The history of terrorism is as old as human willingness to use violence to affect politics. Acts of terrorism continue to dominate the news. But are successive governments right to consider the threat from armed terrorists to be the key concern and, if so, do they respond with legislation that is balanced and proportionate? We also ask, do our police and security forces always act to enforce the sprit and intent of the law? (Please see our note above.)
Today, there is increasing acceptance of the fact that most 'terrorist acts' boil down to murderous criminality on the part of the perpetrators. We will not do anything that may unduly compromise the ability to protect people from such acts, or to apprehend those responsible for them. But in considering this position, we keep coming back to our watchwords "balanced and proportionate".
The awful events of 9/11 (11th September, 2001) when suicide attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed over 3,000 people, changed attitudes worldwide - far beyond the shores of the USA. During July 2005, Britain saw the Provisional IRA call a formal end to their terrorist armed struggle against the state; but it also witnessed, on 7/7, a new terrorist assault on the UK. In the aftermath of the terrorist atrocity, the government of the day relaxed several previous legal restraints - and photographers increasingly suffered the consequences of police and security officers overzealous in 'doing their bit' in preventing any similar occurance. The misguided approach peaked in the year to October 2009, when over four hundred section 44 Stop and Searches were recorded on average every day in the Metropolitan Police area alone.[Source: Home Office statistics - MPS (YE 30/9/09) 152,378 s44 S&S] Balanced and proportionate?
s58 and the clumsily-worded s58A created a level of confusion in the public, the photographing community, and some members of the Police. For a while it became widely believed that this section prohibited or severely restricted the taking of photographs of Police Officers, members of the Armed Forces etc. An attempt at clarification was published by the Home Office on 18 August 2009. In response to an epetition on the Downing Street website, no. 10 repeated the Home Office's clarification and added their own clarification that was generally seen as further muddying the waters. It implied that it is only legitimate to photograph a police officer if you are a press photographer or a tourist.
At the time, John Tracy, chief executive of the Bureau of Freelance Photographers (BFP) [quoted in Amateur Photographer magazine] said, '... The fact is, it is perfectly legal to photograph a police officer - or anyone else for that matter - in a public place. It is not just press photographers or tourists who have a 'reasonable excuse' for taking such pictures. By definition, you do not have to have a 'reasonable excuse' to carry out a legal activity.'