Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 0:03 | Filed in Crime & Policing, Media, Politics

Many of you will already be aware of this, but I make no apologies for mentioning it. I think it’s important, and I think — at the risk of sounding like someone writing into the Daily Mail — that something must be done.

I presume someone like Mark Thomas will be planning some sort of organised civil disobedience for this, but I’ve not heard or seen anything yet. What am I upset about?

The issue at hand is the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, section 76. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for countering terrorism, which I see as a bad thing, but I think that legislation which allows people to be imprisoned for up to 10 years for taking photographs of the police or the armed forces is a little off.

According to one journalist:

They will now be able to arrest you if a photograph could potentially incite or provoke disorder.Marc Vallee, quoted in Guardian Online

And I hate to be a party pooper about this, but if you could just imagine a hypothetical situation where some police officers were filmed using excessive force on a gentleman they were arresting. Let’s just say that the beating of this gentleman — let’s give him the purely hypothetical name “Rodney King” — was captured on film by someone.

Under British law, as that person was filming serving police officers, and something which might well potentially incite or provoke disorder, could find themselves staring down the barrel of a 10 year stretch. Hence the latin title of this post, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who guards/watches the guards/watchers)

The thing about taking the pictures is whether or not they are “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. Only in practice, the police on the ground are the ones who decide this…

The British Journal of Photography recently reported an incident involving a photographer in Cleveland who was stopped by a police officer while taking pictures of ships.

He was asked if he was connected to terrorism, which he wasn’t, and told his details would be kept on file.[...]

“The problems that we can see arising are with junior officers using the legislation to overcome situations that they find uncomfortable or where they make judgements about photography and don’t know how to apply the legislation on the ground” [Neil Turner]

BBC News: Is It A Crime To Take Pictures?

Taking a photograph at a football match is likely to include police officers. It may conceivably be of use to someone wishing to commmit a terrorist act — Arsène Wenger fears terrorists could prey on football — so anyone taking a photo at a football match could conceivably face 10 years inside under anti-terrorism legislation.

It would also appear that a chap called Stephen Clarke was arrested last year in Manchester under anti-terrorism legislation for allegedly taking a photograph of a sewer drain. It later emerged that the police couldn’t find any photographs of sewer drains on his phone, nor did they explain how what a sewer drain looks like was specialist information that would specifically benefit terrorism and would not be available elsewhere. Still, this didn’t stop the police from arresting him and holding him for two days while the police searched his home and computer. When they finally found nothing to charge him with, he was released but his DNA kept on file as a potential terrorist suspect — which, according to the European Court of Human Rights, is a violation of his human rights.

As someone who wanders around regularly with a camera taking photos of stuff for my blog, I obviously think this is wrong. But then again, when police think it’s appropriate to store the DNA profile of a one-year old, what can we expect?

Or maybe there’s the issue that the Police have been breaching the Human Rights Act on a huge scale by:

…targeting thousands of political campaigners in surveillance operations and storing their details on a database for at least seven years, an investigation by the Guardian can reveal [...]

Corinna Ferguson, Liberty’s legal officer, said: “A searchable database containing photographs of people who are not even suspected of criminal activity may well violate privacy rights under article 8 of the Human Rights Act. It is particularly worrying if peaceful protesters are being singled out for surveillance.”Revealed: police databank on thousands of protesters

So, let’s get this straight.

  • If you take a photograph of a sewer, the police will arrest you, search your house and computer and lock you up for two days. Finally, you will be released without charge, but your details remain on file as a potential suspect, despite the European Court of Human Rights saying they can’t do this
  • If you take a photo of a policeman that someone wanting to incite violence against them might find useful — such as a policeman beating someone up — you could be done under counter-terrorism legislation, and face 10 years inside
  • Meanwhile, the police have been routinely breaching your human rights by subjecting you to surveillance and keeping your details on file even if you’ve only been involved in legal political protest and have never even been suspected of a crime.

In answer to Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, it would appear the answer is no-one. Of course, as someone who’s objecting to this, it would appear that there is every chance you’ll never hear from me again…

Is it not time to take a stand while we still have some civil liberties remaining? Don’t think there’s nothing we can do about it. We can, and should, tell our MPs in sufficiently large numbers that we object to this. Simply find your MP using They Work For You (after all, they do work for you), and send them a message, letting them know how you feel. Tell your friends: get them to contact their MPs if they feel the same… actually bloody do something!

And actually look to see what your prospective electoral candidates stand for: what they would support or protest against, instead of just voting that party ticket once more…

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1 Comment to Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  1. Tawny says:

    December 12th, 2012 at 6:57 am

    That’s a quick-witted answer to a difcfilut question

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