The Metropolitan Police has issued guidance to its officers to remind them that using a camera in public is not in itself a terrorist offence.
There has been increasing concern in recent months that police have been over-using terrorism laws and public order legislation to harass professional and amateur photographers. The issue was raised in Parliament and the Home Office agreed to look at the rules.
The guidance reminds officers that the public do not need a licence to take photographs in the street and the police have no power to stop people taking pictures of anything they like, including police officers.
The over-used Terrorism Act of 2000 does not ban photography either, although it does allow police to look at images on phones or cameras during a search to see if they could be useful to a terrorist.
Section 58 of the Act covers the offence of eliciting, publishing or communicating information about any member of the armed forces, spying agencies or the police. But officers must show a reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in terrorism – it is not a blanket ban on photographing working police officers.
The guidelines also remind coppers that they will often work with the media, which can impact on the Met’s reputation. Therefore: “it’s crucial to maintain good working relations with its members, even in difficult circumstances.”.
This could be helped by setting up “vantage points” when cordoning off an incident so that camera crews and photographers can do their work. Senior Investigating Officers are reminded to allow media access to crime scenes as soon as possible after evidence gathering is completed.