Yesterday’s pro-photography protest in London was rather encouraging. Amateur and professional photographers came together to protest the restrictions and harassment of photographers that has developed in response to concerns about terrorism. The protest follows a European Court of Human Rights ruling that police don’t have the right to indiscriminately search people, just because they are taking photos. The “I’m a photographer, not a terrorist” campaign has objected specifically to police using Section 44 of the UK’s Terrorism Act to harass photographers. High-profile recent incidents include “7 armed police detaining an award winning architectural photographer in the City of London, the arrest of a press photographer covering campaigning santas at City Airport and the stop and search of a BBC photographer at St Paul’s Cathedral and many others.”
In addition to creating art and a historical record, photography has an important role to play in keeping security entities accountable for their actions. As I have said before, photography is an important mechanism for maintaining oversight over the police and private security forces. Restrictions on photograpy allow for power to be used with less oversight, probably leading to more incidents of abuse and fewer cases in which abusers are punished. Indeed, it has been shown repeatedly that only photo or video evidence is sufficient to produce convictions for police brutality. In short, restricting photography makes us less safe.
Both casual photographers and those with a more substantial connection to the practice should be aware of their rights as photographers, and be willing to stand up when people try to bully them out of taking pictures. The British campaign has produced a pocket sized card outlining what rights individuals have when stopped by a police officer. I have been meaning to print off and laminate a card with the relevant sections of Canadian law, for use next time someone insists that taking photos in public spaces is forbidden.