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Photography and the Law

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Joshua Rozenberg Joshua Rozenberg 15:21, Friday, 11 June 2010

photography protest

Editor's note: Joshua Rozenberg launched Law in Action, Radio 4's magazine programme about the law, over a quarter of a century ago and now, after 23 years away, he's back to present the programme again. In his first programme he covers the changing law about photography in public places - SB.

"You can't take pictures of my building," I was told by the rather insistent woman who identified herself as the building manager.

My producer and I had been following an architectural photographer around the City of London. The man with the camera had told us what might happen.

First, the private security guards would order us to stop taking photographs from the public footpath - even though they were taking pictures of us on CCTV.

If we refused to stop, they would call the police. We could then expect to be searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Officers could inspect the pictures recorded on our camera.

Then - unless we really were terrorists - we could carry on taking pictures for as long as we liked.

All this went through my mind as the building manger and a burly security guard tried to shoo us away. What should we do?

To begin with, we stood our ground. The photographer carried on snapping. I continued holding a large and very visible microphone. And my loyal producer, wearing headphones, continued recording.

Eventually, the building manager lost patience. "Call the police," she ordered the guard standing behind her.

Two thoughts went through my mind. An audio recording of me being searched under anti-terrorism powers would be a great way to start the new series of Law in Action. On the other hand, it might just persuade the BBC that I should never present the programme again.

For one thing, we were shortly to interview the Assistant Commissioner of the City Police. He might be slightly less generous with his time if we had wasted the time of his constables.

And, for another, I have managed to reach the age of 60 without troubling the police over any more than a couple of minor motoring matters. Did I really want my name linked to anti-terrorist searches on a police computer somewhere?

I made an excuse and left. We began Law in Action with the building manager instead.

And the police later assured me that I hadn't been breaking the law.

Joshua Rozenberg is presenter of Law in Action on BBC Radio 4.


  • Comment number 1.


    Thanks, for the return of yourself to the BBC and to the programme; And, a very informative subject ot be covering in your first programme, that you will be presenting...


  • Comment number 2.

    "For one thing, we were shortly to interview the Assistant Commissioner of the City Police. He might be slightly less generous with his time if we had wasted the time of his constables."

    But it would NOT have been you (any of you) who would have wasted police time, it would have been the ignorant "buildings Manager" and the equally ignorant security guard, had you been wrongly stopped and searched by his officers you might well have had even more of his time - damage limitation and all that...

    Thank you for highlighting this issue.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Eventually, the building manager lost patience. 'Call the police,' she ordered the guard standing behind her...I made an excuse and left."

    I'm glad to see that the BBC isn't letting that issue disappear from the headlines, especially since it's affecting a lot of photographers - both amateurs and professionals.

    However, it's sad to see that you decided to leave when the building manager told her security officer to call the police. I understand your reasons, but you must realise that, in the eyes of the building manager and security officer, you comforted them in their view that you WERE doing something wrong and that they were right in calling the police, which isn't the case at all.

    Olivier Laurent
    News Editor
    British Journal of Photography

  • Comment number 4.


    Did I really want my name linked to anti-terrorist searches on a police computer somewhere?

    Honestly, Not...And, we the audience and the general public think that you did the right and just thing in "making an excuse"....


  • Comment number 5.

    Good programme. It is important to remember that comments about terrorists carrying out "photographic surveillance" are pure imagination and reflect movie-plot scenarios that authorities use to justify their actions: there have been no terrorist acts, no trials and no convictions in the UK involving evidence of pre-attack photographic surveillance.

    Any terrorist interested in attacking a building could get far more information from Google searches and Google Earth or Maps. Covert surveillance, by its very definition, is not very likely to involve people standing squarely in front of buildings using telephoto lenses the size of small cannon. Serious photographers with large cameras are simply being targeted by small-minded jobsworths.

  • Comment number 6.

    Joshua, try this again for me? This time wear business suits, and be clean shaven. I'd be interested to see how the response from the people in the building varied - if at all. I suspect it would be different since, even now, we tend to judge books by their covers.

    Alan T

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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