Thursday, September 11, 2008

Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff

Here is more evidence that the British have gone balmy, and that the traditional English values of privacy and personal autonomy are no longer being respected:

Park wardens have been ordered to stop and interrogate anyone who is not accompanied by children.

The visitors who are quizzed have to explain their presence and risk being thrown out or reported to police if their answers are not satisfactory.

The policy has been introduced at Telford Town Park in Shropshire. The council which manages the 420-acre area says it is a 'commonsense approach' aimed at safeguarding children.

This comes not long after news that photography hobbyists have been harassed and discouraged by British police.

From the Telegraph on August 17:
There is no law in this country that prevents people from taking photographs in public. None the less, Amateur Photographer magazine receives dozens of reports per month from readers who have been stopped and searched by police officers who seem to think otherwise. 'Sadly, many amateurs are not aware of their rights and are resigned to their fate,' says the magazine's news editor Chris Cheesman. 'Once they are stopped, and their name taken, the police have a record. And we only hear about those who are prepared to kick up a stink about it - there are sure to be many others that go unreported.'
The article, written by Sam Delaney and entitled "Has our increasingly paranoid society declared war on the humble 'weekend snapper'?" continues:
'The growing concern about paedophiles coupled with concerns about terrorism is a heady cocktail that makes police officers edgy,' says Labour MP Austin Mitchell - a keen photographer who was once stopped from taking pictures on a beach on the grounds that there were children present. 'I didn't see any children and none were in my pictures,' he says. 'In any case, they are the responsibility of their parents, not me.'

Mitchell has tabled an Early Day Motion condemning police actions against lawful photography in public places, and this summer he will lead a delegation of photographers and fellow MPs to the Home Office to demand greater clarification of the laws. 'We are watched by the state on CCTV more than ever and yet they are simultaneously stopping us from taking happy snaps on the street. It's a bit daft when they're trying to attract tourists to the country,' he says. 'I think it's part of a culture where people aren't allowed to do things unless they're specifically authorised to do so. I think it should be the other way round.'
The Telegraph's report reminded me of an experience in my own life.

About ten years ago, I was briefly detained by the personal police force of the Gabonese prime minister after I was observed taking photographs around Libreville. It was an intimidating situation, since my French is not very good and none of the police officers spoke English.

Luckily, my driver (a Nigerian) spoke better French than I did and explained that I was working for the President's daughter and chief of staff (the same person, actually). They weren't particularly impressed by that, since the PM and President were not exactly buddy-buddy.

I think they were looking for me to bribe myself out of the situation. (Arresting an American who was working for the President in advance of that year's elections would have been bad public relations, as even a low-level bureaucrat -- or cop -- could recognize.) Unfortunately for me, I was traveling with only a few dollars in cash, all in crinkly CFA francs.

Fortunately, however, they let me go after I opened up my camera and exposed the film, which I left with them. My driver was a successful mediator and, were it not for him, I might still be languishing in an equatorial jail cell. (I guess you can call me "Survivor: Gabon.")

The loss of the film was too bad, because I had got some great shots of, for instance, the petroleum ministry building, which had a huge, gold-leafed flame rising from the roof.

It turns out that taking pictures of public buildings and anywhere along the oceanfront in Gabon is illegal. I later got some surreptitious photos from inside the presidential palace, but not without a thorough scolding from the presidential aide who was leading us through the grounds.

It's hard to believe that British police are adopting the same techniques and practices as those thuggish Gabonese officers of the late 20th century. What is the world coming to? Whatever happened to Anglo-Saxon liberty?

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