From the British Journal of Photography.
The Home Office has rejected a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the BJP regarding the disclosure of the list of all areas where police officers are authorised to stop-and-search photographers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
The controversial Act of Parliament, put into force in 2001, allows Chief Constables to request authorisation from the Home Secretary to define an area in which any constable in uniform is able to stop and search any person or vehicle for the prevention of acts of terrorism. The authorisation, which can be given orally, must be renewed every 28 days and only covers the areas specified in the Chief Constables’ requests.
While it is common knowledge that the entire City of London, at the behest of the Metropolitan Police, is covered by the legislation, it remains unclear which other areas in England and Wales have requested the stop-and-search powers.
After growing concerns from BJP readers, some of whom say they have been abusively stopped from taking pictures around the country, news editor Olivier Laurent filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Home Office on 24 April. The request asked for a ‘full list of all areas – in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – subject to Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 authorisations, which the Home Office has a statutory duty to be aware of.’
The request was rejected in late May on grounds of national security. ‘In relation to authorisations for England and Wales, I can confirm that the Home Office holds the information that you requested. I am, however, not obliged to disclose it to you,’ writes J Fanshaw of the Direct Communications Unit at the Home Office. ‘After careful consideration we have decided that this information is exempt from disclosure by virtue of Section 24(1) and Section 31(1)(a-c) of the Freedom of Information Act.’
‘Section 24(1) provides that information is exempt if required for the purposes of safeguarding National Security. Section 31(1)(a-c) provides that information is exempt if its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, or the administration of justice.’
The Home Office continues: ‘In considering the public interest factors in favour of disclosure of the information, we gave weight to the general public interest in transparency and openness. This was considered in balance with not disclosing the information due to law enforcement and National Security issues.’
According to the Home Office’s Direct Communications Unit, the disclosure of a Section 44 authorisation in a particular area is an operational matter for the police force covering that area. ‘The Home Office believes that as Section 44 authorisations are used with up to date intelligence, to make any specific authorisation public could inadvertently release sensitive information. A list of authorisations that are in place could also allow any terrorists to act outside of them…
Kafka, where are you when we need you?