Police 'stop and search' code drawn up for photographers

Freelance photographers who work in public places can have their say on a code of practice being drawn up for police to use for enforcing the replacement of controversial terror law Section 44.

The Section, which was wrongly applied by police officers to stop, search and arrest photographers, has been superseded by section 47a remedial order following a government announcement in March.

To that end, a new statutory code of practice is needed – partly reflecting the Home Office’s commitment to photography groups that it intends to improve matters for photographers who operate in public.

In relation to Section 44, the purpose of the code for s47a is “to provide clarity that the threshold for making an authorisation is higher under the news powers and the way in which the powers may be exercised is also different.”

Available online, the consultation adds: “There is far greater circumscription in the use of these powers and the manner in which these powers are to be implemented by the police.”

According to the current draft, police can use section 47a to stop and search someone taking photos or filming within an authorised area, just as they can stop and search any other person in public, in accordance with the code.

But the photographer’s memory/film cards can only be seized after a police search if the officer “reasonably suspects” they are evidence that the person is a terrorist, though they cannot delete the images or destroy the film.

Similarly, a photographer’s camera can only be seized by the police, following a stop and search under s47a, where the officer “reasonably suspects” that it constitutes evidence that the person is a terrorist.

The code, which is to include a specific section devoted to photography and film, must be readily available at all police stations and any breach, or decision not to follow it, “should be recorded in writing.”

Seeming mindful that photographers come up against more than just police, officials have meanwhile signalled their intention to set up a meeting with the security industry to discuss the problem of “overzealous” private security guards.

Reflecting on the anticipated meeting, the Bureau of Freelance Photographers said special attention would be paid to the training privately hired security staff receive, most visibly through Project Griffin, which is run by the police.

Speaking to the BFP, the Office for Security Counter-Terrorism said such security personnel should not be targeting photographers merely because they have a camera, but instead should adopt a more considered and sensible approach to people who take pictures.

 

4th July 2011

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