Pro-photography protest in London

2010-01-25

in Bombs and rockets, Geek stuff, Law, Photography, Politics, Security

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.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan January 25, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Thanks for posting this.

However, social-mistrust for photographers is one of the reasons I’ve avoided buying a DSLR. Ken Rockwell is not suggesting that this next decade is when the DSLR as an amateur or “prosumer” machine will start to die off – since cameras like the Canon S90 take almost as good pictures, and no one bothers people using point-and-shoots. It’s a bit strange – society is becoming afraid of people taking pictures at precisely the same moment when everyone is taking pictures – so there must be a way to distinguish between “everyone” and “photographers” – and this distinction seems to just be the size of the camera.

It’s possible that this is wrong, especially if the apparent distinction between “photographers” and “non-photographers” taking pictures in terms of whether they use some form of SLR or not breaks down. However, if that is true, then right now (before it becomes true) is probably the best time to own one of the new compact, fast lens, oversize sensor point and shoots. Of course if Ken Rockwell’s own photography (i.e. http://kenrockwell.com/trips/2010-01-nyc/index.htm) were an indication of what was possible with them, I would know to avoid them. However, he can be forgiven since he’s written probably more than anyone about how one’s camera does not actually matter to the quality of the photograph (http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/notcamera.htm).

Milan January 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm

It is bizarre that people think getting photographed with an SLR is such a big deal. Quite possibly, photos from a P&S camera are more likely to end up online for all eternity.

That said, SLRs certainly create more of a response than P&S cameras. They make nervous models more nervous, and immediately draw many eyes at parties or events.

That being said, they can’t be beaten for flexibility and image quality (unless you want to move into medium or large format options).

Milan January 25, 2010 at 2:14 pm

An SLR camera system also has virtues in terms of inter-0perability.

The 50mm lens I bought for my Rebel G film SLR was useful years later with my Rebel XS digital SLR. Same goes for my tripod and tripod plates, flashes, radio triggers, etc.

It will be interesting to see what sorts of cameras become popular in the next few decades. To me, the recent trend towards bundling each lens with a sensor sealed in seems wasteful, but perhaps it will end up being the next equivalent of putting a suitably-sized motor in every lens…

Tristan January 25, 2010 at 2:54 pm

If stuff weren’t made to be broken we couldn’t have an ever-expanding economy.

Milan January 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm

It’s awfully hypocritical for British police to harass photographers on the one hand, while seeking to implement wholesale drone-based surveillance on the other.

Policing powers in the UK seem to be becoming increasingly autocratic and creepy. Whether it’s family searches of DNA or the creation of massive databases, I can’t help feeling that they are overreacting to the risk of terrorism and risking the health of their democracy.

That becomes doubly true when (inevitably) tools and powers originally granted for use against terrorism are turned to more mundane purposes.

. January 28, 2010 at 5:00 pm

“Three British courts had sided with the government before the European judges found for the plaintiffs. Besides agreeing that the rules were too expansive, the judges criticised the discretion given to individual coppers and worried that public searches could be humiliating. They were particularly scathing about the lack of safeguards. In theory Britain’s home secretary designates an area in which police may use stop-and-search powers for up to 28 days. In practice, that limit can be avoided by simply renewing the authorisation, which is why all London has been a stop-and-search zone since 2001.

Civil libertarians point out that use of the powers has shot up, from 33,000 times a year in 2004 to 117,000 in 2008. Tourists and photographers have been told by zealous policemen citing section 44 and other, newer, powers to stop taking pictures of famous buildings. The prevalence of black and Asian faces among those targeted has caused especial resentment.”

. October 20, 2010 at 9:58 am

Feds forced to admit that it’s legal to take pictures of federal buildings

By Cory Doctorow on usa

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Libertarian activist Antonio Musumeci just won a court case that affirms the right of photographers to take pictures and record video out front of federal courthouses. The US federal government settled the case by apologizing to Musumeci for his arrest, acknowledging that it is legal to record at courthouses, and promising to issue guidelines to federal officers explaining this fact to them.

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