When veteran peace activist Hugh Romney aka Wavy Gravy travelled America in the late 1960’s with the Hog Farm Hippie Collective protesting the Vietnam War, he said he had a surefire way to stop the police from beating them at demonstrations. “We’d whip out a bunch of cameras and they’d immediately start behaving themselves.” A good idea. The police don’t like to be seen as sadistic bullies. Cameras show what happens.
But as we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, is an aimed camera still a deterrent to police brutality in America? It’s certainly not so in Britain any more. Following an amendment to Section 76 of the United Kingdom’s Counter Terrorism Act, if you so much as point your lens at a copper in Blighty these days you’re likely to find you and your camera under arrest.
The new amendment, which came into law on February 16th makes it an offence to ‘collect or make a record of information about members of the armed forces, intelligence services and the police force, of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.’ ‘Record’ includes a ‘photographic or electronic record.’
Prime Minister Gordon Brown supports the police in their right to restrict photography if the need arises. “The law applies to photographers as it does to anybody else in a public place,” he said. “There may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or raise security considerations.”
On the day the amendment became law some 200 photographers gathered outside Scotland Yard’s headquarters in London to protest that the law could be misused to stop any pictures from being taken – especially images involving police abuse and behaviour at demonstrations.
“This law makes it much more difficult to photograph any kind of public demonstration or riot,” said Marc Vallee, a protester and photographer. “The police are already suspicious of photographers and this just gives them more ammunition to stop us at our work.”
Intimidation by police in Britain of photojournalists has been on the increase with surveillance cameras turned on them at political demonstrations; the demanding of name and address from photographers despite their showing of presscards, and innumerable occasions when police officers have demanded photographs to be deleted. Under the new law officers may allow photographers to keep taking pictures in some cases, or ask them to stop and threaten them with arrest in others. Those who refuse to stop after a warning face arrest and the possibility of detention for several days without charge, followed by unspecified fines or up to 10 years in prison.
Metropolitan Police Federation’s chairman Peter Smyth admitted in a press release that Section 76: “is open to wide interpretation or, rather, misinterpretation…poorly-drafted anti-terrorist legislation could be used to justify unwarranted interference in their (press photographer’s) lawful activities.”
Just recently the Chief British Superintendent of the Metropolitan police’s Public Order Branch, David Hartshorn, announced that police are preparing for a “summer of rage” when victims from the economic downturn who have lost their jobs, homes or savings will take to the streets in violent mass protests to demonstrate and vent their anger against against banks and headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions. He pinpointed the kick-start for trouble to begin as a demonstration planned in the city of London to coincide with the G20 meeting of world leaders of industrial nations in early April.
The event, dubbed ‘Financial Fools Day’, is likely to cause mass disruption as thousands of demonstrators try to block traffic and buildings as they demonstrate against the financial system in the heart of the City.
One of the visiting world leaders will be Barak Obama. Perhaps it was his election slogan that helped to inspire this manifesto of the protestors:
Can we oust the bankers from power?
Can we get rid of the corrupt politicians in their pay?
Can we guarantee everyone a job, a home, a future?
Can we establish government by the people, for the people, of the people?
Can we abolish all borders and be patriots for our planet?
Can we all live sustainably and stop climate chaos?
Can we make capitalism history?
YES WE CAN!
Needless to say police are on full alert and will be out in huge numbers on the day. The new amendment to Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act will be a great help to them to cover up evidence of their violence and brutality. By the end of the day they expect to have the archive shelves of Scotland Yard groaning with cameras, and the cells filled with bruised and groaning photographers, wishing they’d used their mobile phones to record events instead.
Former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington recently accused the British – as well as the U.S. government — of exploiting the fear of terrorism and trying to bring in laws that restrict civil liberties. The amendment to Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act, along with Home Office plans to expand powers for police and security services to monitor email, telephone and internet activity, makes Gordon Brown’s New Labour Britain a strong candidate for the world’s number one Big Brother state.