Home Secretary tells NUJ police surveillance of journalists is “operational decision”

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has responded to concerns raised by NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear about police surveillance of photographers by insisting that it is a matter for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Dear, who wrote to the Home Secretary after failing twice to receive a reply from the Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, has asked on whose authority members of the Forward Intelligence Team have been filming photographers and reporters during demonstrations and protests. Dear’s letter, dated 22 May, also asked who had access to the data that has been collected.

The Home Secretary said that the Government ‘greatly values the importance of the freedom of the press, and as such there is no legal restriction on photography in public places”.

No specific guidance has been given to FIT officers, the Home Secretary said.

But the letter allows that an operational decision ‘may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances”.

‘It is for the local chief constable, in the case of your letter, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force to decide how his or her officers and employees should best balance the rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the need for public protection,’Smith said.

Dear said he would wait for the outcome of a planned meeting with Tony McNulty, the Minister of State for policing, security and community safety before deciding whether to go back to the Commissioner.

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with the Government and will raise our serious concerns about the ongoing surveillance of journalists,” said Dear.

“Whilst it is ok for the government to say these are operational issues for the police we expect them to make it clear to the police that the routine surveillance of journalists is unacceptable and is an infringement of media freedom and are concerned that her comments appear to give a green light to police officers at a local level to impose their own unacceptable restrictions on the rights of photographers covering public events.”

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