Apr 28, 2006

My terrorism act

The snap-happy readers of Amateur Photographer magazine keep being mistaken for security risks. James Sturcke sees if he can get apprehended

Source: Guardian Unlimited
Written by James Sturcke

I never guessed when I bought my camera last summer, a few days after the July 7 bombings in London, that I might come to be seen as a terrorist threat.

It was July 29, 7.38am (the metadata stored in digital images records these things) and I was walking through the City of London on the way to the Guardian offices, in Clerkenwell. There is a lovely view of St Paul’s cathedral from Newgate, so I stopped to take a few pictures. I was crouched down on the pavement, trying to get a good angle, when I became aware that two men in fluorescent jackets were leaning over me.

“What are you taking pictures of?” one demanded. I paused to consider whether this was a trick question before replying that I was snapping St Paul’s cathedral.

“Oh, that’s all right. It’s just that on our cameras it looked like you were taking pictures of the stock exchange,” he explained.

The stock exchange, it turned out, filled the side of Paternoster Square where I was standing and, yes, the building, or at least the protruding security cameras, had snuck into my photos. It also emerged that my vantage point was not in fact a public pavement, but private land, and so the owner could impose conditions on people entering the property, including a ban on photos.

I have not been the only photographer acting “suspiciously”. In November, Roy Jhuboo told Amateur Photographer magazine how a squad of officers arrived in two police vans and swooped on him while he was taking pictures of Canary Wharf in the London Docklands.

In the next issue of the magazine, Adrian Stretton recounted how anti-terrorist officers had stopped him outside Canary Wharf tube station, under the Terrorism Act 2000, after he tried to take photos of the same building.

There were other cases outside London. Austin Mitchell, the MP for Great Grimsby and a keen photographer, had photos on his digital camera deleted by officers policing the Labour party conference in Brighton. In Nottingham, the professional photographer Alan Lodge was arrested after taking pictures of an armed police officer. The topic has filled Amateur Photographer’s letters pages.

So, 10 months after the London bombings, Guardian Unlimited set out to see whether people photographing the capital’s landmarks continues to give authorities the jitters.

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