That’s the big headline on the front page of The Independent today, above a picture of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Right. This stems from a general misunderstanding by the police of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which is reproduced in full at the end of this blog. Armed with this sloppily drafted legislation, the police can effectively stop anyone anywhere and question them about their activities, as long as it’s within an area specified by a police officer of or above the rank of assistant chief constable. After July 7, 2005, that effectively meant Great Britain. It certainly includes every railway station in the country, and over a hundred areas in London. This does NOT mean that photography is forbidden in these places.

What it does mean is that ordinary pro and amateur photographers have frequently been stopped and searched by police simply for taking photographs within these “specified areas”. If the perp is hidden in robes, has a long beard and has a hook for a hand they might have a point, but in the interests of equality they seem to be stopping everyone with a camera and tripod (hand-held is for wimps, we always say).

The Independent cites instances of photographers being told to delete images they have taken of trains in Wales (they are NOT permitted to demand that), being arrested for photographing two police officers after photographing a fish and chip shop in Chatham, being stopped and searched after photographing St. Paul’s Cathedral; there are many more tales.

The British Journal of Photography has been running a campaign to raise awareness of this situation among the public and law enforcement officers. I doubt that many police officers read The Independent but they might glance curiously at the front page headline if in the newsagents. But this is front-page news, tremendous publicity for the cause. We at fotoLibra fully support the BJP’s campaign, even their slightly weak slogan “I’m not a terrorist. I’m a photographer.”

The more people know about the absurd over-zealous — and illegal — applications of this well-intentioned but muddled law, the better. Support the BJP’s campaign!

Here is the full text of Section 44. Why not print it out and keep it with you? Note there is no mention of police having powers to demand the deletion of images, nor does the legislation appear to apply to horse riders (be careful with the tripod on your horse’s back).

Power to stop and search



(1) An authorisation under this subsection authorises any constable in uniform to stop a vehicle in an area or at a place specified in the authorisation and to search—

(a) the vehicle;

(b) the driver of the vehicle;

(c) a passenger in the vehicle;

(d) anything in or on the vehicle or carried by the driver or a passenger.

(2) An authorisation under this subsection authorises any constable in uniform to stop a pedestrian in an area or at a place specified in the authorisation and to search—

(a) the pedestrian;

(b) anything carried by him.

(3) An authorisation under subsection (1) or (2) may be given only if the person giving it considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

(4) An authorisation may be given—

(a) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of a police area outside Northern Ireland other than one mentioned in paragraph (b) or (c), by a police officer for the area who is of at least the rank of assistant chief constable;

(b) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of the metropolitan police district, by a police officer for the district who is of at least the rank of commander of the metropolitan police;

(c) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of the City of London, by a police officer for the City who is of at least the rank of commander in the City of London police force;

(d) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of Northern Ireland, by a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who is of at least the rank of assistant chief constable.

(5) If an authorisation is given orally, the person giving it shall confirm it in writing as soon as is reasonably practicable.


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15 Responses to “Warning: Do not take this picture”

  1. Jon Lees says:

    BBC breakfast news covered this issue this morning.

  2. peta ward says:

    To my knowledge one has never been permitted to take pictures at on Railway station property without permission. I use to take many at Waterloo, until one day an over zealous member of staff harassed me, literally chased my out of the station, once I got off station property with him still chasing me I( spun round and got a shot of him (with the intent to make a formal complaint) I got the picture, and he grabbed the lens of my camera and it never worked quite right again. I looked into it to make my complaint, and he was right. I needed a permit (officially)… it didn’t excuse his violent ‘jobs worth’ behaviour, but I didn’t pursue it as I had no witnesses.

    This Section 44 business is extraordinary.. in Spain you have never been allowed to take and publish (note and publish) the picture of the face of a law enforcement officer… one journalist got 70,000 fine a couple of years back for inadvertently publishing a pic with a car registration number of a police officer showing.

    In riot situation the the police always wear ski masks, so no problem getting ‘action’ photos.

    I just read the section 44 three times, I don’t even see a mention of photography, but it may be my dyslexia. What ever as you say it is well intentioned, but make you wonder who has the real freedom, I wager your average Afghan does not have to tolerate that nonsense LoL. 😉

  3. peta ward says:

    Um… don’t ask me why that smilie is the size of a grapefruit!!

  4. James says:

    It is absurd that civil liberties are being restricted by “Big brother” for our own protection. Perhaps banning the BBC from filming outside paliament too might be next. Hold on…I saw some video footage of london on a documentary oh no its too late!, oh wait there are loads of pictures to be found on the net of tourist attractions..a wise crook could just look at Google maps too!! They don’t need to go to these places and take pics..they only have to watch TV, browse the internet or buy a tourist book.
    The Police might have to shut libraries, bookshops, TV companies, the Internet…
    Lets hope the Home Office alert the Constabulary to what really justifies interrogation on our streets..

  5. Rob Eardley says:

    Deleting memory cards at the request of a Police Officer is deleting the only evidence you have of your innocence as a terrorist. Quite how you insist on maintaining your photo record I’m not sure as it’s very easy to write this stuff but much less easy to insist on your rights when confronted with a big strong Policeman.

  6. Chris Ashley says:

    I am an aviation photographer and regularly have been approached by police around the perimeter of Manchester Airport. The police there actively encourage contact with photographers and even ask us to report what is unusual activity and provide a telephone number to make contact. In the world of aviation photographers are now seen increasingly as an asset to security rather than a problem as we know and recognise what is normal activity and what is not. In addition I have been given the number for Airfield operations after being requested to keep an eye out for the presence of large birds and have reported their presence a couple of times which resulted in thanks from the airport staff. My advice is to co-operate with the police and the pertinent authorities and they will soon start to see photogrpahers in a more friendly light, be polite and let them know you are on their side.

  7. JOHN CONNOLLY says:


  8. Erik Strodl says:

    It’s gone bonkers….terrorists have wrecked peoples lives and their families and consequently make people and the authorities be ultra suspicious.once they see someone with a camera. Amateur and pro photographers who just want top go out and a take a few photographs for their own enjoyment. The quote “It’s not an offence to photograph in a public place” seems to be vague in so many areas. Its got to the ridiculous stage now where you go out and wait for someone tapping you on the shoulder.
    If you have any doubts there is a comprehensive revieiw on

    I would print sections from it just in cast you’re stopped

  9. Paul Verizzo says:

    Ah, I’ve hear of this recently from a friend in the UK; he was taking pictures in a CEMETERY and got harassed. Got make sure those corpses won’t be blown up or something……. Per previous post, he also had a gun drawn on him in Spain when he took a snap. Wow.

    Despite assorted losses of freedoms in the US, I think we are still a lot better off than the UK. There is lots of law and precedent that public places, are, well, you know, PUBLIC.

    I did have a recent incident where I had been taking pictures on the beach and as I sat in my car after that an officer came up (blocking my car) and wanted to know if I had been taking kiddie shots. I chose the careful option and gave him my camera and told him how to review the pictures. Legally, I know full and well that taking pictures of little kids, if I had, is still legal. It’s what I might do with them afterwards that may or may not be legal or moral.

    It seems that someone on the beach saw me with a “tripod”, certainly a lethal terrorist weapon, and called the police. It wasn’t a tripod but a monopod, but I wasn’t going to get into a pissing contest. Some people just presume the worst. As one whose life has been dedicated to women, children, and the disadvantaged, I still get angry at this event.

    We need to know our rights and the law, regardless of nation.

  10. Alex Ramsay says:

    For what it’s worth – and any competent photographer should be aware of this – if images are deleted one at a time from a memory card (to satisfy an over zealous official), they can easily be retrieved later with a simple data retrieval programme.

  11. Leo Marriott says:

    This all reminds me of a well reported case which occurred in Northumberland in the 1980s. An RAF Tornado had crashed in the Cheviot Hills during a training exercise and an aviation photographer who was in the area at the time took some photos of the wreckage. He was stopped by the police who told him he was not allowed to photograph the event and confiscated his film (remember 35mm?). Subsequently the photographer took legal action to recover the film and the court or hearing decided that the police had no right to act as they did and ordered the film to be returned. I don’t know if any recent changes in the law will affect this ruling and I’m not sure how it would read across to digital images. However I would suspect that the police do not have the power to order images to be deleted.
    Regarding Paul’s comment about Spain, I too had a gun drawn on me when photographing a railway engine at a Spanish station. Apparently it is llegal to photograph railways in Spain – I wonder what their train spotters do?

  12. Gwyn Headley says:

    Saturday’s Guardian ran a front page story about Paul Lewis, one of their photographers, being stopped and searched photographing the Gherkin in the City of London. It’s fairly obvious from the article that the photojournalist was goading the security guards at the Gherkin until they snapped and called the police, so job done for the Guardian. Once past the tipping point, neither side can afford to lose face by retreating. It’s a question of how quickly the situation tilts towards that point, and whether anything can be done to prevent it getting there. Give and take is the reasonable answer, but police are trained to be dogmatic and uncompromising, which becomes irritating, which in turn precipitates the confrontation.
    Having now seen the video of the event I am struck by how patient the police have to be when dealing with someone who is intent on being as obstructive as possible in order to prove a point.

  13. Gwyn Headley says:

    Today’s Times reports that police officers have been told to stop using anti-terror laws to question and search people taking photographs in public unless there is a valid reason. Assistant Commissioner John Yates of Scotland Yard said there was no restriction on people taking photographs of public buildings or police, other than in “very exceptional” circumstances.

  14. Marcus Sims says:

    I found this subject so interesting in the light of recent complaints. I ended up writing my BA photography degree dissertation on it.