It has to be said that there are a few characteristics of the left – my own political ‘side’ – which really irritate me. One example is the crass anti-police attitude which seems to be especially prevalent amongst young bourgeois radicals.
The author of the blog Penny Red has written:
Set to become law on the 16th of February in the UK, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer. Laws are being introduced that allow for the arrest – and fining, and imprisonment for up to ten years – of anyone who takes pictures of officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.
The law is expected to increase the anti-terrorism powers used today by police officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking pictures in public places.
Nowhere on the blog is there a link to the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Penny Red/Red Penny gushes about threats to democracy, envisages riot police thumping people willy nilly, hints there are only a few days left to save freedom, and generally makes it all sound terrifying. But we have to take her word for it.
In search of some substantiation to these pretty damning accusations, Frank Owen’s Paintbrush went into overdrive trying to find out more.
Because no links and only a short quote from the Act are provided I can’t be sure where exactly these totalitarian provisions are meant to be hidden. But if I’m not mistaken the Act can be found quite easily and conveniently linked to here. I have a hunch that it is Section 76 which is causing the fuss:
76 Offences relating to information about members of armed forces etc
(1) After section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (collection of information) insert—
“58A Eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc (1) A person commits an offence who—
(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been—
(i) a member of Her Majesty’s forces,
(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or
(iii) a constable,
which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or
(b) publishes or communicates any such information.
(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action.
The Act is, of course, meant to make it harder for violent extremists to undertake plots such as this planned kidnapping and murder of a British Muslim serving in the armed forces.
If our freedoms are seriously under threat then I expect Liberty will be on the case. A quick search indicates that whilst they have criticisms of many aspects of this law they are not primarily worried about the police enforcing a widespread crackdown on public photography. It is mainly left up to people such as those at the Spy Blog (‘Watching them watching us’!) to get worked up about this. Which they of course do – mainly in hyperbolic terms such as “the war on Photographers, Military Historians and Biographers intensifies” (funny how I went to the Imperial War Museum library the other day to read some biographies and had no problems whatsover – I must have been lucky).
I am aware that there have been problems with counter-terrorist legislation. Periodic stories of police over-zealously using the Terrorism Act to stop people littering and suchlike make easy copy for the papers. It certainly is something that needs to be checked up on and I commend bloggers who do that.
However, Penny Red thinks a suitable way of expressing concern with the details of the Act is to encourage her readers to take photographs of police officers and to send them to her to post on her blog and the inevitable facebook group. A sadly predictable mix of extreme moonbattery and disturbing police-hatred is evident in the comments:
“People are taking this far to light heartedly, this is one of the steps of new world order, martial law will soon be enforced.”
“HELLO camera users and what a cool group I. have been capturing the overdressed under funded baffoons fot a while now and they get all tense and “flappy”, great fun, lol. There is a way of filming without too much fuss; put your phone on film and pretend you are making a call then just point your ear mounted camera at the pigs as they sniff around, great filming at very close quarters, rage on protesters!!!”
“so hitler and the nazi have finaly taken over number 10 !”
“just let me no when its beat one with a stick day!”
“the ‘I know the law better than you do’ defense has, of course, never really been all that effective”
That last comment makes me think of another possible explanation why people tend to whinge about the police. Rather than some kind of sophisticated ideological opposition to figures of authority, it may just be a type of snobbery. Upper and middle class types are uncomfortable with the idea that people from a working class background have the power to tell them what to do.
Before embarking on this campaign I think Penny Red should have reminded herself of some facts. Police officers do a difficult and dangerous job. I’m sure they don’t need people taking photos of them and then displaying these images up on the internet. In my job dealing with the general public I have heard of female colleagues getting freaked out when weirdo strangers take photos of them and say they’re going to plast them all over the net. No-one appreciates that. It’s not a nice thing to do.
On top of this let’s think about the role of the police service. Coppers are vital in any democratic society as far as I’m concerned, but we should also bear in mind that they’re not the ones making the laws. They just enforce them. It thus seems a tad silly to deliberately try to irritate (and intimidate?) ordinary police constables when it is our elected politicians who are responsible for such legislative masterpieces/messes as the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.
If we the people have a problem with what our representatives in Parliament are up to then we should use the democratic process in an effective and grown-up way to let them know. We shouldn’t pick on PC Plod.