Media institutions and privacy campaigners fear that citizen and press photography could be curbed by the new law, which stipulates that individuals can now face prison if convicted of eliciting information of any police constable or member of Her Majesty’s forces through photography or reporting.

Under section 76, the Act states: “A person commits an offence who elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s forces, a member of any of the intelligence services or a constable which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.”

“[This covers] anyone that takes images or notes anything about police officers, armed services personnel and Her Majesty’s servants” says Olivier Laurent, news editor at the British Journal of Photography.

“Officers could be over zealous and stop photographers, especially in places such as a press photographer covering protests and it looks as if a police officer is doing something that he does not want to be seen, he could invoke that act.”

In the lead up to the nation-wide Convention of Modern Liberty later this month, the act raises issues of civil liberty and the role of the media in the reporting of events.

Dr Geraint Bevan, coordinator of the Convention for Scotland, told Veritas: “There is a chilling effect on freedom of speech and the rights of people to protest and talk about what’s going on. If the police can deter people from taking photos and deter them from protesting or reporting what’s happening, then that’s a very serious effect on freedom of speech which is very unhealthy for our society.

“I am hopeful if cases like this do come to court, or if it happens much within the mainstream media, that cases would be taken all the way to the European Court of Human Rights and that they would challenge any draconian use of anti-terrorism laws against journalists.”

But the new restrictions do not just concern journalists and photographers but the public at large, with a high proportion of trainspotters, like a 15-year-old who was stopped and made to sign section 44 of the anti-terror act, according to the Guardian.

“The problem is that the British Transport Police are under the direct control of the Home Office, rather than the local police force, and in all of Scotland there is no area designated under the terrorist act as a place where you can stop and search,” says Dr Bevan.

“The railway stations are different because they’re policed by council police, who are governed by the Home Office. So you can walk through Glasgow or Edinburgh with no problem at all and the police don’t have the power to detain you. You walk into a railway station – they do.”

The 2008 act expands and amends previous Anti-Terrorism laws since 2000, which has seen 62, 584 people stopped at railway stations and 87,000 people asked to account for themselves by police, according to Liberal Democrat MP Normal Baker.

Alan Watkins, whose hobby is bus photography, has been stopped numerous times under terrorism laws.

“I have been stopped by police, opposed by bus inspectors, abused by drivers, chased by CCTV and security cameras – 1984 arrived a few years late, but the spread of CCTV, and the growing credo ‘we believe there is a terrorist threat’ has made much of the background to Orwell’s world seem pretty mild. Nuts I may be. Terrorist I am not.”

The Convention of Modern Liberty, taking place later this month in Glasgow, as well as six other cities in Britain, raises the privacy debate in lead-up to the first ID cards being issued to British citizens this year.

“The aims for the convention as a whole across the country are as the Guardian described it ‘a call to arms’”, says Bevan. “I see this primarily as a way to spark debate and raise awareness among civic society in Scotland.

“We’ve never had anything like [ID cards] in Britain before. The state has always been subservient to the people and people are assumed to be honest, trustworthy and innocent unless there’s reason to think otherwise. Which is how it should be in a healthy society.” 


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