The long arm of the photography law

I don't know what I'd do if accosted by the police for taking photographs. Picture courtesy of Josh Kritzer.


I don't know what I'd do if accosted by the police for taking photographs. Picture courtesy of Josh Kritzer.


Another slap in the face comes in the face for tourist photography comes this week as police force Austrian tourists to delete photos of double decker buses and bus stations.

As a dedicated photographer myself (albeit not usually of buses) I’m getting fed up with the increasing number of restrictions being placed upon us for doing nothing other than going about our everyday business of being obsessed with photography.

Last week in Bristol I was accosted by a jobsworth in Cabot Circus. My crime? Carrying a camera around my neck. “You can’t take photographs here!” he exclaimed at me, despite the fact my finger was nowhere near the shutter and Cabot Circus isn’t really that photogenic anyway. I just raised my eyebrow at him and scuttled off, it wasn’t worth arguing over something I didn’t want to take a photo of.

Nonetheless, it begs the question, how much longer are we going to be allowed to take photographs in public places without one law or another attempting to stop us? Presently it is perfectly legal to take photographs so long as you are standing in a public place (this doesn’t extend to using an extreme telephoto lens to peer into someone’s house from the pavement), but ever increasing terror laws are meaning this is becoming harder.

In February, section 76 of the Counter – Terrorism Act 2008 came into effect meaning it became a criminal offence to take photographs of those in ‘intelligence’. Meanwhile, the NUJ is thinking about taking legal action after the police threatened photographers at the G20 protests.

I’ve never been threatened by the police for taking photographs, but quite often I feel wary about having my camera out near them and I’m not sure how I’d react if one of them ever stopped me. I’ve read a few things that tell me to be brave and recite the law to the police. This fantastic guide offers fantastic advice on your rights. Some suggest you carry around a copy of your rights, such as this one,  with you to present to police upon inspection.

 While I commend anyone that could do that upon having their collars felt by the police, I’m just not sure that I could stand up to them.

 Problem is, that’s exactly what they want. 


  • I was challenged for taking a picture of the Home Office buildings in Newport Road, Cardiff, ahead of the ID cards protest there. I was outside and taking a picture of the sign. Nothing else – just the sign showing the number of the house. But when I was told to delete the pictures (after voluntarily explaining what I was doing, when I could have just done a runner), instead of saying that because I was in a public place I was perfectly entitled to take them I panicked like a fool and deleted them. Idiot.

    See, it’s not just you.

  • Yes I remember that incident.

    Even the police don’t have the powers to delete your photographs, so security guards definitely don’t. I think it’s important to remember that the police can’t delete photos because they should be used in evidence if some crime has been committed, if no crime has been committed, there’s no need to delete the photos.

    But that’s just the theory, not much you can do when you’re being glared at by someone twice your size with a baton I guess.

  • For those who might panic first, and regret later, I would recommend searching out ‘Zero Assumption Digital Image Recovery’ freeware – Lets you get those deleted photos off an sd card, provided you havent ‘taped over them’. Deleting only tells the memory to forget that something is on the disk, not erase it.

    Must-have software for any photographer.

    Yeah, sometimes i’m a bit wary of pulling out a camera, but so far I haven’t been hassled. I think the laws may vary somewhat, as I’m in NZ, but we have pretty strong rights to take photos in public.


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