The BJP today carries a report headlined 'Home Secretary green lights restrictions on photography'
Local restrictions on photography in public places are legitimate the Home Secretary has stated in a letter to the National Union of Journalists.
While Jacqui Smith reaffirmed that there are no legal restrictions, she added that local Chief Constables were allowed to restrict or monitor photography in certain circumstances.
The letter dated 26 June, which BJP has seen a copy of, is in response to correspondence sent by the Union secretary general, Jeremy Dear, who expressed concern at police surveillance of journalists, in particular photographers.
'First of all, may I take this opportunity to state that the Government greatly values the importance of the freedom of the press, and as such there is no legal restriction on photography in public places,' Smith writes. 'Also, as you will be aware, there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.'
However, the Home Secretary adds that local restrictions might be enforced. 'Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation.
The Home Secretary here appears to endorse police acting without legal authority whenever it suits them to do so. This will come as a considerable surprise to those who imagined British freedoms comprised that which is not prohibited by law, including the legislature and judiciary. Why on earth bother with all the cost and complication of parliament and courts if the cops are free to busk it whenever necessary? In fact why even have a Home Secretary or Government. We could get Robert Mugabe to do this job.
Of course, we know this sort of eruption of authoritarian zeal happens from time to time, often out of ignorance, misjudgement, panic or even perceived operational necessity. Interdiction of photographers has long been an occasional police priority by fair means or foul, and some of our colleagues have the scars and out-of-court settlements to prove it. But as a baldly-stated government endorsement of extra-legal policing this marks an intolerable and worrying new low in the war on photographers and civil rights in general.