Greetings, any time travellers who’ve accidentally crash-landed in the present. If you’ve come from ten years ago, say, you really have my sympathy. You may find some things are a bit of shock. I bet this little story will come as a surprise, for a start, but this is just one of the subtle but wonderful improvements we’ve made to your superficially identical world.
Labour MP Austin Mitchell has tabled a Parliamentary motion in support of photographers’ rights.
As a time traveller, you may have idly wondered about the elongated metal rectangles and darkened globes that you see everywhere. They are not uninspired art pieces. These are cameras. CCTV cameras. They don’t need any “rights” because they already have them all. (They are theoretically under the control of some data protection law that says you can have any footage of you but Dom Joly showed, on television last week, that you have a 0 out of 35 chance of getting it.)
It turns out that it’s only the meat-based photographers who are short of rights. The humanoids with visble cameras, with lenses and lens caps and a carrying strap and a bag full of odds and ends. These humanoids are increasingly being challenged for taking pictures. Camerabots are free to take pictures of whatever they want. I think it’s guaranteed in Asimov’s Forth Law of Robotics or something.
The BBC page mentions a photographer who was stopped from taking a picture of a soap star switching on Christmas lights. (I will pointedly not wonder why anyone wants a picture of a Y-list celeb showing that they are capable of operating an On switch.)
The 49-year-old started by firing off a few shots of the warm-up act on stage. But before the main attraction showed up, Mr Smith was challenged by a police officer who asked if he had a licence for the camera.
After explaining he didn’t need one, he was taken down a side-street for a formal “stop and search”, then asked to delete the photos and ordered not to take any more. (from the BBC)
A licence? To take pictures in public place? Where do we get these handy licences? I might need to pick one up when I get my next mp3-player operation licence and my permit to read on the bus.
Even Austin Mitchell has found that he’s been stopped from taking pictures:
Mr Mitchell, himself a keen photographer, was challenged twice, once by a lock-keeper while photographing a barge on the Leeds to Liverpool canal and once on the beach at Cleethorpes.
“There’s a general alarm about terrorism and about paedophiles, two heady cocktails, and police and PCSOs [police community support officers] and wardens and authorities generally seem to be worried about this.” (from the BBC)
The BBC shows a Metropolitan police poster that asks the public to be vigilant about people taking photographs. (I couldn’t find mention of it on their website.) Hmm, that will be people taking photographs in public in London. That was “London”:a popular (if sometimes inexplicably so) global tourist destination. Tourists: you know, the ones with the cameras.
And the shamelessnessness of constantly using the terrorist/paedophile-kneejerk-panic-effect to get us into line. Terrorists with any intelligence would take their pictures on a phone camera or a hidden camera. They wouldn’t walk round with a big obtrusively-lensed Nikon slung round their necks. And I suspect that there is nothing magic about photos for paedophiles, either. If they can see a kid in the street, they can see a kid in the street, whether or not they’ve taken their picture. Do kids magically become invisible to paedophiles when they aren’t in digital format?
*********Asides – related and random***************
1. In a charming irony, there is an incredibly expensive (£250 million, almost $500 million) and laughable plan to get all the Metropolitan police electronically tagged, like so many absconding juveniles. Who watches the watchers indeed? Well, you can watch them with a GPS but you’d better not take their pictures.
2. The Mr Smith story above reminds me of the orchestrated Daily Mail-style clamour for an extension of “stop and search” powers. This man was pulled out of a crowd and searched, apparently on the basis of being in possession of a photographic device with intent to use it.
It’s pretty obvious that Mr Smith didn’t look “a bit muslim” (unlike Jean Charles de Menezes) or the story might have been much worse. And just imagine what would have happened if he didn’t understand enough English to know that he was being “stopped and searched” so he’d just carried on taking pictures at will.
3. This blog gets many more hits when we don’t actually post. (That speaks volumes for the quality of the prose. Yes, I know.)