Section 44 of the Terrorism Act gives the police the right to stop and search people who are taking photos in public places. Well, there I was next to the Churchill statue in Parliament Sq this morning, waiting for some MPs and candidates to turn up and have their pictures taken when I found a policeman standing next to me. I was actually working on my blackberry at that point.
Anyway, he asked me what I was doing, asked for some for of ID (he had to make do with my debit card) and looked inside my bag. It contained one Nikon SLR and one Sony video camera, a notebook, a pen and a pair of sunglasses and two microphones and spare tapes for the camera. He didn't ask to see the contents of the camera. All it contained however was 100 photos of John Barrett MP taken half an hour earlier.
The policeman filled in a form and in the process asked if I was "white British". It left me wondering if I were checked just so the numbers of non-whites stopped and searched didn't look too disproportionate.
Parliament Sq is of course full of foreign tourists snapping away at one of the most famous buildings in the world. And the image of Parliament is already spread around the globe. Quite what can be gained from stopping and searching in this way and in this location is not clear. Anyway, I cooperated. My details were checked. They were happy I was not an Islamic bomber or a member of the militant wing of the Green Allotments Liberation Front (or the Front for the Liberation of Green Allotments!)
I really wonder whether or not this is a good use of police time. Is it effective? Is it being used sensibly? I was under the impression that the last time there was a hoohaa about section 44, the government said it should be used sparingly and sensitively.
Given that so many photographers have been stopped and searched under this legislation, I'm not sure whether it should be a badge of honour or treated as an infringement of my right to go about my legitimate activities. Discuss.
Sent via BlackBerry