Met police advice backs photographers

Guidelines on how the Metropolitan Police should treat camera owners and users in public places have been significantly strengthened in favour of the photographer.

For the first time, the guidance for a Met police officer who approaches street and public photographers makes clear that their material cannot be interfered with.

"Officers do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search," states the guidance, handed to officers and published online.

"Deletion or destruction may only take place following seizure if there is a lawful power (such as a court order) that permits such deletion or destruction."

The new guidelines also extend to Section 58A of the Terrorism Act, under which it is potentially a crime to photograph police officers or members of the armed forces.

The update states that, under the section, misusing the powers to restrict legitimate public photography is "unlawful," whereas prior guidance held it as "inappropriate."

That unlawful action would, typically, include stopping photographers from taking pictures of protests or demonstrations, as the photography would not be to aid terrorists.

Moreover, an arrest would only be lawful "if an arresting officer had a reasonable suspicion that the photographs were being taken in order to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."

However, the guidance makes clear that photographers should still expect to come up against police, as has been the case for freelancer Grant Smith, on more than occasion.

The guidance says: "There is nothing preventing officers asking questions of an individual who appears to be taking photographs of someone who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s Forces (HMF), Intelligence Services or a constable.

"So long as this is being done for a lawful purpose and is not being done in a way that prevents, dissuades or inhibits the individual from doing something which is not unlawful."

 Editorial image courtesy of Steve Punter


18th May 2010

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