Do not make us the 'secret' police

Do not make us the 'secret' police

The Metropolitan Police Federation shares the concerns of press and other professional photographers that poorly-drafted anti-terrorist legislation could be used to justify unwarranted interference in their lawful activities.

And we echo MP Austin Mitchell's call, made last year in an Early Day Motion, for the introduction of a photography code, which we believe should be clear and easily understood by any photographer, police officer, civilian support officer or warden.

The code should be drawn up jointly by the Home Office and the various professional bodies representing police and photographers.
Its aim should be to facilitate photography wherever possible, rather than seek reasons to bar it.

We understand that professional photographers have immediate concerns over the implementation today (February 16) of section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.

This updates section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which states that a person commits an offence if "he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism…" adding: " 'record' includes a photographic or electronic record".

Section 76 expands on this, turning into a criminal anyone who "publishes or communicates" any information about a member of the armed forces or a police officer which is "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism…"

This is open to wide interpretation or, rather, misinterpretation.
How, for example, will it be expected to apply in practice to the 2012 Olympics, which will be both a photo-event par excellence and subject to an intense security operation?

Does the law mean tourists are going to be rounded up and arrested en masse for taking suspicious photos of iconic scenes around the capital? That will work wonders for the international reputation of the London Bobby and for the city as a whole as a welcoming destination.

If there is a terrorist attack in the capital, will the media concentrate their efforts on fire and ambulance crews and prudently avoid broadcasting or publishing pictures of police officers, rendering them invisible to the public?

Police and photographers share the streets and the Met Federation earnestly wants to see them doing so harmoniously. Good relationships between the police and media benefit everyone, including the public, which both sides exist to serve.

As things stand, there is a real risk of photographers being hampered in carrying out their legitimate work and of police officers facing opprobrium for carrying out what they genuinely, if mistakenly, believe are duties imposed on them by the law.

This is unfair on everyone and completely avoidable - hence, the Met Fed's call for joint action to produce a mutually-agreed code.

We do not want to become the ‘secret’ police.