PhotoRights.org exists to document and record the actions of those who through lack of comprehension, bone-headed officiousness, vested interest or malice, wish to contain and control photography.
We invite participation from all UK amateur and professional photographers and anyone else who values photographic liberty. If you encounter access problems please report them in the forums here and help to demonstrate the scale of the problem before misconceived and often illegal restriction is accepted as inevitable and normal.
Access is fundamental for photographers, and photography is now an essential part of everybody's lives. Our environment exposes us to literally hundreds of images every single day. After language itself, the photograph is a foundation of our understanding of the world, most of which we will never personally see. It is a witness of unfolding history that we still tend to trust. It is an art of communication and expression, and of beauty. And lately it is surveillance too.
We are routinely filmed and photographed wherever we go, by CCTV, by ANPR (Automated Numberplate Recognition), by police Forward Intelligence Teams. The state and private enterprise never needed to ask our permission or seek the authority of parliament. They are able to do this because photography in public places is entirely legal.
Why then is access for individual photographers under attack from all sides? Why especially by the very authorities who monitor us, and to an extent that has never hitherto been known in UK? Why is photography now so widely viewed with suspicion and as an activity that should be challenged and controlled or suppressed in ways we would previously only have associated with dictatorships and police states?
The plausible excuse of controlling terrorism and sexual predation is usually given, yet the connection between photography and those activities is absurdly tenuous. One may as well suspect shoe-wearers of concealing shoe-bombs. Nobody demands to know 'Why are you wearing shoes?' because it's a self-evidently stupid question. 'Why are you taking pictures?' requires an equal ability to comprehend why photographers make photographs. Yet this is simply unintelligible to most non-photographers doing the asking, for whom a family or holiday snap is the limit of their experience perhaps tainted with a vague perception that people with big cameras kill favourite princesses. Photography is thus self-evidently suspicious to many, and that leaves the photographer trying to prove themselves not guilty of an imaginary offence.
Most of the time the outcome of these confrontations is merely exasperating. At other times they result in searches under the Terrorism Act or arrest under whichever statute is convenient. If this were a rare and accidental error it might conceivably seem an acceptable price for security. However it is increasingly commonplace. It is now hard to find professionals who have not been repeatedly stopped, searched and questioned under S.44 of the Terrorism Act, especially among those who cover news. Some report repeated interrogation on the same day or several times in a week, notwithstanding presentation of a National Press Card.
Vanishingly few photographers will oppose the police duty and intention to keep people safe but security appears to have mutated into routine harassment. Either this a pointless and inept waste of police resources or it serves an undeclared policy : the prevention of inconvenient photography rather than terrorism. Incidents involving illegal means and threats or physical assault are now too common to dismiss as anomalies and errors of judgement, and UK seems to be sliding toward the sort of overt interference we might expect in China or Zimbabwe. Even Saudi Arabia relaxed its street photography laws last year and that is where Al Quaida comes from.
A cursory examination of circumstances in which photographers are being stopped and searched, and the frequent illegal demands to prove 'permission', hand over memory cards or delete images shows that what is actually being suppressed, carelessly or deliberately, is photography itself. The law is now being routinely twisted and ignored to curtail the freedom of expression and access without which individuals have no voice and no ability to hold authority to account. Without that democracy is in trouble. If this seems an exaggeration, consider why they photograph us : to render us identifiable and accountable for our actions. This cannot be a one-way street.