Like many people we here at EPUK Towers have been shocked – shocked! – by the recent incident involving Suffolk police and a self-confessed amateur photographer.
Such episodes are in themselves nothing new. What made this different was the appalling manner in which the Chief Constable of Suffolk failed to support his own officers, and instead grovellingly apologised to the photographer who had provoked the incident in the first place. When police chiefs behave so it is hardly surprising that officers on the ground become confused and unable to interpret the law correctly when confronted by those who can only be described as photo extremists.
Needless to say groups of such fanatics with an axe to grind have jumped on the Suffolk incident, accusing the police of ‘treating photographers like criminals’.
Should they – or we – be surprised at that? After all, some well-known photographers are criminals. Furthermore, these are dangerous times. It’s common knowledge that photography is one of the basic skills of the terrorist trade: most terrorists own at least one camera. It’s therefore perfectly logical that anyone wielding a camera should be regarded as a potentially lethal threat to the public.
Likewise paedophiles are known to be keen photographers, so again it’s both reasonable and understandable that the police should be suspicious of anyone using a camera in a public place, especially at an event that is likely to attract a large number of children.
Earlier this year there were claims the government planned to ban public photography, claims that subsequently proved unfounded, and were themselves the work of pro-photography agent provocateurs. However the recent spate of incidents makes plain that action of some kind is needed. The private sector has led the way in battling the menace of unnecessary public photography, and it is time the government followed suit.
Those wishing to practice photography in a public place, whether professionally or as a hobby, should indeed have to apply for a license. The number of licenses issued should be limited, there needs to be a rigorous vetting procedure, and in the case of professional applications, preference should be given to those applicants with a background in the security services. The use, indeed the possession, of an unlicensed camera in public should be made a criminal offence in the same way as possession of an unlicensed firearm.
Such legislation would not only lead to a dramatic increase in public safety, it would have a number of fringe benefits. Most notable would be the return of decorum to London’s residential areas, where national figures are often forced to defend themselves and their families by any means to hand against the attentions of marauding gangs of wannabee celebrity documentarians.
True, such steps may impact not only the livelihood of the full-time professional photographer, but also the activities of the newer breed of part-timer. But the former are a dwindling species, and so far as the latter are concerned the earnings of the average microstock photographer are so low that this would be literally a very small price to pay for safety on the streets.
Doubtless some photography enthusiasts will claim that these measures will lead to the death of public photography altogether, and the subsequent loss of a visual record of life in Britain. But such claims are demonstrably untrue. 20% of the world’s security cameras are in the UK: the average Londoner is photographed 300 times a day by these devices. Any reasonable person will conclude that this is more than enough photography without having unlicensed photographers roaming our cities unchecked.
Others will say this is an over-reaction to the threat that uncontrolled public photography presents. We refer them to the opinion of SAS Major-General Tony Deane-Drummond:
‘In times of violence in the streets, whether by rioters or terrorists, the camera is the most powerful weapon available to either side. It is there, like a loose paving stone or a spare gun, for anyone to pick up and use – but is far more powerful than either.’
And there are of course those who will decry such measures as an attack on their so-called civil liberties. Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing such steps would serve to protect those currently wielding cameras in public. Bereft of cameras the veil of suspicion that currently surrounds them would be removed, and also the risk that well-meaning vigilantes or over-enthusiastic armed officers might be forced to restrain them.
In fact restrictions on public photography are commonplace not only in many countries, but are also practiced by many progressive political movements. In its irresponsible permitting of random acts of photography it is Britain that is out of step with the rest of the world.