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Touring Britain bit by bit with a pair of boots, a few bicycles, a lot of trains and a bag of lenses. I take pictures and then I write about them.

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Sun, 4 Jul 2010

Victory Flashmob

Flashmob

The terrorists photographers gathered at New Scotland Yard today for a victory flashmob. (Not a protest those require a permission slip from the authorities these days.) They stood around outside (ironically, just in the shade, where it was difficult to get a nicely lit shot), talking and laughing, and intimidating the police with their threatening lenses. They were gloating.

Flashmob

Because on wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights refused the UK's application to appeal their finding in Gillan and Quinton v. UK, making binding the finding that anti-terrorism stop-and-search violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by the Convention on Human Rights. A succession of home secretaries and police throughout the ranks have been complicit in systematic intimidation, invasion of privacy, and the hindrance of thousands of people going about their jobs and hobbies and daily life.

Flashmob

The government has been found guilty of great evil: a creepy authoritarian disregard for human rights and individual privacy. And now they have to stop being evil, and we can all move on. But lets not forget in all of this that they have also been guilty of great stupidity: the stubborn pursuit of absurd policies in the face of all evidence and reason. Five years ago on wednesday, real terrorists killed 56 people in this city. And in response to such a serious and real threat the government and police have been pursuing the ludicrous policy of harassing the likes of street photographers. That's stupid and evil.

Flashmob

(Pictures taken with the Sigma 10-20; edited with some difficulty in RawStudio and gIMP on my slow 2 yr old netbook, because I haven't gotten round to replacing the broken motherboard in the desktop.)


[Tag] Tags: bad policies, events, london, new scotland yard, photographer not a terrorist, photography, politics, protests, sigma1020, stop and search, uk, westminster


Sun, 13 Jun 2010

Law In Action: Owning Your Image

In this week's Law In Action, Joshua Rozenberg looks at an assortment of issues around the law and photography -- starting with the issue of interference in citizens' rights to pursue their hobby of street photography without harassment. The opening sequence is of Rozenberg and Grant Smith (of getting arrested fame) getting hassled by a building manager who confidently tells them that they can't photograph her building without permission (clarifying, "you can't film inside this building", prompting the wonderful reply, "oh, am I inside your building, then?"), and that they wouldn't be able to photograph the street without clearing the data protection requirements.

My own office's manager signs off every email (invariably marked "Urgent", and with "Urgent" in the all-caps subject line -- "Urgent: The south toilets are closed for maintenance, please use the north toilets"; "Urgent: Please don't leave tea-spoons in the sink"...) with her name and letters -- the impressive title of "Member of the British Institute of Facilities Managers". The Institute's website offers courses in facilities management. I guess office managers can learn how to confidently and intimidatingly bullshit about the law; how to confidently project an absurdly inflated sense of the importance of their role; and how to confidently look busy with all kinds of invented official business.

Why do so many office managers think it's acceptable to make up absurd lies that not only insultingly insinuate that practitioners of another profession are too incompetent to discover and understand what the law says about their profession, but lies that also lead them to incorrectly accuse those professionals of acting illegally? Those are pretty serious insults, and pretty serious allegations. Why do office managers think it's part of their role to go around making them? Why do they think it's useful to anybody that they tell these lies? And why do they think that an acceptable response to being challenged and educated about how these are lies is to call in the police?

Because the police are still telling them that it's useful for them to do so. And they still haven't provided the slightest credible evidence to support that position. The police are actively encouraging office managers to waste police time. To waste time and public money that could be spent keeping London's streets safe from criminals and terrorists.

The programme moves on to discuss the use of photography and filming in surveillance. Do listen again, while you can -- link expires Thursday. Grant Smith's photos from his encounter are here.


[Tag] Tags: bad policies, grant smith, jobsworths, law, london, media, office managers, photographer not a terrorist, photography, police, politics, radio 4, reviews, stop and search


Mon, 18 Jan 2010

Tough on crime in fantasy land

Conspiracy theorists believe that there is a tall building somewhere in this photograph.

Conspiracy theorists believe that there is a tall building somewhere in this photograph.

I used to work on Cleveland Street in central London. Our next-door-neighbours at "The Tower, 60 Cleveland Street", were one British Telecom. Their offices were designed for some old fashioned method of telecommunications routing involving microwaves, and so it just happens to be one of the most distinctive -- most noticeable -- buildings in the country, being as it is, a narrow cylindrical building of 620 feet, covered in antennae and dishes, in an otherwise low-rise and conventional section of the centre of a major world city. Legend has it that, because of the potential military importance of the communications networks, the tower was only officially revealed to exist in 1993 by an MP responding to the persistent rumours -- conspiracy theories! -- that there might possibly be a large and unusual shaped top secret skyscraper somewhere in the vicinity of the Tottenham Court Road. These days, the tower is largely redundant: the idea of using microwave technology as the backbone to a communications network didn't really have time to catch on before fibre-optics became the in thing. These days, most of those antennae and dishes are decoration, unplugged and silent, protected from removal by a grade II listing. The building is nothing more than heritage. It just sits there looking pretty, counting down the days to the Olympic games in LED lights that can be seen from miles around.

At the same time as working in Cleveland Street, I was living in the shadow of another transmitter, the more mundane but equally difficult to miss Crystal Palace Transmitter, which rises 720ft above the chalk hills eight miles south of the city centre. Though only the second tallest structure in the capital, once its 360 foot base height is factored in, it becomes the highest, and is prominent on the horizon from around the city. It is the main transmitter of television and radio -- local and national, BBC and independent, analogue and digital -- for the whole city.

A stop and search what I got

In february 2008 I photographed the transmitter from the public park below it and was issued with a stop-and-search by the metropolitan police. A pair of officers drive a patrol car around Crystal Palace all day specifically for this purpose (at least, this was the case in 2008). I think they were probably just bored and wanted something to do -- somebody to talk to -- for five minutes. They explained the reason for their constant zealous and jealous vigilance: the transmitter hosts the emergency services radio system (I have subsequently been unable to verify this fact) and is known to be a terrorist target. One of the officers said, "nah, it's fine, just, like, you shouldn't put the photographs on the internet or whatever, cos they might be used by terrorists in planning an attack."

A picture what I took of the transmitter.

A picture what I took of the transmitter.

There are 418 flickr photographs tagged "Crystal Palace Transmitter", and approximately 38,000 google image hits, alongside the usual detailed Wikipedia article and fine google earth coverage. Its existence is not one of London's better kept secrets.

The point I want to make about all this is not about whether the things the policeman said are true or lawful, or to bitch about the general behaviour of individuals in the metropolitan police (these two might have been a bit dim, but they were perfectly nice), nor is it really about the need to stand-up for our civil liberties (you're familiar enough with that argument already). Because the idea of stopping and searching photographers in the name of keeping London safe fails at a much more fundamental level than the civil liberties argument: terrorists don't go around photographing the crystal palace transmitter. And piles of money -- our money -- are being spent to act upon the absurd idea that they do.

There are two main reasons why terrorists don't go around photographing the Crystal Palace transmitter -- apart from the fact that it's easier to look the photos up on Google Earth. Firstly, it's because terrorists aren't photographers. I don't simply mean that, like almost 100% of people, almost 100% photographers are not terrorists. I mean that terrorists aren't photographers. Perhaps in cheap TV dramas, where one can't illustrate that a character is shady by showing that he is thinking shady thoughts, terrorists go around with their expensive SLR equipment taking photographs of their targets. In the real world, they don't. When asked for evidence to support the efficacy of their activity, the best the police can do is point to one guy who went around filming stations with a phonecam and who was successfully prosecuted for, er, fraud and immigration offences. He could, perhaps, theoretically, be linked to terrorism, though, they say. And apparently that's good enough evidence for police in London.

Secondly, terrorists don't go around photographing the Crystal Palace transmitter because terrorists aren't interested in the Crystal Palace transmitter. Not unless they are shit terrorists. I'm not an expert on the way terrorists think, but I understand that Terrorism Studies 101 teaches that the goal of the terrorist is to make a scene: to get into the headlines and get into people's heads; to spread their message and to spread fear. Toppling a tower in a suburban park and depriving a few million people of Celebrity Big Brother for the five minutes that it takes the engineers to switch on the backup signals is somewhere down in the thousands on the list of the most effective ways one could achieve that goal. Toppling an iconic piece of architecture in a busy central business district -- even if the tower was functionally redundant -- would have a far higher impact. Which is exactly why terrorists did target the BT Tower: the IRA exploded a bomb there in 1971. But I never did get a stop-and-search on Cleveland Street.

Some of us still cling to the unfashionable idea that if one wants one's actions to be effective, they need to have some basis in reality and be informed by evidence about how the world works. The Home Office told us what they think of that idea back in October. If there's one thing the Home Office can be commended for, it's being consistent in ignoring the inconvenient complications of the real world as they instead throw our money away on absurd ineffective solutions to serious social and security problems.


[Tag] Tags: bad arguments, bad policies, london, photographer not a terrorist, photography, politics, stop and search


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