The police shut down a 'guerilla' photography exhibition last night organised by I ‚ô• Street Photo to highlight concern about "ever-increasing government controls" over street photography and copyright controls.
A projector was set up on the pavement outside The Book Club in Shoreditch, where street photography documenting contemporary London life was displayed on a small portable screen. The 'guerilla' exhibition had been roaming London throughout the day, culminating in a final projection of photographs including shots taken during the screenings.
The irony of the police preventing a protest protecting photographers' rights was not lost on the crowd of photographers attending the event, who took photos of the officers who appeared on the scene. The photos of the police were displayed inside the club later on in the evening.
One professional photographer revealed to Counterfire that he had been detained under anti-terrorist laws for taking photographs near Norman Foster's Guerkin building.
Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) Guidelines brought in under section 51 of the Data Protection Act (1998) mean that photographers must ask permission of their subjects before taking their photographs in a public space.
Public documentary photography has a long and important history in documenting the ever-changing and varied city of London. Such measures are seen by some as tied in to the government's authoritarian anti-terrorist policies in the guise of protecting personal information.
Many photographers see the guidelines as a worrying extension of state control over information gathered in public spaces.
In a society in which the police routinely photograph members of the public on demonstrations and yet forbid photos to be taken of their own officers, such contradictions are becoming increasingly common.
Campaigns such as I ‚ô• Street Photo are rising up in protest.
Photographers' control over copyright for their images was also threatened by Clause 43 of the controversial and disproportionate Digital Economy Bill, which largely deals with internet file-sharing and has been pushed through parliament by secret lobbying from the music industry.
However, it was revealed during last night's event that the clause had been dropped as a result of heavy campaigning from photographers and I Love Street Photo. Activists were encouraged to write, email and phone their local MPs to pressure them to axe the clause.
Although photographers still have control over rights to their work, the troubling ICO guidelines are still in place and can result in detention and arrests with little or no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Events such as this which celebrate our freedoms and encourage campaigning against draconian legislation are an important first step in the fight for civil liberties.
Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner. His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.
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