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I'm not a terrorist! - James Vellacott shares his views on the right to take photographs.
Four experienced press photographers have taken the time to launch a new website called "I'm a photographer not a terrorist". This website outlines your rights regarding the section 43, 44 and 76 acts.
One of the photographers responsible for the website is Jeff Moore. Jeff is a well-known freelance photographer who provides images to the London and UK national media. He spends most of his time covering stories, incidents and events in the Greater London area. Operating in London, Jeff has been regularly stopped by the police under section 44.
A few months ago Jeff was looking for images to illustrate how the economic recession was affecting Londoners. He thought that he would take a look at the taxi queues to see if people were opting to use public transport to save money. He arrived at a rank on Harrow Road to find an unusually long black cab queue. As he started to take photographs a passing police car screeched to a halt then backed up so the occupants could speak to him. The two officers jumped out and asked, "What are you doing?" Jeff with a camera in his hand looked at them and then his camera and said, "What does it look like?" The officers said that they were stopping him under section 44 of the terrorism act and that they wanted to see the photos. Jeff knew he was under no obligation to do this but complied and showed the officers the picture of the cab queue. The officers then decided to run a police national computer check on him. After 30 minutes the check had still not come back so the officers got back in their car and drove off without completing the process.
Jeff told me: "It was a complete waste of my time, one wonders if the police have a section 44 quota to fulfill, with them behaving like this."
Jess Hurd, another respected photographer also responsible for the new website, told me that she was stopped by police while photographing a 'traveller wedding' in the Docklands part of London. She was told that she could be on "hostile reconnaissance" with her cameras.
Situations like the above are becoming increasingly common. Photographers face more pressure than ever before not to record that image. We fear that some obscure act, bylaw and an over-enthusiastic police officer will stop us in our tracks using the threat of imprisonment and the 'terrorism act' as their means to do so. There have even been documented situations where police have asked photographers to delete images that have been taken, not knowing the law, the photographers have abided by the demand and the images have been lost forever.
Personally I think that these acts are ridiculous, if you go to Google Earth or Street View, so much information can be gathered from an armchair. There are even phone applications that allow you to watch live footage from public and private cctv cameras. I have yet to find written proof of a situation where a conviction under section 44 has been brought due to stopping a person taking photographs.
It is imperative that we stand our ground on these issues. Photographer's document and archive history as it happens. The freedom to do this without hindrance is important to society in many ways not to mention it's our civil right! The government, whether consciously or not, is putting pressure on us where and how we use the camera. If not kept in check, these acts could be used as stealth tactics to increase censorship of our free media.
Fear not fellow snappers, download your very own 'stop and search bust card' and be prepared to continue doing our job.
Visit James Vellacott's blog.