Why Section 76 should be repealed

You can no longer take a photograph of a police officer.

According to The Guardian:

Under section 76, eliciting, publishing or communicating information on members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers which is "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" will be an offence carrying a maximum jail term of 10 years.

Marc Vallee, a photojournalist who specialises in covering protests, said photographers were frequently harassed by police using stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The new powers would be too vague to prevent abuse.

First, let's get rid of the otiose reply from the Home Office in response to the criticism that photographers will be routinely harrassed:

"For an offence to be committed, the information would have to raise a reasonable suspicion that it was intended to be used to provide practical assistance to terrorists. Taking photographs of police officers would not, except in very exceptional circumstances, be caught by this offence"

Well then, what about Walter Wolfgang? Bundled out of the Labour Party Conference when he shouted "rubbish" during Jack Straw's speech defending the war in Iraq. Wolfgang, a Labour Party member for over 50 years, an escapee from Nazi Germany, later attempted to re-enter the conference, whereupon the police used powers under the terrorism act to prevent the 82 year-old from entering the building.

This is not a one off. The police do this sort of thing all the time, particularly when they don't want witnesses.

Gordon Brown talked about liberty in the early days; this is what Brown said declared in a speech of 25th October 2007:

* respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent;

* respecting freedom to organise and petition, new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations;

* respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to investigative journalism;

* respecting the public right to know, new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld;

* respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion;

* in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information;

* and respecting the need for freedom from arbitrary treatment, new provision for independent judicial scrutiny and open parliamentary oversight.

Of course, it was all meaningless rhetoric, but it demonstrates that to Brown, Black is White. It is stark evil propaganda.

The papers run a daily roster of stories about the restrictions on liberty since the Labour party gained power. They range from the Wolfgang affair, a one off, to the institutional snoopers charter known as RIPA.

In a democracy, public accountability is everything. We must not forget that the police and the security services are our servants. They are not there to protect themselves from scrutiny.

The question I ask about this latest erosion of liberty is this ( and I reprise it with delicious irony) If the police have nothing to hide, how could they object to being photographed?

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