In the UK it is legal for people to film and take pictures in public places, you do not need a permit or permission. This includes taking pictures of people, police, or places (including buildings).
Basically, on private property you may take pictures and film without permission, but if when told to leave by the owner, a representative, security or police, you instead stay, it could then potentially be treated as aggravated trespass and leave you liable to arrest.
Even in these circumstances security staff, or police cannot confiscate equipment, view any media, delete any pictures, footage or data. Or make demands on you to delete or show them any media.
There are - as always - exceptions to these guidelines however, for instances filming property that is deemed sensitive (i.e Ministry of Defence land / buildings) and on Court premises, where you could be found in contempt of court. This includes filming members of juries.
PUBLIC / PRIVATE ?
There can be some confusion on occasion as to what is public and what is private land. An example is land owned by the Corporation of London (which is quite a lot). City hall, which you would think is a public place and a place of public interest is actually situated on land owned by the Corporation of London and considered private land with its own security.
Public land like open spaces, parks and community areas may be covered by bylaws, often imposed by local authorities. Sometimes the authorities however will claim that filming and photography is not allowed, when it turns out that camera stabilising equipment (tripod, or some such device) is not permitted, but a camera is, or has not been included specifically in any bylaw. You can usually check specific local bylaws online, although many local authorities are terrible when it comes to giving detailed and full information in these matters.
During the Olympics in the UK, photographers and video journalists found themselves under more scrutiny and interference than is normal, leading to private and badly trained security staff claiming (wrongly) that they couldn’t film, photograph in a clearly public space.
Private security staff have no rights to interfere with you filming, photographing and cannot seize equipment, which includes damage to and/or erasure / deleting of any media. They have no right to use physical force to move if you are in a public place. their powers end at the boundary of the private space they are protecting. If they are suspicious of anything, they simply have to contact the police.
A document produced by and for the BSIA (British Security Industry Association - www.bsia.co.uk) and its members. It spells out in clear and simple language what their limitations are;
If an individual is in a public place photographing or filming a private building, security guards have no right to prevent the individual from taking photographs (sic).
If a security guard approaches you, it should be in a “courteous manner”. They may simply wish to ”question” you about what you are doing. It is not a legal obligation to enter into conversation with security staff, or answer any questions, it is a matter of choice.
There are some places you may think are public, but can be owned by a corporation, or private body (like the Corporation of London), or where bylaws prohibit, or limit what you can do. Other places in London where officials may attempt to restrict media coverage include Royal Parks, like Hyde Park, outside Buckingham Palace and so on. You can film if the media is not for commercial use. Permissions for filming in Trafalgar Square are restricted, and this has been extended to Parliament Square.
Police may not confiscate equipment, or memory cards, tapes etc. unless they seriously believe the use of the equipment is potentially terrorist related. They absolutely cannot destroy equipment or erase video tapes, memory cards under any circumstances while questioning you. They cannot force you to do so either. See excerpt below.
You could be asked to show pictures and video, but you don’t have to comply. However, it can avoid a lot of possible hassle if you do just give them an indication of your legitimate purposes.
Record any conversations with, or questioning by police and get officers numbers (if visible) and/or names and stations they are based at.
It always helps to be courteous and polite to police and security, you don’t have to but you can explain what you are doing, just to put minds to rest. Crime scenes and victims need a great deal of care and consideration, observe and recognise police tape and boundaries.
Following is an excerpt from a letter penned in August 2010 by Chief Constable Andrew Trotter (Chair of the ACPO Media / Communication Advisory Group). ACPO ‘Association of Chief Police Officers’.
“There have been a number of recent instances highlighted in the press where officers have detained photographers and deleted images from their cameras. I seek your support in reminding your officers and staff that they should not prevent anyone from taking photographs in public. The applies equally to members of the media and public seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places.”
“Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order.”
Complaints against the police in the U.K can be dealt with through the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) www.ipcc.gov.uk, or directly through the regional Department of Professional Standards (DPS). The IPCC can tell you the address for the region you need to contact and make a complaint to.
HOSTILE RECONNAISSANCE (THE TAG OF TERRORISM)
This blanket term covers the possibility that someone with a camera is collecting information for nefarious purposes. It is increasingly being used by Police and Security to enable interference in filming and photography sometimes it seems because those using it have nothing better to do, and/or are ignorant of the law.
Often the most difficult times with security and police occur when you are on your own, it’s a tricky situation that unscrupulous and unprofessional police and security personnel may try to exploit.
For details of stop and search powers re; terrorism locate the UK Government (Home Office) document; Exercise of Stop and Search Powers Under Sections 43, 43A and 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000. (Go to; www.tsoshop.co.uk).
The following book has a wealth of information for members of the press;
McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists (Mark Hanna & Mike Dodd). www.mcnaes.com. Published by Oxford University Press. www.oxfordtextbooks.co.uk.
Another book useful for references is;
The Beat Officer’s Companion (Gordon Wilson). Published by Jane’s Information Group. www.janes.com.
Further information on law can be found at; www.epuk.org (editorial photographers website. Details can apply to those filming as well).