Filming and taking photographs in public is not terrorism
Thursday, Jun 24th, 2010
An independent film maker and political activist refused to switch off his camera when he was stopped and searched by police in London recently, and captured footage that highlights how police use empty threats and vague language to enforce absurd terrorism laws.
Charlie Veitch of The Love Police  was taken aside by a police officer while filming the outside the heavily protected gates of Downing Street. (Video below)
Rather than switch off his camera as ordered to by the officer, he continued to film, noting that it was his right to do so.
“That’s fine but under prevention of terrorism I do not want it pointing at me, otherwise I will seize it, end of conversation.” the officer replies.
This was the first utterly meaningless statement the officer makes, given that there is no provision under the Terrorism Act allowing police to seize cameras in public places or to stop people from filming them, unless they have reasonable suspicion that the person filming or taking pictures is a terrorist.
The Metropolitan Police have recently issued guidelines  to their officers regarding terrorism laws and photography/filming, following sustained police abuse of the provisions against photographers, journalists and members of the public.
As the guidelines clearly state:
“Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.”
The guidelines go on to state:
“…officers should exercise caution before viewing images as images acquired or created for the purposes of journalism may constitute journalistic material and should not be viewed without a Court Order.”
Despite these laws, photographers and film makers are routinely stopped and harassed under terrorism laws  and routinely have their material seized  and even deleted by police in London.
“What is the actual law saying I am not allowed to film you?” Charlie Veitch asks the officer outside Downing Street.
“Nothing. There is no law to say you can’t.” The officer replies, making a complete U-turn, after it becomes clear that Veitch knows the law.
This highlights how officers such as this one assume that the people they are stopping under terrorism laws have no knowledge of their rights and therefore feel they can get away with empty threats such as “I will seize your camera” and phony statements such as “under prevention of terrorism laws you cannot film me.”
After the officer requests to see identification under section 44, Veitch informs him that under that section of the Terrorism Act there is no requirement for him to identify himself – highlighting yet another common abuse of terrorism laws by police.
The officer then tells Veitch that he will be searching his bag – officially, police can only search a persons belongings under the Terrorism Act if they believe you are a terrorist, even though they are not obliged to show reasonable suspicion. Filming in public places does not constitute motive for such reasonable suspicion. Therefore Veitch was within his rights to decline to be searched.
At this point the officer threatens to arrest Veitch for “failing to comply with a police officers instructions”.
“I can’t do anything else other than arrest you because you have already refused to give me your details, so you leave me with no alternative other than to box you into a corner.” the officer says.
Veitch, faced with a day of being held in police cells, consents to the search, which turns up a bullhorn – which Veitch has to point out is not illegal in any way, shape or form.
The situation descends into near farce when a second officer, who had previously arrested Veitch enters the scene and the two attempt to book Veitch, the latter officer eventually asking “when did I last nick (arrest) you?” while attempting to recall Veitch’s details.
Watch the video:
Though section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit the filming of police, section 58A of the 2000 Act does.
As of February 17 2009, Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 also prohibits photographing police and permits the arrest of anyone found “eliciting, publishing or communicating information” relating to 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”.
Theoretically, under these anti-terror laws, anyone caught photographing police could face a fine or a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
As we have recently reported , these sections of the respective Terrorism Acts are being used primarily to target journalists covering protests, who say they are being targeted by police surveillance officers more so than the actual protesters. The law has also been used against tourists snapping pictures of landmarks and members of the public documenting police misconduct.
However, under these sections, police “must be able to demonstrate a reasonable suspicion that the information was, by its very nature, designed to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. This means that it is unlawful to arrest anyone for filming police during the course of normal policing activities, including protests.
A recent report by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights  confirmed that journalists and protesters were the primary targets of increased police misuse of anti-terror laws.
The use of “counter-terrorism” stop and search laws by the police in the UK was ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights  in January, a decision that paves the way for protesters, photographers and everyday citizens to fight back against such gross invasions of privacy.
The court in Strasbourg referred to stop and search powers as not in “accordance with the law”, and a violation of article eight – the right to respect for private and family life.
Judges noted that there is no grounds for considering the powers “necessary”, and that they are only “expedient”, adding that there is a “clear risk of arbitrariness in granting such broad discretion” to a police officer.
They also stated that the searching clothing and belongings interferes with the right to privacy as it involves an element of humiliation and embarrassment.
The use of the powers and their authorisation is “neither sufficiently circumscribed, nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse”, according to the court.
The court also highlighted a lack of judicial oversight, stating “The absence of any obligation on the part of the officer to show a reasonable suspicion made it almost impossible to prove that the power had been improperly exercised”.
The freedom stripping powers continue to be used in the UK with impunity.
The powers, which were initially conceived only to be used in emergency situations, have also come under more intense scrutiny recently following the publication of multiple sets of figures highlighting huge increases in stops with a relatively miniscule success rate.
In May 2009, data released to the BBC  revealed that the Metropolitan Police in London used section 44 of the Terrorism Act more than 170,000 times in 2008 to stop people in the capital. That figure equated to stopping and searching a member of the public every three minutes under terrorism laws.
The figures represented a more than 140% increase on 2007 numbers.
Of all the stops in 2008, only 65 led to arrests for terror offences, a success rate of just 0.035%. Furthermore, when you take into account how many of those arrests have translated into convictions, according to the Home Office, you come up with a round figure of 0.0%.
A separate Freedom of Information Act request in 2009 also revealed that the use of the stop and search power has increased exponentially by over ten times in less than ten years .
Furthermore, Ministry of Justice statistics , published in mid 2008, revealed that from 2006-2007 police used their powers to stop (but not search) nearly two million members of the public and demand they account for their behavior or actions, a rise of one third from the previous year.
This meant that in just one year around 3.5% of the entire British population was stopped in the street by the police under suspicion of terror related offences.
While not resulting in the prevention of any terrorism, the section 44 powers have been most notably used against the 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang for heckling Jack Straw at the Labour Conference; Sally Cameron for walking on a cycle-path  in Dundee; the 80-year-old John Catt for being caught on CCTV passing a demonstration in Brighton; the 11-year-old Isabelle Ellis-Cockcroft  for accompanying her parents to an anti-nuclear protest; and a cricketer on his way to a match over his possession of a bat.
Anti-terror laws are intended for use on the general public, they always have been, and now we are seeing the rotten fruits of continued blind acceptance contaminate every section of society in this country.
Charlie Veitch and the Love Police previously encountered London Met Police at the Tower of London and turned the potentially confrontational run in into an educational youtube video entitled “How To Escape A Terror Stop”: