Section 76 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.' A 'record' includes a 'photographic or electronic record.'
The amendment expands the previous legislation by making it an arrestable act to elicit, publish or communicate information about a member of the armed forces, intelligence services or a police officer which is ‘ likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.’ The offence carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years and a fine.
Around 150 photographers met outside Scotland Yard to exercise their right to photograph in public and question the new law today.
The new law will restrict the practice of the UK media to effectively document news- particularly at protests and public order situations. This is dangerous for democracy as it inhibits the ability of the media to hold the police to account, limits people's capacity to make informed choices on the basis of quality journalism, and curtails everyone's civil liberties.
I say this in relation to the current treatment of the press by police, and increased surveillance on political campaigners. Working as a photojournalist for the last few years I have been exposed to the misuse of previous counter-terrorism laws by police on demonstrations. I have been, and seen others, stopped and searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, despite presenting a press card as proof of being a bonefied news gatherer.
At the end of 2008 a colleague of mine was handcuffed and removed from a public order scene despite being behind the police cordon. The MET have since apologized, and it was openly stated that the police receive lack-lustre training on dealing with the media. This is shown on innumerable occasions when it is demanded of photographers to delete pictures. This of course is an illegal act as photography is permitted of anyone and anything in the public sphere... not anymore.
Intimidation of photographers by police seems to have increased in the last year, with the cameras of the police Forward Information Team turning on journalists at political demonstrations for example ( http://current.com/items/89284474/press_freedom_collateral_damage.htm). This intimidation takes many forms from physical aggression ( http://www.bjp-online.com/public/showPage.html?page=836437) to smaller incidents such as the full name, address and date of birth being demanded of a photographer despite having a press card. Why should a journalist have to give their personal details because they are doing their job and covering a story? The police are supposed to be acting in the interest of the public, but in these instances they are preventing the media from reporting the news- news that is surely in the interest of the public to have access to.
Other examples of misuse of counter-terrorism laws include;
> a conservative mp being stopped and searched for photographing a cycle path in Croydon.
> an artist being jailed for five hours for photographing a building in Elephant & Castle and having a stanley knife to sharpen pencils in his bag. He was being paid by developers to document the changes in the area.
In this context it does not seem appropriate to give police these powers; as previous events and a lack of training strongly suggest that section 76 will be misused.
Interestingly enough the Metropolitan Police Federation's chairman Peter Smyth says in a press release, "that poorly-drafted anti-terrorist legislation could be used to justify unwarranted interference in their (press photographer's) lawful activities.”
He then goes on to say that the law, "is open to wide interpretation or, rather, misinterpretation." I cannot agree more. The wording of the law is vague- it would be a productive exercise to list situations section 67 cannot be applied to in terms of photography. This is highlighted when Mr Smyth goes onto say, “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?"
The real possibility is that the rule will be applied when the police want it to be applied. It is not productive for a photographer documenting a protest to be arrested, and with the new string on the legal bow of the police in the form of section 67 the power certainly lies with them in their control of the media's movements at such events.
Section 67 is entirely undemocratic. A state where the actions of law enforcers can be hidden by the law itself does not make for a free society. By turning away the lenses of the press the police cannot be held to account for their actions by the people they are meant to be acting on behalf of, and limits our understanding of events that effect us all.