Please note that the information on this website regarding photographers' rights and UK law must not be regarded as authoritative. It is written in general terms with a view to increasing general everyday understanding. However it is neither intended to provide authoritative advice nor to be used as guidance in specific cases. Anyone seeking authoritative advice regarding such matters, or anyone involved in a particular legal case, must seek the advice of a suitably qualified solicitor.
Section76 of The Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence (carrying a maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment) :
- to collect or possesses information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism; or
- to possess a document or record containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.
Legal provisions such as these are wide-ranging and open to interpretation. The normal burden of proof is also reversed so that an accused person must prove that they have a reasonable justification for being in possession of such information. Although it seems unlikely that a photographer behaving in a responsible manner in a public place could reasonably be accused of such as offence, the Act does specifically incorporate photography. Photographers who do not wish to be challenged should therefore act in a responsible manner, particularly at times of heightened risk.
The Official Secrets Act 1911 incorporates powers to declare any area a "prohibited place" where it is illegal to take photographs. Indeed, in such areas, it is an offence to collect, record, publish, or communicate to any other person, photographs or information which is calculated to be, or might be, or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy. Prohibited places normally include:
- Military establishments and facilities, munitions stores, aircraft and ships;
- Civil Aviation property and naval dockyards; and
- Telecommunications centres - such as telephone exchanges, telecommunication masts etc.
In summary, it seems that photographers are free to take photographs of military facilities from public places, but should do so in a responsible manner and in the knowledge that they may be challenged by civil or military police. Photography on military bases, perhaps undertaken during an open day or air display, is normally permitted but may be subject to limitations imposed by entry conditions or public notices. If in doubt, check with the relevant authorities.