London Photography Will Get You Arrested

Having spent time in the U.K., I’ve grown to love the country and especially London. At the same time I’ve been quite aware that the London police have continually been cracking down on “suspicious” photographers and yet another confrontation happened to what seems like a nice, reasonable guy out to photograph a Christmas celebration (via Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing) and he used his DSLR’s video function to record his arrest.

While I feel like I have 50% of the facts (e.g., we don’t see what he was doing as he photographed so can’t ascertain anything about his behavior) I still applaud him standing up to the police and not automatically handing over “his details” (i.e., his name, ID, etc.) without them telling him why he was being detained and specifically what he’d done.

For a country that could’ve easily succumbed to the tyranny of the Nazi regime — a government that didn’t allow their own citizens to do anything without having “their papers” on them at all times — I must admit not appreciating the irony in London police trampling on their citizen’s civil liberties. I do appreciate the tensions in London, what with their experiences with the IRA and other horrific acts of terrorism.

But anyone with half-a-brain and any technical chops knows how incredibly simple it would be for real terrorists to surreptiously photograph any spot, building or crowd without anyone being the wiser so it’s highly likely that this continued confrontational attitude by London police is akin to the security theater in the United States.

It also makes me wonder about my own behavior on a family trip to London a few years ago where I was probably “suspicious” as I photographed like mad near Downing Street, all the governmental buildings along Whitehall, waiting for my wife and kids as they souvenir shopped as I lurked by a pillar in Trafalgar Square snapping photos with my Nikon DSLR, and essentially playing the role of obnoxious tourist.

What will I be able to do next time I’m in London? For instance, I enjoy snapping photos of many things: alleyways; police cars; doorways; street perspectives; people; and crowds. Is my behavior going to cause confrontations with the London police? Probably, so I’ll undoubtedly be seeing the inside of a London jail but one that isn’t exactly geared to tourists!