Police Still Believe They Can Order People To Delete Photographs

Terence Eden’s Blog
Thursday, June 18, 2009

As I was walking home from work, I spotted an unusual sight – a police van parked in a disabled bay near my local train station. I snapped a picture of it.

police van

Police van in a disabled bay

As soon as I had taken a shot, PC Smith (40144) came out from the train station and asked to speak with me. She asked why I’d taken a photo of her van. I told her that it was parked in a disabled bay. She told me that she’d been called because a woman was self-harming on the station and that was the only place she could park.

Fair enough, I said. Then a funny thing happened. She asked me to delete the photo.

To my mind there are only two logical reasons she could have for wanting me to delete the photo.

  1. She genuinely thought that the photograph was likely to be useful in the preparation of a crime.
  2. She had committed an offence and didn’t want there to be any evidence.

I asked her why she wanted the photo to be deleted, she told me that “in the current climate” the police had been asked to stop people from taking photos of sensitive buildings and of the police.

That isn’t true – and I told her so.

She asked to take down my details.  I asked her why she wanted my details and whether I was obliged to give them.  At this point, I asked if I could record our conversation – she agreed.

I won’t post the video because, frankly, it makes both of us look like arses.  I’ve got shakey hands and a wobbly voice, she rings her sergeant and gets told she isn’t allowed to demand my details.  Neither of us are left exactly covered in glory.

She was told by her superior that she could take down a description of me. I told her that asking to delete photos was silly because they can be easily undeleted. I also thanked her for not escalating the situation. I left.  As I left, I allowed my phone to post the photo I’d taken to twitpic.

There are several interesting points

  • Police still believe – or are still being told – that people aren’t allowed to photograph “sensitive” subjects.
  • Police are still asking for the destruction of private property (photographs). Know your photographic rights.
  • Many people still don’t understand that digital images live forever – whether on the Internet or as fragments on a memory card.
  • Police still use common sense and are willing to listen if you put your case politely and firmly.  That’s very reassuring.

I want to make it quite clear that I have no reason to disbelieve PC Smith when she said that she was attending a genuine call.  I’m not going to pursue the parking in a disabled bay matter any further. I am going to pursue the matter of the advice my local police force are given regarding the photography of them and their vehicles.

Remember, if you are taking photos that you think are genuinely important – upload them as soon as possible from your camera. If you’re asked to delete a photo – it may be wise to do so;photos can be easily recovered.

Many thanks for all the retweets – it’s good to know that I’m not alone in thinking that this is a farcical situation.


People retweeting my photo

Edit: Thanks for all your kind words and also to Boing Boing for picking this up.


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Posted on June 18, 2009, in Big Brother, Police State, Science & Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The officer was responding to an emergency that had been resolved before the conversation, so the van was necessarily parked in a disabled bay. But, as clearly stated, this is not the real issue here. The officer was not justified in asking for the photo to be deleted and it’s right for you to draw attention to this.

    Interacting with private photographers or the media is not something police officers do on a regular basis, which means mistakes are sometimes made. In this case, the officer was quite new to the force and had not come across such a situation before. That said, this is not the first time the issue has been raised and it is something Surrey Police has already started addressing.

    We provide media awareness training to most front-line officers. In the future these sessions will make clearer the wide rights photographers have to record police activity, provided cordons are not crossed. We will also soon be distributing a short booklet of media advice, which includes information on photographers’ rights.

    Thank-you to the photographer for responding politely and explaining your objections logically to the officer. It’s good to note that the situation was resolved using common-sense after discussion with the supervisor.

    Surrey Police

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