PolicemanI was exceedingly disappointed today to see an article over on Amateur Photographer about how the UK Government is continuing to encourage people to report photographers despite very little evidence that terrorists wander around with cameras taking snapshots of their targets (apart from in the movies of course).

The National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) is looking to train 60,000 volunteers – including security guards and council workers – to act as local look outs for potential terrorist activities in areas such as shopping centres, hotels and stations. The civilians are being told to be on guard for people carrying cameras and zoom lenses as part of anti-terrorism seminars being rolled out nationwide and the Home Office insists that there is no alternative as Britain continues to be on a state of high alert for a possible terrorist attack.

Of late we’ve had MPs raise the issue of the right to photograph things and people in the House of Commons and despite a weak response from the Government they did indicate Police needed to be educated on the matter of photography in public. However it doesn’t seem to have changed anything (see recent article on German tourists being asked to delete their photos).

Then there was the amendment to the Terrorism Act which has the potential to make it illegal to photograph the police and emergency services going about their business. Of course moments after that was passed we have the incident with Police aggression potentially causing the death of an innocent man. Would this be getting the coverage it is (and which it deserves) if no one had filmed or photographed the police?

So the issue I have with the NaCTSO course (codename: Project Argus) is that I’ve seen very little evidence of terrorists using sophisticated camera equipment to recce their targets. As Bruce Schneier often mentions on his blog these are movie-plot threats. Things we have seen at the movies but which have little in the way of real-life antecedents.

The other worrying issue is that the NcCTSO is relying on ordinary civilians to identify terrorist threats. Serious amateur photographers such as myself, and professional photographers are going to appear as major threats to these people coming off this course. I may see a nice building in the city that I think will make a good photo. They will wonder why on earth is that person taking a photo of that rather boring building? Before you know it the Police will have been called and everyone’s time has been wasted.

So what action can you take? Well education is one route. Make sure you’re aware of your rights under a stop and search request. Knowing the law on photography (as it stands) is also good. Finally, don’t forget there are several photography related ePetitions on the UK Government website. Make sure you’ve signed up to one or the other (or both).