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Hundreds of photographers descended on New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the British Metropolitan Police, in London on 16 February to protest against an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Act that could criminalise anyone taking a photograph of a police officer, report the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional arm of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and news reports.

Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act, which came into force this week, says that anyone can be arrested if s/he takes photographs of the police, the armed forces, or the intelligence services which are "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." The offence comes with a maximum 10-year sentence.

But EFJ and photographers say it could be misused to stop the taking of any pictures, especially of police abuse and demonstrations, and is part of a larger, creeping assault on civil liberties in the name of the war on terror.

"This is a serious setback for press freedom which is going to have a devastating effect on the work of photojournalists," said EFJ. "We don't believe that there is a level of security considerations which can justify the kind of shield the new law affords to public figures ? The next step would be that reporters would not be allowed to describe what they see."

According to EFJ, the Metropolitan Police Federation has also expressed support to photojournalists, noting that they "do not want to be a secret police." The federation described the law as "unfair" and "completely avoidable" and called for a mutually agreed code between the police and journalists.

According to the BBC, the Home Office said in a statement that taking pictures of police officers would only be deemed an offence in "very exceptional circumstances," and is "intended to help protect those in the front line of our counter-terrorism operations from terrorist attack."

Visit these links:
- BBC:
- Counter-Terrorism Act:
(Photo: Photographers protest outside New Scotland Yard on 16 February in London against an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Act that could be used to prevent photographers from taking pictures of the police. Photo courtesy of Mike King, )

(18 February 2009)

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