Now it IS an offence to film the police

by | Apr 16, 2009

Back in January, David posted a video of two police officers asking a man to stop filming them, telling him it was an offence to do so.  The man stood his ground, arguing that it was entirely legal for him to film them, and defying them to cite a specific piece of legislation that would prevent him from doing so.  The two officers then radioed their sergeant – who informed them that the man filming them was, in fact, within his rights.

Well, that was then; but things have been rather different since 16 February, when the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 entered into force. As Amnesty International UK explain on their blog, the 2008 Act

…amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer.

The new set of rules, under section 76 of the 2008 Act and section 58A of the 2000 Act, will target anyone who ‘elicits or attempts to elicit information about (members of armed forces) … which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

The new laws are now in place and they allow for the arrest – and imprisonment – of anyone who takes pictures of officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

In the current circumstances (Metropolitan Police embarrassed twice within the space of a week by film of its officers assaulting members of the public; two IPCC inquiries underway; Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police having had to launch an independent review of its public order policing tactics) it’s worth asking: just how much scope is there in interpreting what kind of filming is “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”? 

Quite a lot, one suspects. Which is another reason why we ought to be clear that neither a review of policing tactics, nor inquiries into the conduct of individual oficers, nor the possibility of the IPCC bringing prosections against individual officers, is sufficient here. 

The core problem at the heart of this is legislative – not just the 2008 Counter-Terrorism Act, but also the Terrorism Act 2000, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, the Terrorism Act 2006, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.. and so on, and so on.

We now need to look in the round at whether we’ve lost the balace between protection against terrorism and protecting the legitimate right of citizens to protest. And that’s why why we ought to be pushing for an independent Royal Commission to undertake a wholesale review of counter-terrorism, policing and civil liberties.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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