A long-established way to pass repressive laws is to first target a group that the public have no sympathy with, then let the application of the law (or the definition of the target group) gradually widen until the law can be used against pretty much anyone. This often puts liberty campaigners in the awkward position of having to defend the rights of pretty unpleasant people.
The Labour Party have a convenient recipe for this sort of thing: ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation introduced with strong assurances that it will only be used rarely, in extreme cases, as a last resort, and then almost immediately used for trivial reasons on an almost daily basis.
The Labour Government are now planning a law that is, at first sight, to prevent terrorists from gathering information on soldiers and policemen. However, according to the British Journal of Photography, the wording will effectively make it illegal to take photos that include police officers.
Although you might never see a policeman on most days, at many important events there are policemen everywhere. Even quite small, minor demonstrations can find themselves accompanied by almost as many policemen as they have demonstrators. If BJP is correct, this law could cripple the effectiveness of journalists and documentary photographers. It would make photographing police abuses very difficult indeed.
There have already been many incidents of British police officers harassing photographers, from professional photojournalists to MPs photographing cycle-paths (what sort of terrorist plan would involve photographing a cycle-path?, so the likelihood of this law being misused if very high.
The Home Office is defending the legislation and managing to make it sound even weirder:
Speaking to Amateur Photographer the spokesman added: ‘We don’t intend to criminalise people for taking photos of police constables whether inadvertently or not. There has to be a criminal activity associated with it.’
He cited a photograph of a ‘police station’ as one such ‘activity’.
So photographing a police station is apparently already a criminal activity, and something I’ve inadvertently already done a number of times…
I’m willing to believe that people at the Home Office believe what they say, but I don’t think that’s enough to protect the public from the law being abused.
Update: Act was passed into law, and a crowd of photographers took pictures of a police station and assorted bemused police officers
Updated: The Police Federation don’t like this law either.