Truth And Power

Del asks what I think about the current expansions of police powers to curb photography/journalism. And because Del is clever, she asked that I try and be balanced about it.

As is probably eyeball-searingly obvious, I am against it with the kind of incandescent rage I normally reserve for bigots, morons and people who attempt to take away my coffee. There are a lot of negative things I could say about America, but not matter what else they’ve done, they got one thing so, so right, and that’s their First Amendment. It doesn’t guarantee that the government won’t fuck with the freedom of the press, but it makes it quite a lot harder for them to do so.

We in Britain, of course, have had to make do with an implied constitution, as enumerated by the courts, based on case law and very old bits of paper. It’s a shaky thing, and does not stand up well to the government fucking with things. And so they have. And I’m not entirely at a loss to understand why they’ve given the police more and more power to curb my freedom to point a camera at whatever I damn well please.

Here’s a tedious truth: 90% of policemen are just doing their job. And 100% of policemen are only human. So, yeah, I am sure it’s a bit wearing to have some soap dodging hippy shouting at you and picking a fight, only to be pilloried in the court of public opinion when you chin the bastard. I even think there’s an argument to be made that people’s respect for the police diminishes when every minor infraction by every single officer is brought into the light, and that that’s corrosive on a number of levels. Don’t get me wrong: I have not suddenly become stupid or confused: the blame for said corrosion lies squarely with the officers who do these stupid things. But the fact remains: they are plastered everywhere, and it erodes the public’s faith in the police, most of whom are decent people trying to do a difficult job. And if it’s wearing to be shouted at by a hippy, how wearing must it be to be judged not by your own actions, but by the worst actions of one of your colleagues?

Do I think that any of this is even close to outweighing the need for a free press? Absolutely not. Do I think it’s outweighed by everyone’s right to broadly, do as they please as long they’re not hurting anyone. No. But I can understand why the police might wish not to be constantly under the lens – it makes an already shitty and difficult job 20 times more difficult.

The police have to be 100% accountable. It may make their jobs harder. It may it hard to get the right sort of people to sign up. There are answers to this, chiefly to do with raising the salary of officers. I do find it disturbing that I, who basically contribute nothing to society (other than paying my taxes) get paid nearly twice the starting salary for a police office. (Or ambulance worker, or fireman, or nurse or teacher or blah blah blah.)

But I’ve digressed a bit.

So: the police and photography. And the threat of terrorism.

Look, you’re all informed people. You all know how stupid this is. Teaching people that individuals with cameras are suspect is one of the most patently ridiculous things I’ve ever heard of, up there with “Jesus loves you” and “a watched pot never boils”. I have done science experiments, and I can confirm that a watched pot does indeed boil, and that Jesus only said he loved me to get me into bed.

But here’s the thing: the more the police misapply these powers, they more obviously ridiculous they’ll be seen to be. So take your camera with you everywhere, photography anything you watch to, and any time anyone hassles you about it, be polite and respectful, co-operate fully, make sure you get all the relevant paperwork, document it fully and publicly, and write to your MP about it. And tell Cory Doctorow.