I suppose that by now it should no longer be surprising to see yet another ridiculous criminal offence introduced, but this one did give me a bit of a shock. From today it is arguably illegal to take a photograph of a police officer.
Yet again, whilst our laws fail to properly clamp down on those openly preaching death and destruction to innocent, freedom-loving British people, the Government has chosen instead to infringe the freedoms of the law-abiding majority. There have for some time been problems in other countries with the police seeking to hid their identities and to prevent members of the public from photographing them, but recently similar practices have spread here.
As the article linked to above mentions, a number of press photographers have been ordered not to take pictures of officers, have had equipment seized or have even been detained under the terrorism act for the shocking offence of taking pictures of a wedding. In 2005, Austin Mitchell MP had his photos deleted after he dared to take pictures of his own party's - Labour - conference in Brighton!
This is not just an issue of heavy handed "counter-terrorism" legislation, it's about the accountability of a key public service: the police. Members of the public should have the right to observe just about any public servant going about their business of spending our money, and to hold them to account if they are doing wrong. That applies when one is talking about publishing the bonuses of council chief executives, or bailed out bank officials, and it should also apply to the right to take photographs of police officers.
In many ways, given that the police have the unusual status of being allowed to use force on members of the public in particular circumstances, it is even more essential that they are open to full scrutiny in the way that they exert those powers. Furthermore, their time, kit and training is all paid for by us taxpayers, so if they are abusing any of it we should have the right to gather evidence and pull them up. I'm going to take a photo of the next policeman I see, and I'll let you know what - if anything - happens.