Defeat the National Security Bill!

PHOTOGRAPHING any scene that includes a military base or Ministry of Defence building - or even looking these up on Google Street View - may lead to six months in prison or an unlimited fine. That would be one effect of a Bill now before Parliament - the National Security Bill - in its current form.

Official Secrets Act signage

Cold War-era warning of the risk of prosecution for entering a military base, under the current Official Secrets Act. This sign is at the former Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Orford Ness, now a National Trust nature reserve.

LFB's own Duncan Campbell - known for his exposé of the UK's Zircon spy satellite programme - alerted London Freelance Branch to this at its July meeting. Sections 4 and 5 of the National Security Bill deal with "prohibited places" and create crimes for which there is no possibility of a defence in law. Duncan told the meeting that photography of any scene that has anything to do with "defence" would be a crime under Section 5.

He gave examples of a journalist filming a demonstration outside a military facility; or photographing military coffins coming home to Brize Norton; or the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall in the background of a shot. The Bill defines military vehicles as "prohibited places", so photography of any military convoy would be illegal. Were a police officer to take a dislike to a photojournalist at work outside a military facility, they could arrest them at will.

It gets worse. "Inspecting a prohibited place" includes "taking, or procuring the taking of, photographs, videos or other recordings of the prohibited place," inclining "by electronic or remote means". So even looking up images of a "prohibited" location on the internet is an offence.There are six month sentences or unlimited fines for doing so.

Some of the worst proposals originally in the National Security Bill have already been ditched. But Duncan notes that in its first and second readings in the House of Commons "nobody raised an eyebrow on either side of the House" about Clause 5 and its "clear and present danger to investigative and photographic journalism".

The Bill is now in Commons Committee stage, before, Duncan notes, some "sensible" MPs. The are sessions on the Bill through July and then over three days in early September after Parliament returns from recess. So there is still an opportunity to write to MPs urging that its clauses on "prohibited places" be removed or amended. Tim Dawson, for the NUJ's National Executive Council, offered to approach the NUJ Parliamentary Group of sympathetic MPs.