'Reasonable excuse' needed to snap police

Freelancers and other individuals who have a “reasonable excuse” to take photographs of military or police officers will not be prosecuted, despite fears to the contrary.

Issuing the clarification, the Prime Minister’s Office said “legitimate journalistic activity”, such as covering a demonstration for a newspaper, was “likely” to constitute such an excuse.

The official guidance came in response to a petition on the Number 10 website, concerning the contentious Section 58A of the Terrorism Act, which took effect in February this year.

Under the provision, it is potentially a crime to take a photograph of a military, intelligence or police officer, if the photograph “may be of use for terrorism.”

The petition, which claimed the result was new restrictions on photography in public places, criticised the definition as “vague at best, and open to interpretation by the police”.

Already, the petition stated, the police can “restrict photography in public places” and that new restriction “can easily be mis-used by the police.”

In response, Downing Street said: “Contrary to some media and public misconception, section 58A does not make it illegal to photograph a police officer, military personnel or member of the intelligence services.

“An officer making an arrest under section 58A must reasonably suspect that the information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. An example might be gathering information about the person’s house, car, routes to work and other movements.”

The officials added that every person had the “statutory defence” to prove they had a “reasonable excuse” for taking a photograph of an officer of the armed, intelligence or police forces.

Photographers who are covering a demonstration for a newspaper who put such personnel in the frame should therefore be protected, as should a sight-seer or a “innocent tourist.”

Editorial image Byflickr


12th November 2009

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