Archive for the ‘Photography in public’ Category

Project Griffin and guidance for security personnel

November 8, 2011

Project Griffin Training Day October 2011

Project Griffin was formed in 2004 with constituents from the London Fire BrigadeLondon Ambulance ServiceCity of London PoliceCorporation of London and private security firms deployed in the City. Originally conceived by the City of London Police, it is now a national partnership and has been successfully exported to other countries.

Like many partnerships, it requires one party to be the leading initiator in the process, and in this case it is the City of London Police. Training days are held monthly at Wood Street Police Station. I attended as an observer, on behalf of the London Photographers Branch of the NUJ, and as a possible contributor to the training process.

The day began with an introduction to Project Griffin, and it wasn’t long before photography was mentioned, about 15 minutes into the session, and that came with the expression ‘Hostile Reconnaissance or innocent tourism?’

Special Branch officer gave an overview of the terrorist threat, from both domestic and international organizations as well individuals acting alone. The classification and assessment of the threat levels and the current threat level was addressed. The use of hostile reconnaissance as an important part of planning in a terrorist action was discussed.

In the event of an incident, the role of the security forces as support for the police was raised. This included deployment of security personnel to staff secondary cordons around an incident site, as directed by a police officer. The emphasis was on close working and cooperation with the police at all times.

An officer from Operation Fairway, an intelligence gathering operation co-ordinated by detectives based within the Counter Terrorism Command unit at New Scotland Yard. The operation’s remit is to detect, deter or disrupt terrorist activity. This involves enlisting additional ‘eyes and ears’ in support of the central government’s attempts to counter the threat, and Project Griffin dovetails neatly with this operation.

Hostile reconnaissance was covered in depth by Operation Fairway, and various types of reconnaissance were revealed. Despite the fact that the officer re-iterated that not all photography is hostile reconnaissance, it is one of the most manifest examples. It is hard not to think that guards leaving the training day will view photographers as potentially more suspicious than any other activity. However if the photographer is paying particular attention to control and security systems, ingress and egress routes, then a security guard ought to be suspicious, (unless the photographer has been commissioned by a company that supplies security systems).

Other possible indicators of hostile reconnaissance may include:

– making notes (something which photographers may do to record the position of the sun at a particular time of day),

– observation of security processes, entry points, perimeter barriers and reaction drills (though a photographer may be observing when a building is at its busiest to capture the buzz around the building)

– repeated walk-bys (again a possible research method used by a photographer to assess how the light falls most favourably on the structure)

– use of multiple sets of clothing

– type of equipment being used (eg covert filming using small device such as mobile phone)

– reaction when questioned (though the guard’s initial approach will tend to inform and influence this reaction)

– what images they are taking (though how this can be determined without looking through the images on playback is uncertain. In my experience guards usually stand aggressively in front of the lens, attempting to restrict further photography). Perhaps it may be more useful if the guard stood behind the photographer to see his or her perspective.

– Are the images to be found elsewhere? (ie are they easily available on Google Earth)

Any reports of hostile reconnaissance are investigated by Special Branch.

The typical response from many photographers when challenged taking photographs is to mention Google Earth and the visual information in that data bank. It was acknowledged that activists will probably use Google Earth to gather relevant data, and this is often followed up by a visit to the location.

It was also acknowledged that photography is not the only tactic used in hostile reconnaissance. Furthermore, someone taking photographs is not necessarily to be viewed as suspicious.

It is in this area that leads to some serious misunderstandings between photographers and security guards. It was emphasized that someone who is taking photographs is generally not suspicious, and certainly someone who is co-operative should not be considered as such. Guards were reminded that they had no power to demand deletion of images (if evidence of hostile reconnaissance is required, then this evidence would be vital), nor do they have the power to seize equipment. Though there is no law preventing photography, once a photographer questions the guards’ insistence that ‘photography is not permitted’, the suspicion of the guard is alerted. Common sense and discretion become rare, and very soon, terrorism and ‘the current climate’ is mentioned as the reason why photography is prohibited. The prohibition on photography becomes more confused and muddled, as happened in Braehead shopping mall in October.

The City of London is considered a ‘target-rich environment’ for many reasons. Any attack would be a ‘headline –grabbing’ event. Over 300,000 commuters travel to the City each day and the City is the financial engine room of Europe. It is also a tourist rich destination, with a tangible history of some 2000 years and will attract tourists and commuters alike.

The session was informative, and I was grateful to be invited to attend. I will also have the opportunity to participate in the training, giving the security industry an insight into photographers working methods when they photograph buildings, demonstrating that a photographer’s scrutiny of a building is for honest and straightforward purposes.

It would also be useful to convince security personnel to treat photographers less suspiciously and with more civility. There is good reason for photographers to do the same.

In the meantime the Home Office has produced guidelines for the security industry on how to approach photographers working in public.

Photography in Public and Security Guards

July 27, 2011

On Friday 15 July I  attended a meeting with the Home Office, senior police officers from counter terrorism and other photography groups to discuss guidance for security guards and how effective communication could be established between security industry and photographers.

The meeting followed a previous meeting in May 2011 which realised the following action plan:

–       circulate the statutory code of practice for s47a remedial order

–       set up meeting with police practitioners to discuss training given to security guards

–       to determine who is responsible for providing guidance to Olympic security guards, ensuring that it reflects concerns raised about photographers

–       liaise with wider Home Office colleagues about how messages on photography could be provided to and circulated by Security Industry Authority

Throughout this meeting the concerns and issues that were raised by image-makers were taken seriously, and I believe given due consideration by the delegates. There was universal recognition that there is a risk in challenging photographers, and I believe there is a commitment by the Home Office and the police practitioners to address these issues. If we are to progress these issues and effect any change in the policing methods of security guards, it is vital that photographers are involved in the training and briefing of security personnel.

I believed that all delegates recognised that our involvement in the training process will be positive and useful.

The meeting was opened by Rob Hunt (Office for Security & Counter-Terrorism, Home Office), addressing concerns photographers have regarding counter-terrorism measures, as they seemed to bear most of the negative aspects of this law. This government recognised that the balance between counter-terrorism and civil liberties had become skewed, and the government is trying to seek a better balance. However there are still legitimate security issues about hostile reconnaissance as an integral part of attack planning, and for this reason the ability to stop-and-search, after reasonable suspicion has been established, is still necessary. Hunt addressed the concerns raised about s47a in the PHNAT brochure (these concerns have also been published on LPB site), noting that the threshold is much higher, and s47a is a substantive change over s44. According to Hunt, no authorizations for s47a have been in place to date.  Hunt’s assured the delegates that there is no provision for stop-and-search without reasonable suspicion under s47a. The threshold is much higher, as a police officer requires reasonable suspicion that a terrorist attack is in preparation.

Hunt did concede that s43 may be used more frequently, but this would be monitored as a significant increase in usage of s43 would be of concern to the Home Office.

Against this background, the threat level has been downgraded, largely due to the fact that the public are more attuned to what the police need. Public awareness of terrorism is now very high.

A significant issue facing photographers now is the deployment of private security guards, acting on behalf of building owners, often citing redundant sections of the Terrorism Act to deter photographers from photographing. Training of security guards exists under Project Griffin, which is expanding and updated frequently. Project Griffin is an initiative coordinating resources of the police, emergency services, local authorities, business and the private sector security industry. Part of training of security under Project Griffin in recognising attack planning is the use of photography for hostile reconnaissance. This element is downplayed by the police during the training, and other elements such as enquiring about evacuation procedures, exit strategies, staff & vehicle movements are also mentioned. However since photography is the only visibly manifest element, it is the one that is targeted most significantly by security guards. It is worth noting that neither Security Industry Authority nor British Security Industry Association provide no specific hostile reconnaissance training. Part of the problem is that police can only give guidance, not directives and regulations to security companies. Police feedback to security personnel on their ‘policing’, though there is some doubt as to how robust this feedback is.

Some security personnel still operate under older training regimes that have not taken into account repeal of s44. Not all security companies invest in training and the transient nature of security industry employees makes up-to-date training difficult. Despite this the security industry is keen to take on more advice and become more professional.

While the public are srcutinised by security personnel and cameras, it is vital to remember that the public have every right to photograph in a public place, and that security guards have no powers whatsoever.

With that in mind, The London Street Photography Festival hosted a debate on ‘Why Does Street Photography Make Us Paranoid’ at Housmans Bookshop on 20 July. This was preceded by the film Stand Your Ground, in which six photographers were assigned to photograph buildings in the City of London from public spaces. All were challenged by security guards who tried to prevent photography of their buildings, maintaining that permission was needed. On three occasions the police arrived, who determined very quickly (and with good humour, civility and politeness), that the photographers were within their rights to photograph the buildings. The contrast between professional, trained law enforcers and the security personnel was revealing.

The debate, highlights which can be seen here, produced straight-forward answers from police and security, and a determination to work together and try to resolve this impasse between security and photographers. We must be aware of the increasing privatization of public space, which has provided a demand for private security guards. Given that private security has become a part of our public life, then our engagement with them as citizens should not be on the basis that we are suspicious (if we are taking photographs), nor worthy of any unwarranted interrogation and harassment.

© Grant Smith 2011