Thursday, December 03, 2009

No Cameras Allowed

As the police state tightens its grip it even now takes on a very British hue. We aren't actually very good at dictatorship, remember Cromwell and the return of the monarchy not long after?

But not being able to take a photograph of a sunset over St Pauls, because of anti-terror legislation, has even stirred Matthew Parris. In the following piece in The Times he becomes, for the usual mild to bland Parris, animated to the extent of almost ranting, well a Parris style rant anyway:

Funny how the house rules of broadcasting and journalism insinuate themselves into our unconscious without our knowing it. Ours is the least “deconstructed” trade in Britain: you never let the pipes and girders, the stage props, lawyers and technical gadgetry show. Readers just see a finished newspaper, viewers a clean screen with sofas, trees and views of Big Ben. So when on Sunday I sat beside Mariella Frostrup on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One, and a professional photographer I know, Jeff Overs, strode in front of the cameras, photographic equipment round his neck, something jarred. Quick, Jeff’s gone berserk. Get him off.

But he’d been invited. He was there to describe an attempt by the Metropolitan Police to stop him photographing a sunset over St Paul’s Cathedral. The officer had been acting, she said, under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. She’d been stopping loads of people taking pictures that afternoon “and nobody’s complained”. I mentioned that I’d been moved on from among the pigeons in Trafalgar Square when recording (into something no bigger than a Dictaphone) for a radio programme about wild animals in London. Mariella said she thought it was sinister.

I think it’s worse than sinister. It’s plumb stupid. Is there anything you could call a presiding human intelligence at work in our counter-terrorism operations? Has nobody in the Met heard of Google Street View? Do senior officers talk to junior officers about priorities, and if so, do they think it likely that al-Qaeda would use operatives carrying professional photographic equipment, rather than disguised as tourists with mobile phones? Do they think that if an officer has reason to suspect someone of taking pictures for the purposes of terrorism, the appropriate response could ever be just to tell them to stop?

I discussed this next morning on BBC London radio, which had approached the Met to be told that such operations are carefully limited to “iconic sites and crowded places”, ie, where thousands of people have a good reason to take snapshots.

I have been trying hard to visualise an organisation composed of sentient individuals, in which these questions have not been asked. The attempt defeated me. I’m scared, Mariella, not because Big Brother is watching, but because Big Brother’s a noodle. Given the quality of our response, the untold story of our age is surely the incompetence of al-Qaeda.

The police state is actually scarier than Parris paints it. But I suspect that he represents the bland, touchy feely Conservatism that will see Dave Cameron becoming just an extension of the current Big Brother lovers in government. Moan about it over a G&T while turning a blind eye, as Gordon Brown has so expertly, to its ever more threatening intrusion into our lives.

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