10 years on from the September 11th attacks in New York and we still live under the shadow of anti-terror policing. In both the US and the UK photography has been a very visible casualty of suspicion, harassment, legislative change and scaremongering in the wake of terror attacks.
Photographers and the police have often been at odds in the past, especially the targeting of newsgatherers working in public order situations. However, the targeted suspicion of public photography in the name of preventing terrorism is a worryingly new phenomenon.
Section 44 became a battleground for photography campaigners as the extent to which it was being used as a catch-all to target people using cameras, who had broken no known law, became evident. This search power, along with the ambiguous and controversial Section 76 offence under terror laws and police adverts targeting cameras as suspicious led to what some described as a ‘war on photography’ by the state. A combination of wide legislative powers and misunderstanding/unclear briefings to officers the ground has led to major problems.
Over 100,000 people have been searched under the Sec.44 Terrorism Act powers, that required no reasonable suspicion and were later ruled unlawful and changed. Not a single person was ever arrested for terrorism offences after being subject to a section 44 search.
These events and the reaction of authorities have not only made photography a suspect act but have also made frontline newsgathering more difficult, with journalists unlawfully treated covering protests, local news and even a wedding as police continue to misunderstand and misuse the law, in a wider climate of hostility towards photographers. These incidents are but a small sample of a wider problem.
The issues are broad, from ‘hostile reconnaissance‘ fears and police powers to unlawful prevention of photographers from covering news, police attacks and surveillance of journalists in public order and ridiculous fears of pedophilia affecting the right to document news and the world around us. The battle between the photographic community and a combination of clueless cops and a draconian legislature still continues, and while the scrapping of S44 was a great step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go for press freedom campaigners.
On the subject of the ‘suspicious activity’ reporting that photographers often fall afoul of, this is a very good video from the US:
Blair is right when he says the 9/11 attacks ‘changed everything’, as a result of legislative reaction here and in the US we now have legislation on the books that’s incompatible with basic civil liberties principles, more fearful and controlled societies and are we any safer for it?