Anti-terrorism laws - a deadly dagger pointed at media

Ken Lui - Executive Committee Member

[Mar 2012 - The Journalist] It is not unusual for journalists to encounter opposition on the job. The overseas media have had similar problems. The UK's anti-terrorism legislations have turned out to be a Sword of Damocles hanging over the media. Under these laws, the police are empowered to carry out body search in areas defined as having a potential for terrorist activities. The police can inspect photographs taken by anyone in the area, and no image once taken can be erased.

There have been disputes over these laws since they were introduced. In 2008, a man in Portsmouth drew out his phone to video some police movement on the street as he suspected them of illegal parking at a bus stop. A policeman questioned the man, quoting powers given by the anti-terrorism laws. In the same year, a freelance photographer who was shooting pre-wedding photographs outside London's Heathrow Airport was detained by the police for 45 minutes on the basis of these laws.

Under strong criticism in Britain, police have issued a detailed enforcement guide. This new guide states that photo-shoots will not be banned even in areas of potential terrorism risks. But if the police suspect that any images are related to spying activities, policemen are empowered to inspect images shot by the device owner to judge whether he is contributing to any terrorism activities.

The tools, including a camera or phone, can be taken away by the police as evidence if deemed necessary, but the law enforcers cannot delete any pictures on the device. Information such as emails and messages are prohibited to be read and subtracted even if the device is submitted as evidence.