The other e-petition
A Hampshire photographer has taken a stand against the suspicion and restrictions snappers face due to the 'paedophile panic'.
E-petitions are getting popular. Recently 1,633,894 people (and counting) signed a petition on the British government’s 10 Downing Street website opposing the idea of road-pricing. And it’s not only drivers who are using the system to make their point.
On 14 February, a petition against restrictions on photography was started by Simon Taylor, a 43-year-old semi-professional photographer from Hampshire, England (1). The petition says: ‘We the undersigned petition the prime minister to stop proposed restrictions regarding photography in public places.’ Since he launched the e-petition it’s received over 4,000 signatures. News about his petition is even on the front page of the current issue of Amateur Photographer magazine (2).
The ‘more details’ section of the webpage fleshes out Taylor’s point: ‘There are a number of moves promoting the requirement of “ID” cards to allow photographers to operate in a public place. It is a fundamental right of a UK citizen to use a camera in a public place; indeed there is no right to privacy when in a public place. These moves have developed from paranoia and only promote suspicion towards genuine people following their hobby or profession.’
What the ‘moves’ are is not stated, although admittedly there’s very little room to offer much information in the e-petition ‘more details’ box. So I ring Taylor to get more information. He points out that there are a number of disturbing instances where photographers are being told (wrongly) that they can’t photograph groups of people and scenes in public places by child protection officers, security guards, London Eye officials and police officers. Sometimes photographers have been told to delete their photographs. He’s written about some of the cases on his website, where there are also more details about the petition (3).
Photographers have also been asked for identity cards or proof that they are members of a photography club or a professional photography organisation, as if only officially approved photographers should be allowed to take pictures. Taylor believes everyone should be able to take pictures in public places, regardless of their professional status. He argues that, if anything, photographers should carry cards which highlight their rights, the ones that are the same as any other citizen.
As his website notes: ‘I and many photgraphers like me are getting increasingly frustrated at the restrictions that are imposed upon us, suspicion we suffer and the incorrect assumptions that are made.’ (4) As he tells me over the phone, ‘if I point my large camera at a child there will be people who instantly say “he’s a paedophile”‘.
And yet, even though Taylor thinks anyone should be allowed to take photographs in public, he supports the policy that says people who care and work closely with children should be submitted for checks by the Criminal Records Bureau. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which passed through the UK Parliament last year, will require every adult who works with children (millions of people) to submit to such CRB checks. But as Josie Appleton, author of the Manifesto Club’s report The Case Against Vetting, points out, 10million people have been CRB-vetted since 2002, despite the fact that cases of adults physically harming children are rare. All of this only helps to stoke the paedophile panic, the culture of paranoia about adults near children, which Taylor says he is trying to challenge (5).
Also, Taylor is mistaken in believing that there is no legal right to privacy in a public place. Unfortunately, such is the closing down of public space these days, there is such a legal right. ‘Privacy’ has already been used to place curbs on the freedom of professional photographers. For example, in 2004, the European Court ruled that Princess Caroline of Monaco did have a right to go shopping free from being snapped by paparazzi cameras. Anyone can use this precedent in Britain – where the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and European Court rulings are recognised – to argue in court that they, too, have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public places (see Princess of Privacy, by Tessa Mayes).
The media must be free to photograph events in public as part of communicating information in a democracy. When the courts allow journalists to argue as a legal defence that their work is ‘in the public interest’, it is a recognition of the fact that the media help to facilitate an important democratic right for all of us to know what’s going on in the world.
Taylor’s petition raises important questions about freedom of the press and the stifling impact of fear and suspicion on journalism and investigation, or just on pursuing a hobby. Unfortunately, it also highlights that e-petitions are fairly limited in the extent to which they can develop debate and push for change.
Tessa Mayes is a regular contributor to the Spectator and author of the spiked-report Restraint or Revelation: Free speech and privacy in a confessional age. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(3) Photographer’s Rights, Simon Taylor
(4) Photographer’s Rights, Simon Taylor
(5) The Case Against Vetting – how the child protection industry is poisoning adult-child relations, by Josie Appleton, Manifesto Club, 16 October 2006 [pdf]
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