because of the vagueness of the legislation, which is almost certainly deliberate, it’s up to the police and the courts themselves to intrepret when there was a breach. It’s a recipe for completely disempowering the individual while empowering the authorities of the state to do almost whatever they feel like, with little sanction for appeal.

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