Saturday, February 14, 2009

"I am a camera"

posted by k

It took the News Quiz to alert me to the latest change in the law. The police are to have new powers to stop us taking their photos. They're using a provision of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.

It's rapidly becoming impossible to obey the law. Taking a snapshot of a tourist site may turn out to be illegal. More seriously, what would happen if a member of the public witnessed a police officer commiting a crime or abusing police powers and tried to document this by taking a picture? A ban on photographing the police adds to police powers and makes it easier for rogue officers - or rogue forces - to break the law, suppress the evidence and punish the witnesses. This should not be possible in a free, democratic society.

Soon pictures like this will be illegal. Although the police are concealing neither their faces nor their weapons, we're told that taking their pictures may put them at risk.

Perhaps I'm old-fashioned. I grew up with a police force that rarely carried weapons, in the days before tasers had been invented. Nowadays even police without guns carry an arsenal of alternative weapons strung about their waists. We've come a long way from Dixon of Dock Green and the respect given to a friendly neighbourhood bobby.

I know Dixon was a fiction but the myth gave good policemen a kind of gentle authority. Dixon's salute at the end of each episode as he bade goodbye to the audience with the phrase, "Evening, all," suggested a police force that worked with and respected the public. Big guns, tasers and laws that threaten our freedom don't make me feel that the police respect me. They don't make me feel safer. They make me feel afraid.

There hasn't been much publicity for this latest change in the law but there is a demonstration on Monday 16th February. Press photographers, whose freedom is also threatened, will be taking part and the comedian Mark Thomas will be taking part.

Meanwhile, there's interesting potential for a conflict of laws. A publican in Islington has been told he must install CCTV as a condition of his licence. But what happens if a policeman enters his pub?

But we shouldn't worry. The provisions of the Act won't be abused. We can be sure of thus. The government keeps telling us so.

A fellow contributor to this blog directed me to gizmonaut who, as often, follows this issue far more comprehensively. Evidently a busy week at work prevented me from paying sufficient attention to the blogosphere.

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