Posts Tagged ‘counter-terrorism’

No Ordinary Park has Extraordinary Rules

October 1, 2014

No Ordinary Park

Did you know that London’s newest public park is actually private property? I discovered this on a sunny late September morning when I went to photograph the art installation Newton’s Cottage, a timber frame sheered in two halves by the Carpenters Road lock in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It is one of the recent art installations that have been commissioned for the Olympic Legacy Park. I live in Hackney, so the park has become an enjoyable place to cycle, a tranquil place to walk, and a wonderful place to swim in Zaha Hadid’s fabulous Aquatic Centre. For me taking photographs in the park is part of the enjoyment I would expect to get from this 560 acre parkland, with wildflower areas, waterside paths, climbing frames, cycle paths (although flawed), and a major road that bisects the park and speeds traffic to Westfield.

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Two cyclists approach on the left as I photographed Newton’s Cottage.

I set up my tripod and framed a shot of the installation about 9am. A few cyclists and a runner passed overhead on the pedestrian bridges, but there were few people around, so I enjoyed the tranquillity of the water, catching the reflections of the installation on the mirror panelled soffit of the bridge. I admired the gift that had been made available to London, and considered the future value of that legacy.
Two cyclists approached, one dressed in a hi-vi was a security guard from the park, the other a uniformed police officer. I bid them good morning. Their response was measured. I asked if I had done something wrong. I was told that this was private property and I needed a permit to take photographs with a tripod. I said that I thought the park was public property, as it is part of the Olympic legacy that London benefited from. The police officer informed me that it is owned by London Legacy Development Corporation, a private company, and one of the byelaws prohibits commercial photography. I pressed him as to who owned the company and he was uncertain, suggesting it was run privately for the Mayor of London. At which point he decided that was enough talk about the rights of public access to private spaces, and I could be removed by the park security if I continued to take photographs. The security officer said it was possible to obtain permission from LLDC via the website. He indicated that the ban on professional photography was to protect commercial interest. There was little point in extending what was an exchange based on ‘we don’t make the rules, just enforce them’. We said our goodbyes and I found a board with the byelaws printed on it, issued by London Borough of Tower Hamlets, but with no reference to photography. Dogs, fireworks and vehicular usage were addressed, but not photography. A visit to the security office, through the gate marked ‘Authorised Persons Only’. I enquired as to where the byelaws were that displayed that prohibited photography. A uniformed guard said that no notice is on display yet, and that is ‘…something we are addressing’. I asked what was the reason for prohibiting professionals from taking photographs. ‘We like to know who is taking photos in the park, as any images have to be approved by the LLDC media office. They can issue permits for photography and are very helpful. Once you have a permit, you’re able to take photographs.’ There was an indication that this was to stop hostile reconnaissance, which is absurd given that the whole site is on Google maps and it contains two architectural significant structures that draw tourists and architectural enthusiasts alike.
I can’t argue with the civil approach and manner of the security guard, nor the polite but determined way I was directed to the website, but I am infuriated that our new public park is not public, but private.
If you want to take photographs at the park, you need to give the London Legacy Development Corporation 5 days notice.

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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