This evening poggs, passengeraction and I went over to Battersea to see Mark Thomas. We were handed pieces of paper just prior to the show and invited to submit ideas for policy changes we would like to see. Happily I’ve spent the last week or two alternately ranting and scheming with Passenger Action on how to successfully challenge the recent prohibition on photographing police officers so I had my policy change all ready. 😀
I’m quite interested in photography. But it’s an area which is seemingly becoming subject to tighter and tighter controls. Already there is great suspicion towards photographers and it is often difficult to take photos in public places as various jobsworths will try to inform you that you are not allowed to. I will add at this point that some of these jobsworths might be LUL station staff telling you not to take photos in train stations. There’s actually no prohibition against it. The nearest thing we have to a rule on the subject is no flash photography on the platforms1 and do not use a tripod2. This is contained in paragraph 4.5 of the Conditions of Carriage for those who are interested.
Recently a law was passed which makes it illegal to photograph a police officer if it ‘could’ be useful to anyone planning a terrorist act. You might ask why I’d be annoyed at this and why I’d want to photograph a police officer in the first place. The answer is: I don’t. Or at least: I didn’t. Until it was made illegal that is. It’s a fairly ridiculous law and is an example of the way thought crime is being legislated for in this country. It is not enough that a person planning or committing a terrorist offence is a criminal. It is not enough that someone aiding such a person is a criminal. Now anyone who happens to take a photograph of a police officer is deemed to be aiding such a person unless they can prove otherwise. This is just wrong. It is silly and wrong and although I am not a very political person I object strongly to having my peaceful and legitimate behaviour suddenly criminalised. And it’s such a vague law that there’s no way to work out if you are breaching it or not.
So my suggestion to Mark Thomas was this: Could we please campaign for clarification on how much of a police officer we may photograph before it becomes illegal.
This is an interesting idea to consider. Because logically there has to be some leeway. If I stand in front of a police officer and photograph their face then that would seem to be a clear breach of the law. But what if I’m taking a snap of my Auntie Ethel and a police officer happens to walk by? Is that also illegal? Possibly if I did not intend to photograph the officer and he just happened to be snapped then that would be ok. But what if I willfully and maliciously took a photo of a police officer’s ear? Only their ear. Is that ok or not? After all, people can be identified by ear prints as easily as finger prints – so am I recording detailed information about a police officer if I snap his lughole?
Thinking about this leads on to further problems. If it is an offence to photograph part of a police officer then is the offence restricted to naked parts or are concealed parts of a police officer also banned? Is an ear worthy of arrest but a shoe not? This also leads me to query the result of photographing an officer’s shoulder.
A police officer’s shoulder is an interesting place. On it is his warrant number which is how you identify that he is a real polis. In order to avoid confusion police officers are required to identify themselves as such. And it is perfectly ok for you to take a note of their details. So you can write down a warrant number. But could you photograph it? Me being me, I then naturally consider to what use I could put a photograph of a police officer’s shoulder. The answer is that I am now going to collect them. It is an uninteresting fact that all trains (and parts thereof) are individually numbered. It is not unusual to come into a platform and see people in anoraks standing writing these numbers down in notebooks. Some even take photographs of the trains and individual cars to prove that they saw them. Some others create websites in order to proudly display their collection. Now if I were to become a trainspotter I’d get laughed at by my colleagues. But a police-officer-spotter – now there’s something I could get into! Imagine a flickr page with image after image of black cloth and shiny metal numbers. How pleasing.
Another consideration of this law is how are the police going to cope with the intricacies of it. Let’s take it to the logical conclusion – if it is illegal to photograph a police officer then how are they going to get a passport? If you join the police are you now prohibited from leaving the country? And how is driving going to work if nobody is permitted to take a photo of you for your driving licence? This legislation comes under the Counter Terrorism Act but the next time a bomb goes off in London the police are going to have to take the bus. That is, if there are any police left. Because police have warrant cards identifying them. With a photograph. Which is illegal. So the person who takes photographs of police officers will be arrested and detained. Are they also a police officer or police staff? Because if the former then it’s going to be tricky taking a mug shot. And if it is illegal to photograph a police officer then nobody can join the police because it is not possible to issue them with ID – not least because the officer taking their photos is now in prison. Could it be that this is not actually a measure brought in to defeat terrorism but a means to eradicate the police force by not permitting them to be police?
In the course of our ludicrous ramblings passengeraction and I have hit upon two cunning plans which this law can be used for. One is for personal gain – that’s Passenger Action’s plan. I have to modestly admit that the second plan is of mine own devising. The second one is to end the recession and restore economic wellbeing to this country. Mine is better, trust me. 🙂
Firstly, personal gain. Step one is to book a week in Benidorm and enjoy a relaxing holiday. Step two is to return to the uk and pretend to take a photograph of a police officer. You will then be arrested. It is important at this stage that you quietly go along with things and on no account accept a caution. If you do then you won’t be able to benefit from step three. That’s where they must get evidence in order to charge you i.e. print off your photos. Now because few people use actual film anymore it can be ludicrously expensive to get photos printed. But if the police print your film and find no photograph then they have to not only admit that you haven’t committed a crime but give you your photos too. So step four is to profit!
The other use to which this law can be put is to increase tourist spending in the UK. To do this needs a minor change in the law – on the spot fines should be an option for dealing with people who photograph police officers. Then all that is needed is to go and stand outside the gates of parliament (or other secure tourist attraction) and wait til a tourist takes a snap of a British Bobby standing in front of the Houses of Parliament. Then point out to the officer that a crime has just been committed and watch as he fines the tourist. With any luck they will have insufficient money and be banged up for a few nights. This may also lead to anxious relatives coming over to rescue them and having to stay in a city centre hotels, eat out at local restaurants and use taxis to navigate an unfamiliar city. All this on top of the money we’ll get from the fine. There is no way in which this policy would not benefit the British economy!
Except….there’s one tiny snag. In order to convict someone of a crime it is helpful to have evidence. So if someone takes a photo of a police officer then their photo is primary evidence but it would also be helpful to have secondary evidence. The police officer can make a statement of course but they are the victim of the crime and if we want to secure a conviction it would be useful to have an independant witness or, if possible, photographic evidence.
So we need to have somebody on standby photographing the person photographing the police officer but in order to definitely show that they were photographing the police officer and not their Auntie Ethel we’d also need the photograph of the person photographing the police officer to contain the police officer being photographed. Still with me? Good.
But…has the person photographing the person photographing the police officer and the police officer being photographed now committed a crime? Or were they merely gathering evidence? It’s a tricky question. It also leads to questions of how the police are going to gather evidence if they are not allowed to take any film or photographs which include their colleagues. And what about the media? Will Sky Sports now be arrested for filming football matches? Can there be no reporting of girls samba-ing with coppers at the Notting Hill Carnival? Also, what happens to the photographs when the police object and arrest a person?
If I take a photograph of anything then nobody can tell me to delete or otherwise destroy it without a court order. So if I photograph a police officer and they object their only real option is to arrest me because I’ll refuse to destroy my property. Of course, they still can’t then delete my harmful photograph because they need evidence. If my photograph somehow ‘disappeared’ from my camera whilst I was in custody then there is no evidence of my having committed a crime and clearly I am a victim of false arrest and imprisonment. So the photograph must be kept as evidence. Now, I’m not hugely familiar with how the law works in regard to criminal cases but I’m pretty sure that if charges were brought and a court case held then my photograph would have to be entered as evidence and must therefore be held until after I’ve been convicted. Of course, if I were convicted then I’d no doubt appeal which would mean the photograph which the legal system want to not exist would have to be kept even longer. And as our legal system must be open to public scrutiny then is the photograph a matter of public record once it enters the court system? And at the end of all of this legal process where I’ve no doubt been convicted of taking a photograph I would still have a question: Is it also illegal to POSSESS a photograph of a police officer? If not, can I get my photo back please?
Now while this law is beyond ludicrous I have to say that none of the points above are what really annoy me. The points above are me just playing with rules and seeing how to get around them. No, the thing that really and truly annoys me about this law is that unless I want to trek down to Charing X I have no way to find out what PC Paul McInally looks like. 😉
1 This one is actually important. I’ve just come out of a dark tunnel and my eyes are adjusting to the station lights. That would not be a good time to be setting off a flash in my vicinity as it can really hurt. And aside from potentially dazzling me it can be very distracting. Let’s take a moment to consider the relative flimsiness of you leaning slightly over the edge of the platform and the relative unflimsiness of my 300 ton train.
2 Do not take this to mean you are permitted to take photographs in stations no matter what. Stations are still private property and you can still be told to not take photographs if it would be dangerous or would interfere with our business or with the safety of others. So by all means take photos but if you are asked to stop then you should do so. It’s reasonable to question why but not reasonable to cause problems or to refuse to comply.