04 July 2008

An Invitation To Arbitrariness As Remedy For a Problem That Doesn't Exist

On independence day here in the former colonies it seems appropriate to call attention to this story from The British Journal of Photography about the new legal risks that whose engaging in photographic acts in the U.K. will incur. The British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said "as such there is no legal restriction on photography in public places" but in her next breath also announced that "Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation."* So, one wonders which side of the Minister's mouth we should listen to. Actually she is not contradicting herself. When local officers are authorized to substitute their judgment about who can photograph what or whom and when, we have neither freedom nor the rule of law, we have arbitrary restrictions. The Minister, therefore, is correct that this policy does not count as a legal restriction; it is an arbitrary pronouncement and all the more dangerous and difficult to justify for being so.

That said, this entire argument rests on a tenuous premise, namely that the task at hand is, as Secretary Smith puts it, how "best balance the rights to freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the need for public protection.' " As I noted here not long ago, reliable security experts (not just pinkos like me!) characterize the notion that terrorists or others go about photographing their targets as fantasy. The problem is that the Home Secretary has opened the door for local law enforcement officials to act on fantasies.
* Even if we wanted to countenance local restrictions, why is it left to law enforcement officials to define them? What happened to democracy? Where are local governments - those officials elected to make laws - in all this?

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Blogger mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

And let's also keep in mind that London is perhaps the most surveilled place on earth (the most security cameras in public places, that is).

08 July, 2008 01:07  

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