Why are the police using surveillance on journalists?

Police should stop routine surveillance of reporters and photographers covering demonstrations in London, the National Union of Journalists has told Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear made the call in a letter to Smith after receiving complaints that journalists, particularly photographers, were facing what amounted to harassment by members of the Metropolitan Police Forward Intelligence Team (FIT).

Dear said the NUJ had serious concerns about the FIT's activities in monitoring and recording the activities of bona fide journalists, especially photographers.

"A number of members have alleged that the police's surveillance action amounts to virtual harassment and is a serious threat to their right to carry out their lawful employment," he said.

The FIT had a responsibility to provide intelligence to police on individuals who might be involved in public order issues, and people whose likenesses were kept by police were given four-figure Photographic Reference Numbers and held on a database.

Dear told the Home Secretary: "Recently, the FIT has started surveillance of Press-Card-carrying journalists who cover and report on protests of any kind. For example, at a recent lobby against the SOCPA restrictions on protests on 1 March - all members of the press present were catalogued by the FIT team."

A number of journalists - mostly photographers - had been "victims of this intimidatory policing", Mr Dear said, adding: "Despite repeated requests there has been no legitimate reason given why police photographers should be photographically cataloguing journalists going about their lawful business."

He asked the Home Secretary:

  • Was the FIT team given instructions to photograph and catalogue journalists?
  • Could she provide guidelines issued to FIT Team members about their duties/role?
  • For what purpose was information the FIT gathered on journalists held by the police?
  • Who had access to information about journalists which was held on police databases?

Dear added: "The routine and deliberate targeting of photographers and other journalists by the Forward Intelligence Team undermines media freedom and can serve to intimidate photographers trying to carry out their lawful work. The rights of photographers to work free from threat, harassment and intimidation must be upheld."

Dear's protest follows the case in late May in which a High Court judge rejected a claim by an arms trade activist that police were breaching his right to privacy by photographing him at a protest.

Andrew Wood, from Oxford, had sought judicial review of police actions, a declaration that officers breached his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, an order for the destruction of any photographs taken of him, and a declaration that the Metropolitan Police policy of photographing people at political protests and demonstrations was unlawful.

But Mr Justice McCombe held that the police had acted lawfully, and that any breach of Mr Wood's right to respect for privacy under Article 8 of the Convention was lawful and proportionate.

Wood has said he intends to appeal.

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