PBlog Editor Stopped and Searched

June 9, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Global | 29 Comments | |
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PhotographyBLOG Editor, Mark Goldstein, was stopped and searched in central London yesterday for “taking photos of iconic landmarks”. Under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, the Metropolitan Police are now conducting patrols along the South Bank of the River Thames, specifically targeting “individuals with cameras who are photographing famous buildings”. After informing the officer that I ran a photography website and giving her my business card, I was issued with Form 5090(X), with no actual search taking place. The whole process was somewhat undermined by two other officers posing for photos with tourists whilst their colleague completed the paperwork! I can only conclude that it was the bright pink Casio camera that I was testing at the time which attracted the police officer’s attention…

Have you been stopped by the authorities, legally or otherwise? Let us know by leaving a comment…

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#1 fotoVoyager

I've had exactly the same experience walking along the Thames taking photos (I'm a professional stock photographer). I was shooting Big Ben at sunrise when two policemen with nothing better to do decided I had to 'stop and account' for myself just as the light was getting good! Since they didn't ask to see any ID I could have told them anything I wanted (I didn't, but still) proving the encounter a completely pointless harassment.

12:17 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#2 Matt Tuffin

That's absolutely shocking. I was at the Pentax K7 launch along with at least ten other journalists, walking along the South Bank taking shots of all of the major London landmarks and no-one said a word. Maybe they only annoy people when they're bored or something! Does make you wonder what they do on bank holidays when tourists are snapping in their droves.....

12:32 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#3 walttom

I was in London and on the South Bank this past Bank Holiday taking pictures of the sights and the city across the river. It was mobbed and an uncountable number of people were taking photos. I don't think I saw one police officer (or even a CSO) all along the way. The policy of harassing photographers is ridiculous. Even the dumbest terrorist must realize that the best time to take pictures of landmarks is when everyone else is there.

12:43 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#4 Kim Bentsen

I don't live in the U.K., but you just have to smile when a friendly police officer wants to chat with you. They probably have a daily quota to fill, and you looked friendly enough to approach.

If you were stopped driving too fast it would have been worse right?

Anyway, I would be tempted to act extra suspiciously if a hot female cope were present. I would then demand being searched (by her) ;-)

12:53 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#5 Paul Parkinson

I was stopped outside Charing Cross station for taking photographs at the station. Here is a scan of the S44 notice. http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3358/3261595584_54ef019e6e.jpg

I was also asked to delete the pictures I had taken which I know now to be against the law but didn't know that at the time.

I think we need a campaign similar to that in New York to re-educate the police that "photographers aren't terrorists!"

I didn't delete them all.

2:39 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#6 mike

It's madness!

We've been following and documenting more and more cases of photographers being hassled in the street by the long arm of the law.

If you'll forgive me a plug, we've compiled a Guide to UK Photographers Rights here: http://www.urban75.org/photos/photographers-rights-and-the-law.html and we'll add this article to the growing list of daft arrest.


3:09 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#7 James

F'cking f'cking stupid. This stuff pisses me off big time. UK is the only country mentally retarded enough to stop and search people for doing what happens in every other country around the world daily by tens of thousands of people, taking photos of famous things. How screwed up are some of these morons to allow police officers to stop people over such retarded reasons.

3:39 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#8 Billy

James, I agree, we are an insane nation of people, with too many idiots with no common sense in important jobs.
Why will no one near the top of the police (surely there must be someone educated with common sense) challenge what is happening here.
I think the police involved on the streets must just like the 'power' buzz they get, that's why they end up arrogant.

4:12 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#9 Matt Tuffin

I suppose none of us are privvy to what the bobby on the street is being told to do prior to being sent out there, but the internet is rife with images of major landmarks, so the average terrorist could just stay at home and go on Flickr or something.

It wouldn't take much to use a cameraphone while pretending to text either, and as the image can then be texted directly surely that's more 'dangerous' than taking a snap on a camera that would need a long winded load of card swapping to get it onto the internet? It seems like there's a general level of ignorance about technology, as almost every electronic media device has a camera these days, and most of them can get the content to another source just as quickly, if not quicker, than a standard compact or DSLR.

It's extremely frustrating, as I used to know a few coppers from the local surveillance squad and they really knew their stuff. It's a shame that knowledge is not being filtered down through the ranks.

4:23 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#10 James

There are a countless list of places people can even BUY photos of these famous landmarks, books, souvenirs, websites, magazines, etc.

What more when standing at the distance people generally do from landmarks, what level of detail are the even likely to get if one was to even humour any idea of logic behind it? Chances are they would be unlikely to even get an appropriate viewpoint required for any surveillance style things.

If someone rocked up with a 200-400mm 2kg lens attached to a Canon 1D/1Ds Mk3 or Nikon D3/D3x dSLR aimed at a famous landmark then one might get a level of detail that could be used for 'security' things, but then again anyone with that gear is also likely to be a pro who has no aim of using it for any ulterior purposes too thus killing off even the vaguest of bits of logic one could attempt to apply to it.

5:02 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#11 Hagen

James, I can readily think of many countries that will question "suspect" photographers taking pictures of "areas of interest" for terrorists: Canada, US, Spain, Italy, Australia, France and Germany to name a few I've been in recently. Then there is Turkey, Iran, South Korea, China, Russia and on and on.

7:26 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#12 Mark Turner

If I was a terrorist, I'd just go to Google Earth.

8:05 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#13 billy

Hagen, are you telling me that the world is full of idiots, or have the terrorists partially succeeded in their aim of terrorism?

8:17 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#14 Hersh

This is a very depressing story and sadly increasingly common. I haven't been stopped by police yet but a security guard did effectively tell me to 'get lost' also on the South Bank at the More London development. Apparently by pointing my camera to the tops of the buildings I might have been 'recording the movements of security guards'. Of course, how stupid of me. There's plenty of evidence of that in the shot I got.

9:20 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#15 Jim

As an Australian who is also a photographer i think that's a load of bull to say Australians are stopped. It's a rare thing for it to happen, and you'll never see it happen at the Opera House, Centre Point Tower, Bondi Beach or the likes in Sydney. Unless you're an arab whose dressed up in islamic dress, then i dare say it's understandable you get stopped. I've been to the UK, UK is *nothing* like Australia, we have way more freedoms here!

11:00 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#16 James

Hagen. I've been to most of those countries and have a collection of literally tens of thousands of photos and never once got stopped, and these were photos taken in the last 2 years too. Only in the UK have i seen people treated like criminals and no cause for suspicion been necessary to stop and search someone. I'll grant I haven't been to the USA in many years though, but i am aware they too are a BigBrother Police state like the UK has become

11:04 pm - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#17 Nilson Rogerio

Our police-state authorities are, at the humblest of assumptions, totally missing the point when pulling their police officers' strings (and their wannabe counterparts, the CSo's') to enforce their puritan and naive law on us innocent, law-abiding photographers.

They definitely should get their archaic feet into the 21st century and finally recognize that real terrorists much probably get down to their dirty business from the comfort of their armchairs, in front of their computers.

Otherwise they would need to be rather stupid to waste their precious time by gathering photographs of 'iconic buildings' themselves while there are Googlemaps, flickr and the like to quench their thirst for those same building's photographs.

Although by the time our clever politicians are busy trying to stop them from seeing/taking simple, facade photographs, these criminals might as well be in the possession of the very blue prints of those same "iconic buildings".

Taking us for fools is how terrorists will win important battles while this Orwellian make-believe society we're heading to nods off.

I hope someone wakes us up before it's too late.

12:28 am - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

#18 Matt Tuffin

Good point well made Nilson. I think the main thing missing is a bit of education for the Police. If the force took the time to investigate the amount of photographs and other information freely available on the internet they'd realise anyone ne'er do wells would simply stay at home, rather than risk having their face on CCTV (another one of my gripes!!), and spend half an hour on Google. With so many of us clearly thinking similar things maybe an e-mail to the relevant authorities is in order? Who's with me?

10:07 am - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

#19 stu leeds

from hansard, a debate in parliament:

"Although police officers have the discretion to ask people not to take photographs for public safety or security reasons, the taking of photographs in a public place is not subject to any rules or statute. There are no legal restrictions on photography in a public place and no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place."

10:39 am - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

#20 mike fried

I was stopped at Charing Cross station for taking photos inside the station, the reason being due to terrorism. I just assumed it weas a bublic space and to be honest I was just snapping a picture to run a test film through a camera before dropping it off for processing across the road.

10:53 am - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

#21 simplysam

The police definitely only stop you when they're bored for this sort of thing. At the start of their shift they're up for arresting people for smoking a spliff (for example), especially if it's a cold wet day, as they can spend a few hours in the station, but at the end of their shift you're more likely than not to get let off.

1:04 pm - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

#22 ru_anderson

police can not infrequently bee seen outsite tower hill station apparently stopping people at random
its eiter a training exercise for new recruites or ( am i being cynical here?) an attempt to ballance statistics so that they are not accused of raceisim.
Ive been stoped by police officers only once ( armed city police right after the july 7 bomes and then only because i was photographing them stoping and searching every non caucasion comeing out of the tube station with a bag.

The officer in question was polite and sympathetic. Since then I have been harrased in more or less polite fashion by over a dozen security gaurds in various spots arround the city - absolutly convinced of thier right to stop me from taking pictures.

In practice calling the police in this situation dosent fill me with confidence that the law will be up held.

I have also seen a city Plice officer ask a tourist not to take snap shots of the christmas tree in leadenhall market.

My self and another passing snapper were a little miffed to have missed the shot.

2:13 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#23 Drew

I was in Cleveland at an auto show - While walking through the convention center I noticed in one area a large opening in the floor with a cement ramp leading underground. Surely, I thought, this is how they bring the cars up to the main viewing floor. I found it to be an interesting photo opp, wide-angle while crouching to get that low point of view shot. When I stood back up, a man in a suit and name badge was standing beside me and quite gruffly asked what I was doing and why I was taking a picture of "that"? I explained my curiosity only to have him sternly inform me that I was incorrect about the car loading and that the ramp actually led underground to where they used to build tanks. I appologized for the confusion and he cautiously allowed me on my way. Now if for some reason I'm not being detailed enough please let me explain: this was NOT some dark random corner of the convention center, it was dead smack in the middle of the show room floor!! To this day I am still amazed at to where he was going with the whole thing, was he left over from the tank-building days and was overly paranoid? Did they just keep him around because he had nowhere else to go? An hour or so later I saw him walking by again, nearby the area, he gave me the stink-eye but never approached me. If you have ever been to the IX-Center in Cleveland, Ohio you probably know what I am talking about.

7:25 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#24 St├ęphane

I live in Canada and I've long know that some buildings are a no-no (like the US consul building) but last year while taking photos on a bridge of the sunset and city skyline, my friend and me saw that a trafic camera following us, probably 15 minutes after that, a police car did drive by us and 2 policeman almost gave us ticket.

We were told that it's illegal to photgraph any federal building without a permit, we were told to go and not come back under treath of our equipment being confiscated and a fine.

Too bad for them as we already shot close to a hundred of photos already ;-)

10:27 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#25 Nilson

Although disgusted by the thought, I can even imagine still-to-act terrorists laughing out of sheer satisfaction at the extra peace of mind that all this nonsense has probably granted them: so much of the police force wasting their time (and our tax money) tilting at windmills...

I cannot help noticing similarities between our authorities' notion of "having the situation under control" and the childish, pacifist futuristic society in the Hollywood production "Demolition Man" - where Wesley Snipe's character, a formerly-cryogenized thug from the 20th century called Simon Phoenix, feels completely free to cause havoc in their controlled society by taking advantage of their naivety and lack of purpose.

It took a 20th century cop - who thought just like himself (ie, with clever moves) - to finally beat him.

The bottom line: Either lawmakers really start anticipating terrorists' REAL moves or will be at their own will thanks to such a futile approach.

12:32 am - Friday, June 12, 2009

#26 peter k.

I've heard about this issue with London Police a couple of months ago. The idea might be O.K., but the approach is wrong. I think they'll find the wright way to solve this problem. We should try to understand the huge responsibility vs the fear of a possible terrorist atack !

8:21 pm - Monday, June 15, 2009

#27 walker

i'm a bit late to the discussion, but i must reply to jim from australia, #15, who argued that australia is safe for photographers, using the examples of the opera house and bondi beach - well, i recall a story about some korean tourists being told to delete their photos at the OH, and rex dupain (son of famous photog max) was arrested at bondi for snapping bathers. so there's that myth out the window.

i've been stopped and questioned many times, for photographing around sydney. it's a 50/50 chance, whether the officer involved will respect your rights, or make up their own law on the spot. i haven't, yet, been arrested, despite all manner of threats - but that doesn't make the harrassment any less real or present.

5:53 am - Saturday, June 27, 2009

#28 Rob Walls

Jim #15 you live in a different Australia to the one I live in. I have been stopped by "security" guards in a shopping centre from taking a picture of my daughter enjoying a milk shake. When I asked why I was stopped, the answers was an off-hand and totally illogical, "If we let you take pictures, everyone will want to." (I'm thinking this would be a great opportunity for flash-mobbing).

A few months ago I was stopped from taking pictures on Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. Again the excuse is "security"...because every well trained observer would know that terrorists cunningly disguise themselves as grey-haired, overweight, old men and stand in full view using pro cameras with long lenses. Sneaky bastards, eh?

This disease is spreading like swine flu. I believe that if words are the warp of the historic fabric of society, photographs are the weft. Inhibit either and the historic tapesty becomes very threadbare.

9:36 am - Monday, September 21, 2009

#29 Rob Walls

To my previous comment regarding the myth of Australian "freedom", I'd like to add this:


9:43 am - Monday, September 21, 2009