Calling all photographers – stand up for your rights

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For a while now, it’s become increasingly difficult to take photographs without suspicion and stories like the one of the father-of-three who was branded a pervert for photographing his own children in public park are extremely alarming. Admittedly this story was reported in the Daily Mail (a fine example of balanced reporting – not!) but nevertheless it is a perfect example of political correctness gone mad.

I’m a parent too and I have to admit that I am always very self-conscious when I photograph my children playing with their friends. Thankfully, their parents take no issue (indeed some find it strange that I even check with them first). I even have some great pictures of my kids that were taken by other people. But unfortunately it’s all too easy to accuse someone of wrong-doing – generally being a pervert or a terrorist – and the authorities will generally act first and reason later.

There are very few restrictions on taking photographs in public places but it won’t take long for that to change. Indeed, the current UK Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith has stated in a letter to the National Union of Journalists that:

“[…] there is no legal restriction on photography in public places […and…] there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.”

That’s sounds good until she continues by writing:

“Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation.”

Basically, she’s said that it’s not illegal but that the authorities will act if they feel it is appropriate and that, even though Chief Constables will issue guidance, the decision is down to local officers.

I spent a large chunk of my formative years watching trains and, whilst I realise that the social stigma that is attached to such activities will make readers think I’m weird now, that’s practically outlawed these days (the police will soon move people on who are seen hanging around a major railway station). Then, when I flew to the States last year, I took some pictures of aeroplanes at Heathrow (my young son has only seen them high in the sky – he had no idea what the plane Daddy was going to fly on looked like) – thankfully no-one tried to stop me but it won’t be long before that is considered a security risk.

The UK Government’s petitions site is little more than a publicity exercise but nevertheless it is an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of public feeling on this. If you are a UK citizen and you would like to see a public statement on clarifying the law as it relates to photography then I urge you to sign the e-petition on Photography Law:

Through history, we have documented the world around us, whether through written word, art or photography.

Photography in particular has provided fantastic insights into the past and present, and is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people worldwide.

But today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take photos of our surroundings, particularly in cities like London.

In recent years, the price divide between professional and consumer equipment has blurred, and it’s quite common these days to see amateurs and hobbyists carrying around tripods, SLR cameras and a backpack full of equipment.

Yet, we are constantly harrassed [sic] by security guards and police officers in the name of preventing terrorism. They seem to be operating under a different interpretation of the law to the rest of us, believing that somehow the length of your lens, or size of your camera is relevant.

We would like clarification by the goverment [sic] on the law regarding photography of buildings and landmarks from public locations.

If you don’t, then you’ll only have yourself to blame when the current power-hungry administration forces through the next phase of nanny state laws that restrict an individual’s ability to capture a photograph in a public place.

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