Photography and Section 44

Taking photographs, quick snaps or otherwise, can be a great pleasure and a means of capturing a holiday moment, chronicling the growing-up of kids or recording a momentous event for posterity.

In the UK it has already become very difficult to photograph your own children, be it at play or, for example, taking part in a school sports event without the forces of law or some quasi-authoritarian body intervening. In some schools, parents are not even allowed to attend things like sports day functions, let alone photograph them.

And taking snaps in the street has become hazardous in some areas with BBC reporters, professional photographers and unsuspecting tourists amongst many who have been stopped, detained, handcuffed, been submitted to interrogation, and had their photos erased.

And it all stems from a poorly drafted, wide-ranging piece of legislation, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It was designed to give police the right to stop and search anyone within certain geographical areas without the usual requirement of reasonable suspicion. It was brought in as a counter-terrorism measure and certain buildings are deemed ‘sebsitive’.

However, one of the problems is that being a counter-terrorism measure, the public cannot be told where these areas are, so they do not know if they have ended up in such an area.

A second problem, as happens with so much of the ‘big brother’ legislation, is that it is open to misinterpretation and misuse. Spy cameras on pensioners putting out wheelie bins under the umbrella of ‘anti-terrorism’ laws is another good example.

Here are a few examples of where people have found themselves in trouble, even arrested:

  • A professional photographer, in broad daylight, using a tripod to take a picture of the remains of a 17th Century church. Armed riot police turned up for this one.
  • A man taking a picture of a fish and chip shop.
  • A professor photographing a park bench.
  • A BBC photographer taking pictures of a sunset over St Paul’s Cathedral.
  • Tourists taking a picture of a double decker bus.
  • A man in Brighton taking pictures of Christmas decorations.

The list goes on.

In addition to detentions and interrogations, many people, not only tourists but photographers of all kinds, have been ordered, illegally in fact, to delete all the photos on their cameras.

So, what are your rights in such a situation? Well, more than you probably think. As in a lot of cases, the public tend to either believe as gospel what a policeman or other official is saying is correct or are bullied into submission.

If you are stopped under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, you do not have to give your name, address, date of birth, DNA or reason for being there. Nor do you have to explain where you are going.

If the police decide there is reasonable suspicion to arrest you for an offence, you do have to give your name and address.

You do not have to comply with any attempt to photograph you, although you cannot flee the scene.

The police cannot delete any images on your camera and can only view them in very limited circumstances.

If you are driving a vehicle, when stopped you must give your name and address.

If you are stopped and searched, insist on a written and legible record which includes details of the officer’s shoulder number and the reason for stopping you.

Note exactly why the officers said you were being stopped and searched, this may be more extensive than the note in the record slip.

Ask to see the officers’ warrant card and note the number – useful when making a complaint if the officer moves station and his shoulder number changes.

A Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) may not perform a Section 44 search without a police officer being present.

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