Taking photographs of police officers could be deemed a criminal offence under anti-terrorism legislation that comes into force next week. Campaigners against section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which becomes law on Monday, said it would leave professional photographers open to fines and arrest.
The National Union of Journalists and the British Press Photographers' Association said the law would extend powers that are already being used to harass photographers and would threaten press freedom. Hundreds are due to converge on Scotland Yard on Monday in a mass picture-taking event organised by the NUJ.
Under section 76, eliciting, publishing or communicating information on members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers which is "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" will be an offence carrying a maximum jail term of 10 years.
Marc Vallee, a photojournalist who specialises in covering protests, said photographers were frequently harassed by police using stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The new powers would be too vague to prevent abuse.
He said: "They will now be able to arrest you if a photograph could potentially incite or provoke disorder. But isn't that any protest?"
Justin Tallis, a freelance, said although legislation did not necessarily mention photographers, they were often targeted. "I moved to London six months ago and it's already happened to me two or three times."
Vernon Coaker, the minister for policing, crime and security, told the NUJ last year that photography could be limited "on the grounds of national security", in "situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or inflame an already tense situation or raise security considerations", or "to prevent a breach of the peace".
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the law was not specifically intended for photographers and concerns about how it would be used were speculative. It would be the job of the police and the courts to interpret the law.
Val Swain, a member of Fitwatch, a collective which photographs police intelligence teams taking pictures of protesters, said: "I took a picture of an officer on my camera phone and he walked over and said, 'you are going to delete that'. We're in a public place, he's in a public role and he knew that. They've been gearing up for it but so far they've stopped short of arresting people. Now they will have the power to do it."
Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, said: "Police officers ... believe they have the power to delete images or to take editorial decisions about what can and can't be photographed. The right to take photos in a public place is a precious freedom. It is what enables the press to show the wider world what is going on."
By: Jo Adetunji
On: Thursday 12 February 2009