So, you're on the Glasgow subway with some friends and one of them does something cute or funny or otherwise worth recording for posterity. You take out your phone to capture the moment.....
What should happen next is....nothing. Life should go on as normal. However, if Strathclyde Partnership for Transport gets its way, new bye-laws could mean that you're on a slippery slope to a £1000 fine. The operator has put their new proposals out for consultation and they include the controversial clause 12.1:
Passengers must not take photographs, or make video audio or visual recordings on any part of the subway.There is a get out clause - but it involves you obtaining the written permission of SPT in advance. So much for spontaneity.
This brings to mind the situation under the last Labour Westminster Government when amateur photographers were apprehended by Police under the controversial Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. This report from the Independent summarises how people innocently taking photographs of public buildings, tourist attractions and even a fish and chip shop found themselves being stopped and searched. By and large, although the law applied in Scotland, it was largely ignored. I wrote in 2010 that while over 200,000 people had been stopped south of the border, only 79 searches had been recorded here.
I always tend to take the view that if an authority is given a power, it will use it.That's why we need to make sure that any powers they have are both necessary and proportionate. Why, then, do SPT want this photo ban? According to Amateur Photograper, SPT said:
Our company policy has always been that consent must be sought prior to any photography taking place, and this is in line with security restrictions at any major transport hub, including railway stations, airports etc.
It also allows us to ensure that any such activity does not disrupt the operations of the network in any way.How on earth the group of friends in my example could potentially disrupt the operation of the network in any way is beyond me.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was quick to condemn the proposals:
Whichever bright spark came up with this needs to be told to drop it. This kind of nonsense distracts from the real fight against crime and terrorism.On Twitter, Education Secretary Mike Russell described the plan as "Utterly daft."
We have seen what happened in the past under the old Labour government. People were arrested under terrorism laws for wearing t-shirts lampooning Tony Blair or for shouting ‘nonsense’ at a conference. Strathclyde needs some strong liberal voices to shout ‘nonsense’ at this plan.
It doesn't have to be this way
Happily, there is something we can do about this. If you agree with me and the many others on Twitter yesterday who thought the proposal is a piece of nonsense, you can respond to the consultation on it and the rest of the bye-laws by 15th June.
The photography ban is only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the other proposed bye-laws, also carrying a potential £1000 fine for their breach, are equally questionable. Failing to report lost property to a member of staff, singing, using musical equipment in a way which might annoy a reasonable person, being drunk (which isn't defined, but may well apply to a fair few people taking the subway home on a weekend night) or going the wrong way up or down an escalator all carry the same penalty. So does trying to get on a train before the last person has left and trying to jump the queue. These things can be rude, but deserving of a four figure fine?
Have a read of the proposed rules here and make sure you send your response to the consultation by 15th June. It needs to go to:
FAO: Joanne Gray
Glasgow Subway Byelaws Consultation
Transport Policy Directorate
Area 2 D North
or e-mail joanneDOTgrayATtransportscotlandDOTgsiDOTgovDOTuk
Such authoritarian proposals are crying out to have fun poked at them. A few of us were discussing on Twitter yesterday that we should encourage everyone to take as many photos as they can on the subway over the next few weeks and post them on Twitter, using #subwaysnapin. I've created a Facebook page as well. Be as creative as you can. Add in a campaign slogan or placard if you like, but let's show off a Glasgow institution at its best.