News from the world’s greatest surveillance state, the UK, a place where you can’t walk more than a few metres in most cities without being photographed by cameras run by the government and private corporations:

Photographers are being harrassed and intimidated by police and security guards, in defiance of the law, for innocently taking photos of public events.

Gosh, police and security guards over-stepping the bounds of what they are allowed to do? Whoever would have imagined that could happen?

The BBC reports:

Phil Smith thought ex-EastEnder Letitia Dean turning on the Christmas lights in Ipswich would make a good snap for his collection.

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.

A licence for a camera? A licence for a camera? As in, this cop thinks that you need government permission to own a camera. And I bet that he thinks “they hate our freedoms”.

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 take any more. So he slunk home with his camera.

Smith said that he was singled out because he had an actual camera with a flash, and that there were people taking photos with mobile phones and pocket cameras. Presumably terrorists don’t know how to use camera phones. I want to know what sort of a training system British cops go through that leads them to simultaneously display heavy-handed authoritarianism and the sheer incompetence by ignoring or not noticing all the other photographers.

British MP and amateur photographer Austin Mitchell isn’t amused, and has tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling on the police to “educate officers about photographers’ rights”:

“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.”

Another moral panic. Oh noes, he has a camera, he must be a terrorist, or a paedophile, or maybe a terrorist-paedophile!!!!! Panic!

Patrick from Making Light writes about a recent experience he had, and I’ve written about similar cases before.

There’s a deeper, more fundamental issue here. As Avram Grumer points out, the primary mission of authority is to preserve authority. In a story about abuse of power from Washington DC, he writes:

Even today, knowing that almost anyone could be holding a video camera and their actions could wind up on YouTube, cops will still bully and assault people for refusing to instantly defer to arbitrary authority. (That first video is a classic of the genre. The cop is a tubby man in a ridiculous uniform, riding around in a tiny vehicle that may as well be a clown car. His life as a cop isn’t turning out like it does in the movie and on TV, and he’s taking it out on anyone he can push around.)

Megan McArdle, another DC libertarian, picks up the story, and her comments section quickly fills with forelock-tuggers and knee-benders justifying the actions of the Park Police, even if they have to make up facts to do it. It’s practically a catalog of dishonest argumentation and propaganda. In fact, I think it’s useful to dissect the examples so that we can recognize them when we see similar arguments on the nation’s editorial pages.

I don’t believe that the constable who singled out Phil Smith and destroyed his property (his photos) was merely ignorant of the law. I don’t believe that he or her really, honestly, didn’t notice a crowd full of people taking photos on their cameras. I believe that (s)he knew exactly what he was doing: making himself feel big by singling out a single person and making their day miserable, just because he could.

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