This Saturday (23rd January 2010) there was a mass gathering of photographers of all types at Trafalgar Square in London in defence of street photography as part of the “I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist” campaign. I wanted to be there to show my support, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it.
In essence, “PHNAT” is about the right to take photographs in public places in the UK and the alleged abuse and misuse of terrorism laws by some police officers when confronting photographers going about their business (or hobby).
An article was posted on Stuff.co.nz yesterday which took the opposite stance; the old “if you are not doing anything wrong, what’s the problem?” and I tweeted to say I thought this person was somewhat missing the point. However, I do feel they had a point, to some extent, inasmuch as it really should not matter if the police approach you to ask you why you are taking photos of a location considered to be a security risk.
We need (and mostly expect) the authorities to protect us from terrorism and I’m sure none of us wants a repeat of the London attacks of July 2005 so I believe we have to accept that the police must have the power to take appropriate action. To this end, the terrorism laws almost certainly need to exist and probably pretty much in the form that they already exist.
The key part of that last paragraph is “appropriate action”. This, in my opinion, is the point of all of this and it’s a point which seems to be getting lost, judging by much of what I read. If a police officer approached me and asked me to explain why I’m taking pictures of a sensitive location, I’d be happy to explain. If they asked me if I’d mind showing them some ID, I’d have no problem. If they wanted to take a look in my camera bag, then that’s fine. I like to think I would take the attitude that they are trying to protect me and, to be honest, I respect and appreciate that. I view this as being like when I went to buy a very expensive laptop and my bank made the shop assistant call them so they could ask me some security questions; they were making sure it was me holding the credit card.
What we seem to be seeing far too often is police officers taking inappropriate action; being heavy-handed and confrontational. In the same scenario as above, if I’m approached by a police officer who simply barks at me and tells me I can’t take pictures here, then I’m going to tell him “yes I can”. I’m also going to ask him to justify his actions. I’m going to ask him what law he is acting under. I’m going to ask him if he knows enough about the law to be a police officer. In short, I’m going to fight back. I’m going to protect my rights – which is actually HIS job, unless I have misunderstood the basic function of a police force.
My Twitter buddy, Simon Taylor, made an excellent point:
“After the London bombings, the authorities asked for members of the public who took photos at the scenes of the bombs (both before and after the explosions) to send in their images/videos to be examined, to see if they could provide evidence against the terrorists. Ironically, these images would have been taken illegally as they would have been on private property at the time.”
There we are – it’s not the terrorism laws which are the problem. It’s not even the use of these laws causing the problem. The problem is the misuse of the law and, let’s be frank, poor communication skills.
Please note, this article is just my personal opinion, feelings and thoughts on the subject. References to “PHNAT” are purely because I support what they are trying to do – it is not my intention to imply that they agree with me!
I urge you to visit photographernotaterrorist.org, have a good read and make up your own mind.