Taking photos in public is not illegal

There have been a few news articles recently covering the problems that some photographers are having while using their cameras in public places. It seems that there are a growing number of incidents where the police, or other figures of “authority”, are mistakenly apprehending photographers because they think that they are operating illegally.

The BBC had an article last week suggesting that some photographers are being mistaken for “terrorists”:

Misplaced fears about terror, privacy and child protection are preventing amateur photographers from enjoying their hobby, say campaigners.

Phil Smith thought ex-EastEnder Letitia Dean turning on the Christmas lights in Ipswich would make a good snap for his collection.

The 49-year-old started by firing off a few shots of the warm-up act on stage. But before the main attraction showed up, Mr Smith was challenged by a police officer who asked if he had a licence for the camera.

After explaining he didn’t need one, he was taken down a side-street for a formal “stop and search”, then asked to delete the photos and ordered not take any more. So he slunk home with his camera.

Wow, so taking photos in the middle of Ipswich is illegal? What about elsewhere in the country? Boing Boing have an article today about one photographer who was hassled by security guards in Middlesborough. He was threatened by a number of people, included some seemingly ignorant members of the public, because he’d taken some photos of these security guards. Boing Boing links to this photo on Flickr where the guy explains what happened:

My friend and I were photographing in the town. I spotted a man being detained by this security guard and a policeman, some kind of altercation was going on, i looked through my zoom lens to see what was happening and then moved on.

Moments later as i walked away this goon jumped in front of me and demanded to know what i was doing. i explained that i was taking photos and it was my legal right to do so, he tried to stop me by shoulder charging me, my friend started taking photos of this, he then tried to detain us both. I refused to stand still so he grabbed my jacket and said i was breaking the law. Quickly a woman and a guy wearing BARGAIN MADNESS shirts joined in the melee and forcibly grabbed my friend and held him against his will. We were both informed that street photography was illegal in the town.

Clearly these incidents are distressing for the photographers involved. I’ve taken a few candid shots in public places before and I’ve been lucky enough not to have been hassled like this.Unfortunately it seems that street photographers are now considered to be a huge threat to public safetly. Why is this?

There’s an air of paranoia in the UK, and elsewhere in the world, at the moment. Someone is out to get us and everyone is subject to suspicion. Chapter Thirteen Photography has an excellent article about this very thing called Public Photography – Stop and Search:

Unfortunately in the current age of tabloid press and moral panic there is an enemy under every bed. In fact if the press are to be believed the general public is composed solely of sinister people we are to all to fear and distrust (for our own good and their circulation…).

Are they looking at me? (by rutty)Sadly for photography the collateral damage of this culture of paranoia has been a certainty in the eyes of many of the public that any photographer in any public place is either a paedophile or a terrorist. It would seem in the eyes of the angry mob that there is no possible other motive for taking pictures in public places. The magazines heavily illustrated with photographs tell them this so it must be true. Right?

This misplaced paranoia has led to a terrible public backlash against street photography. What used to only arouse peoples curiosity and often their cooperation, now causes suspicion or hostility. Occasionally it also causes a call to the police from the general public.

The article paints a bleak picture of life on the street for the jobby photographic artist. My own experience hasn’t been anything like as terrible as they’re letting on but then I’m not out there every day waving my camera around at the general public. However, when I have tried street photography I had this constant thought going around my head: “I hope that no-one gets upset about me taking their photo”.

I really shouldn’t care what people think if I did. People have no right to privacy in public places, as Chapter Thirteen mention in their article:

Your rights are covered in superb detail at the following site: Sirmo.co.uk. I summarised below but think the document at the link is excellent and worth a thorough read.

  1. It is not ever illegal to take pictures in a public place in the UK, irrespective of what is going on.
  2. Children have no more right to privacy than an adult does when in a public place.
  3. Any member of the public has no powers to demand ID from anyone under any circumstances.
  4. Forcible deletion or removal of images or destruction of film from your camera is an assault.
  5. Detaining you and taking your camera would constitute an unlawful imprisonment or theft and both would include an assault.
  6. Even child protection officers (CPOs) have no right to stop you or demand ID, only the police may do so

I personally feel like I’m invading someone’s privacy when taking photos in public. I’ll try not to take pictures of individuals because that makes me feel uneasy, but it is not illegal to do so and photographers that do enjoy candid street photography in public places should be defended by the authorities, not illigitimately assaulted by shopping centre goons and wet-behind-the-ear police officers.

MP Austin Mitchell seems to be leading the charge to protect photographers’ rights. I whole-heartedly support his lobbying and hope that this situation does not get any worse. Photographers’ rights need to be protected as much as any individual in the UK.

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