Civil Liberties, in the UK? You must be joking! / by Neil Alexander

Photography courtesy of Antony Bennison.

Further to my previous post on Photographer's Rights, yesterday (Monday 16th Feb), an addendum to the Counter Terrorism Act 2000 came into force, which was bad enough on its own, with the number of abuses of Section 44 on the rise. As photographers, not only are we angry at the introduction of Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act and believe it will be used by police to stop and search us in any situation, but also that our civil liberties are slowly being eroded away, and very few people seem to realise or even care. To quote Gordon Brown shortly after he came to power:-
"Too often in recent years the public dialogue in our country has undervalued the importance of liberty," Mr Brown said. "Now is the time to reaffirm our distinctive British story of liberty – to show it is as rich, powerful and relevant to the life of the nation today as ever; to apply its lessons to the new tests of our time."

70 years ago, this once great nation sacrificed tens of thousands of lives to prevent the country falling into the hands of a group of individuals who would have done exactly that and removed our liberty in its entirety, but as this is an elected government introducing these draconian powers, The People don't believe that their own government could not have their best interests at heart. Unfortunately it just doesn't work like that anymore, not in the UK anyway. The new legislation makes it an offence to "elicit, publish or communicate information" relating to any current or ex- members of the Armed Forces, intelligence services and police, which is "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

Andrew Carter, a plumber from Bedminster, near Bristol, took a photograph of an officer who had ignored a no-entry road sign while driving a police van. This might have appeared a somewhat petulant thing to do, but taking a photograph in a public place is not a crime. Yet the policeman smashed the camera from Mr Carter's hand, handcuffed him, put him in the back of the van and took him to the police station, where he was kept for five hours. When he returned to answer bail the following week, he was kept at the station for another five hours. He was released without charge, despite an attempt by the police to claim some spurious offence of "assault with a camera".

This is not an isolated incident. Message boards and Internet forums have been inundated with stories of PCSOs, security guards and Police Officers over-stepping and abusing their powers, and its only going to get worse with the introduction of Section 76.

The exact wording of the new legislation can be found here, and the original Counter Terrorism Act 2000 can be found here.

In fact, even Stella Rimington, the ex-head of MI5 has outwardly criticised Ministers for exploiting the fear of terrorism to restrict civil liberties.
"It would be better that the government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism - that we live in fear and under a police state," she said. Read more here.

Mark Thomas who was also at the event outside Scotland Yard has produced a "Stop and Search" card, which can be downloaded here.

More links here:
Photographers angry at terror law - BBC News
Why can't we take pictures of policemen? - Daily Telegraph News
Is it a crime to take pictures? - BBC News
Hundreds demonstrate their freedom to photograph. - NUJ
Photographers’ Rights and the new UK Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 - Photonetcast podcast