Standing up for photographers’ rights

by Chris Bertram on March 14, 2008

There’s been a marked increase in the harassment of photographers by the police, quasi-police, security guards and suchlike since 9/11, and the UK is no exception. Photographers have been (illegally) forced to delete pictures by officious police and have been told plain untruths about what the law says on the matter. A recent “anti-terrorism campaign”: even has posters with the legend “Thousands of People Take Photos Every Day. What if One of Them Seems Odd?”, and invites the public to involve the constabulary. Since photography is a hobby that disproportionately attracts slightly nerdy loners, lots of photographers “seem odd”, but they ought to be spared this sort of attention!

Now Austin Mitchell MP, himself a keen photographer (and “a past victim”: of such behaviour), is taking a stand, and has introduced “an early day motion in the House of Commons”:

bq. That this House is concerned to encourage the spread and enjoyment of photography as the most genuine and accessible people’s art; deplores the apparent increase in the number of reported incidents in which the police, police community support officers (PCSOs) or wardens attempt to stop street photography and order the deletion of photographs or the confiscation of cards, cameras or film on various specious ground such as claims that some public buildings are strategic or sensitive, that children and adults can only be photographed with their written permission, that photographs of police and PCSOs are illegal, or that photographs may be used by terrorists; points out that photography in public places and streets is not only enjoyable but perfectly legal; regrets all such efforts to stop, discourage or inhibit amateur photographers taking pictures in public places, many of which are in any case festooned with closed circuit television cameras; and urges the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to agree on a photography code for the information of officers on the ground, setting out the public’s right to photograph public places thus allowing photographers to enjoy their hobby without officious interference or unjustified suspicion.

Readers in the UK could “email their MPs”: and express their support for Mitchell’s stand, they could also email Mitchell himself. Since it seems to be the trendy thing to do, I’ve also set up “a Facebook group in support”: .

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RWB 03.14.08 at 3:06 pm

I bike, photograph, and blog about said biking and photographing–and I have been hassled by cops and private security guards (although never had my photos erased or camera confiscated). I hate being made to feel like a criminal when I want to take photos in public.


robertdfeinman 03.14.08 at 3:08 pm

There’s a nice site which summarizes US photographer’s rights.
The Photographer’s Right

It can be printed out and carried around to show people when confronted. I’ve had most of my problems with rent-a-cops, who have no legal authority, and therefore take it upon themselves to hassle people to make up for this lack.

Several restrictions put in place since 9/11 are strictly aimed at fear mongering. After 100 years will taking another picture from the Brooklyn Bridge really reveal something that isn’t already available in an existing photo?


Matt McGrattan 03.14.08 at 3:37 pm

The photographic press is full of dozens of stories of harassment.

I’ve personally been harassed by private security guards when taking photos [of the exterior of a building]. The guy was pretty narked when I failed to respond positively to his demand that I ask his ‘permission’ first.


Barry Hunter 03.14.08 at 4:16 pm

Theres a UK version of a similar guide here:

(which already notes the Early day motion :)

Members on out website have been subject to similar questioning over photography in public places :(


stet 03.14.08 at 4:37 pm

This guy (link in French) was badly bitten by cops a couple of weeks ago in Paris.


ajay 03.14.08 at 5:08 pm

Link doesn’t work. Badly bitten?


stet 03.14.08 at 6:08 pm


stet 03.14.08 at 6:11 pm

(Euh… beaten)


smaug 03.14.08 at 9:51 pm

I see no reason to complain about this.

I confront everyone who buys toothpaste and ask them for their names and addresses to protect against terrorism. Some object, but when I tell them that all of the 9/11 hijackers brushed their teeth with toothpaste, they realize that what I’m doing is essential for the war against terrorism and tooth decay.


Bernard Yomtov 03.14.08 at 11:33 pm

when I tell them that all of the 9/11 hijackers brushed their teeth with toothpaste..

And tell us, Smaug or whatever your name is, how you came into possession of this information.


vivian 03.15.08 at 12:56 am

And tell us, Smaug or whatever your name is, how you came into possession of this information

WaterPik™-boarding, obviously.


Will S. 03.17.08 at 4:57 am

LOL @Vivian!


The Constructivist 03.17.08 at 9:01 am

It’s two clicks from here to get to it, but can anyone confirm that JP Stormcrow is the author of the second parody poster Elizabeth posts on her site?


Stuart White 03.18.08 at 4:04 pm

I come a bit late to this topic, but I can’t resist pointing out that while the UK police have apparently become discouraging of photography by others in recent years, my experience is that the police are apparently so keen on it as a hobby that many of them have started to practice it even when on duty, e.g., at demonstrations. At one recent demo I was on (not that I attend many of them), it seemed as if around 1 police officer in 5 was taking the opportunity to take snaps of the passing demonstrators. Indeed, for the most part they seemed to have moved on from photography to film.

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