We may have caused a bit of a stir…

Home Office issues new advice on Photography and Terrorism Laws

  • Brings Home Office in to line with NPIA and Met advice
  • New guidance for use of s76 on journalists and tourists


On Tuesday afternoon the Home Office sent out advice to all the Chief Police Officers in the UK about the use of Terrorism laws on photographers, they say:

This circular has been produced to clarify counter-terrorism legislation in relation to photography in a public place. Concerns have been raised that sections of the Terrorism Act 2000 are being used to stop people taking photographs – whether this is photographs of buildings or people – and that cameras are being confiscated during such searches.

Home Office Circular 012 / 2009

It then goes on to clarify police powers under sections 43 and 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and is broadly in line with the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) and Met Police advice issued earlier this year. However, it then comes to give new advice on s58A – more commonly known as s76 – which makes it an offence to photograph a police officer or member of the armed forces:

An officer making an arrest [under section 76] must reasonably suspect that the information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.  An example might be gathering information about the person’s house, car, routes to work and other movements. [...]

It is a statutory defence for a person to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for eliciting, publishing or communicating the relevant information [Under s76]

Important: Legitimate journalistic activity (such as covering a demonstration for a newspaper) is likely to constitute such an excuse. Similarly an innocent tourist or other sight-seer taking a photograph of a police officer is likely to have a reasonable excuse.

(Emphasis theirs) Home Office Circular 012 / 2009

Leaving aside the whole issue of who or what the police deem to be ‘legitimate journalistic activity’ something which Commander Broadhurst – Head of Public Order at the Met – failed to grasp earlier this year at the NUJ Photographers Conference. This new advice does nothing for the thousands of amateur and professional wildlife, landscape, architectural or street photographers who are routinely harassed by police whilst taking photographs.

We have seen a letter from the new Policing minister, David Hanson, sent to the National Union of Journalists yesterday who this new advice seems to be in response to. In the closing paragraph of his letter he says:

I believe this circular removes once and for all any suggestion that the new offence can be used to prosecute innocent photographers such as responsible journalists, simply because they are taking a photograph of a police officer. I am enclosing a copy of the circular for your reference.

Letter to Jeremy Dear, General Secretary, NUJ – David Hanson, Minister for Policing


Photographer Justin Tallis is questioned by Bedfordshire police about photographing police officers on a demonstration. Image: Jonathan Warren

We will be watching carefully how this new advice is adopted as we know of at least two occasions where s76 has been threatened against press photographers in public order situations.

The new advice also ignores Special Procedure Material under PACE which gives journalistic material a higher level of protection from seizure by police (The police have to go to a county-court judge and explain why they need it) After protests by the National Union of Journalists the Met changed their advice to include the caveat that when searching someone who identified themselves as a journalist that ‘Officers should exercise caution before viewing images as images acquired or created for the purposes of journalism may constitute journalistic material and should not be viewed without a Court Order.

We did contact the Home Office to ask why their advice did not include Special Procedure Material but they did not respond.

Marc Vallée has published the letter from the Home Office minister in full on his blog.

4 thoughts on “We may have caused a bit of a stir…

  1. Peter Hoffmann

    The above clarifies the law up to a point with regards to professional journalists, who can identify themselves as such. Other amateur photographers may yet have their right to take photographs in public places reduced and have to come up with reasonable (for the police) reasons. Non journalist may be considered potential terrorists (particularly those with “non caucsian” background).

  2. Richard

    This is a small move in the right direction. That said the clarification uses very narrow language to limit the ‘clarification’ to Journalists and ‘tourists’- this is simply unacceptable and leaves legitimate demonstrators, activists like FITwatch and amateur photographers subject to harassment. (I believe this law is at least in part ‘inspired’ by FITwatch)

    Anyway – any law that is so poorly framed that it requires almost constant ‘clarifications’, guidance and asvice clearly is in dire need of review or repealing.

  3. Rajesh Thind

    This is such an important campaign and of huge importance to all of us. I’m a filmmaker and I had a little run in a couple of years back around just this issue….This little short film went rather viral at the time, and it’s purely because there’s such a groundswell of concern and engagement with the increasing restrictions we’re subject to. As one of my characters in the film says, “It’s the thin edge of the wedge…”

    Anyway, here’s my filmic contribution to your excellent campaign!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>