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Police Allegedly Threaten A UK Photographer With Seizure Of All His Computers (wordpress.com) 299

Andy Smith is a Scotland-based news photographer (and a long-time reader of Slashdot). He writes Recently the police wanted to seize some of my work photos to use as evidence in a prosecution... Rather than trying (and likely failing) to get a warrant to seize the photos, the prosecutor used a tactic that nobody had heard of before: He got a warrant to seize all of my cameras, computers, memory cards, etc, even though the photos were in a secure location, not at my home or in my possession. I was then given 24 hours to retrieve and hand over the photos, or the police would raid my home and take everything, effectively ending my career.
His blog post describes erasing every computer and memory card, though he believes the police only wanted the leverage that came from threatening to seize them. But the journalists' union advised him to surrender the photos, since otherwise his equipment could be held for over a year -- so he complied. "I regret my decision. Everyone on this side of the case has reassured me that it was the right thing to do, but it wasn't."

"As for the warrant, it remains active, with no time limit. I now conduct my work knowing that the police could raid my home at any time, without warning, and take everything."
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Police Allegedly Threaten A UK Photographer With Seizure Of All His Computers

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  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @11:38AM (#54018097)

    Preferably in a secure location, in a country where it's unlikely that some bully government can get their way.

    I suggest Iran.

    • by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @11:57AM (#54018181) Homepage
      You've completely missed the point. While the seizure of the images was an issue, the *real* issue was that they threatened to take away his tools of the trade if he didn't comply, and that the threat is still standing even though he *has* complied and provided them with copies. It's the next step down the slippery slope started with "provide your encyption keys, or we'll lock you up" that could be applied to people they suspected of a crime, only now it's "we think you might have some evidence, even though you didn't actually commit the crime, so hand it over or we'll put you out of work."

      Andy Smith might have saved himself a lot of pain, and you can't blame him for that, but he's also absolutely right in his final assessment that it wasn't the right thing to do; this tactic needs to be booted up to higher courts and stopped ASAP. Putting a *suspected* criminal on the spot like that is bad enough, but doing so to someone you *know* is innocent of the crime in question is completely and utterely unacceptable for any country that doesn't want to lay claim to being a police state.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 11, 2017 @01:23PM (#54018559)

        they threatened to take away his tools of the trade if he didn't comply, and that the threat is still standing even though he *has* complied

        this tactic needs to be booted up to higher courts and stopped ASAP

        So, you expect the same system that permitted this injustice to correct it? Not only that, you expect that same system to outlaw the injustice it committed? There's a dry laugh in my throat right now, filled with sarcasm.

        "we think you might have some evidence, even though you didn't actually commit the crime, so hand it over or we'll put you out of work."

        Putting a *suspected* criminal on the spot like that is bad enough, doing so to someone you *know* is innocent of the crime in question is completely and utterely unacceptable for any country that doesn't want to lay claim to being a police state.

        A government that makes the above demands, is a police state. If the police wield so much power, that they can end the livelihoods of completely innocent people for no more than failing to comply with their demands, (the forced password handover requirement made this a reality years ago), then it is a police state. You can't expect freedom or democracy to survive in that kind of environment. The only real power is the willingness of the thugs to permit it under such a system.

        So no,

        You've completely missed the point.

        • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

          The only exit is then to commit suicide in a spectacular way with a lot of spectators.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 11, 2017 @03:30PM (#54019145)

          So, you expect the same system that permitted this injustice to correct it? Not only that, you expect that same system to outlaw the injustice it committed? There's a dry laugh in my throat right now, filled with sarcasm.

          Yes, precisely because the system is supposed to function that way. Not in that an injustice is committed in the first place, of course. But the whole point of courts is to try to resolve injustices and the whole point of higher courts is to deal with injustices that lower courts bring for any number of reasons. If all of that fails, then either (1) you're simply in the wrong and don't realize it or (2) you're in a police state and the whole system of seeking justice is a farce.

          A government that makes the above demands, is a police state. If the police wield so much power, that they can end the livelihoods of completely innocent people for no more than failing to comply with their demands, (the forced password handover requirement made this a reality years ago), then it is a police state.

          The issue is that a lower court made a very, very bad decision to grant the warrant and should rightly be smacked down hard for it. However, the tools that the court allows (a broad warrant in collecting evidence for a crime) for the police are a necessary aspect of a justice system when dealing with things like criminal organizations. You seem to believe that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater because the system has failed in one instance.

          You can't expect freedom or democracy to survive in that kind of environment. The only real power is the willingness of the thugs to permit it under such a system.

          You'd be right if this warrant had been challenged and allowed to stand. Instead, we sadly have compliance to a request because the threat was too great to challenge. We need that when the person involved is a criminal and we need to collect evidence. We also need a means for people like this photographer to challenge unjust warrants. That's where there's a failing. It's not enough, though, to simply dismiss any hope of freedom or democracy because of this instance.

          PS - Meanwhile if we do have a clear police state, then, yea, perhaps the answer is suicide in a spectacular fashion as the other poster suggests. Although it hasn't done much to stop the Chinese in Tibet. :/

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Well, in any sane jurisdiction, both prosecutor and judge would go to jail for what they did.

        • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
          It would be up to the higher court to decide, but the UK's system definitely allows for judges in the lower court to be sanctioned although I have no idea what constraints there might be on the limits of those, or how they might be applied if they determined that this was a case of overreach or some such. There are also some specific rules and procedures for the legal system in Scotland, so things might be a little different in the first level of appeal than it might be in England and Wales, but do they sh
    • "RRB: Rothschild-Resistant Banking?"
  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @11:48AM (#54018145) Homepage Journal

    The US constitution (4th am.) would prevent this. So the cops would have taken them using civil forfeiture instead, sold them, and spent the dosh on hookers and blackjack.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Trump's rhetoric, which his followers lap up, is that the USA is now in an unprecedented state of emergency where Constitutional safeguards might have to be temporarily superseded to protect the American public from a vast assortment of Jihadis, bad hombres, and enemies of the American people (mainstream press) peddling lies and fake news. Until we have a better understanding of the the threats we're facing, i.e. as long as Trump wants.

      The travel ban was meant to be the start of that. I'm sure Trump is su

      • The funny thing is the conservatives were saying the same thing about Clinton in the late 1990s. Especially with the Y2K bug.

      • Holy shit, you people are insane in your cherry picking. It's no wonder you guys are resorting to burning down your local starbucks and pepper spraying women with "Make Bitcoin Great Again" hats.

        The 7 countries list was compiled by THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION and approved BY CONGRESS. Which includes... Democrats.

        So please explain how Obama and Democrats in Congress were apart of "Trump's plan" to destroy constitutional safeguards.

        Meanwhile, while don't we talk about Obama's war on journalists (demanding a jour

    • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @12:39PM (#54018349) Journal
      It is sad this story could similarly play out in most any Western democracy.

      The saddest part of this story is that it will get virtually no play in the free press compared to a police brutality issue, and the offense is equally egregious.

    • The US constitution (4th am.) would prevent this.

      Really? I think that depends on how you define "unreasonable" - or rather it depends on how a judge defines it and given what the US has been up do in recent years I would not trust a US judge's definition to match with mine.

      • by sconeu ( 64226 )

        US Warrants (in theory) also need to describe in detail what they're searching for with rationale.

        • In theory, yes. But police and prosecutors know which judge will be most sympathetic to them, and how to play the game of timings and procedures to make sure their warrant goes up before the right one.

    • The US constitution (4th am.) would prevent this. So the cops would have taken them using civil forfeiture instead, sold them, and spent the dosh on hookers and blackjack.

      "In fact, forget the blackjack!"

    • Because this is modded +5 insightful, I'll point out that it is incorrect. If the photographer refused to comply with a subpoena he could be jailed for contempt, and (I am guessing) a search warrant issued. But there is no suggestion that the computers or storage were the instrumentality of the crime, so even assuming corrupt police civil, forfeiture is not the path of least resistance for them to get what they want. Of course, it seems that the police chose not to issue a production order in this case,
    • by future assassin ( 639396 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @02:31PM (#54018879) Homepage

      In Canada especially in BC civil forfeiture is now being used as a punishment in some cases when the crown lost the case. Its sounds crazy but http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/... [www.cbc.ca] there are other cases and even judges has stated on record that what the Civil Forfeiture office is doing goes beyond the punishment but the judges are power less to over turn it.

    • If only the USA paid attention to the Constitution... Currently you have no rights to unreasonable search at a border, or within 200miles of one... (dont see that limitation mentioned in the constitution)... The NSA and CIA actively spy on US Citizens, as well as the DEA apparently... Police and Federal agencies using things such as Stingrays without a warrant... Trump is pissing all over the first amendment, along with things which forbid profiting from his connections as President... and that's just the t
  • This is normal. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @11:48AM (#54018147) Homepage

    Any time you deal with the cops, you've already lost. Hell, in some places in the US, they send kids to jail and then bill their parents for the jail stay when the kid is found innocent [washingtonpost.com]. And inner-city cops have a saying: "you can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride".

    Of course, if this were in the US, the police might just seize everything anyway, hold a trial against the property (instead of against the photographer) and then auction it off for profit.

    And the saddest part is, this is still well above average for a justice system.

  • Bottom line... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Saturday March 11, 2017 @11:51AM (#54018159)

    Was there ever a better incentive for a comprehensive off-site backup program?

    • Re:Bottom line... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @11:55AM (#54018173) Homepage Journal

      Actually, you know who needs this?

      The cops.

      If they're going to hold data-containing devices as evidence for up to a year, they'd better back them up. And once they have a disk image backup, there's no reason to hold onto the actual device, except as economic leverage on the suspect.

      • Re:Bottom line... (Score:4, Informative)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Saturday March 11, 2017 @01:57PM (#54018741) Homepage Journal

        In the UK there is no right to a speedy trial. Our legal system moves at glacial pace. There is a massive backlog of electronic equipment that they have taken but not yet examined, so it usually takes them many months or even years to get that far. There is no penalty for them taking a long time, and no way to force them to speed up.

        The fact that they just need a few photos relating to one incident is irrelevant. To preserve them as evidence they will have to do a forensic extraction that can't be questioned (e.g. photoshopping) in court. Typically they will also look for evidence of any other crimes, because there is always some. Even if it's just a dodgy banner in the browser cache somewhere, they like to throw a few random child porn or terrorism charges in too, as punishment.

        If they did take his stuff, I'd be amazed if he got it back within 2 years. When it does come back, they will probably have wiped it anyway and broken anything delicate like a camera, for which there is no penalty or compensation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      How would that help? He makes his living taking timely photos that are published in the local paper and then largely worthless. It's not about the loss of data, it's the loss of the equipment he needs to work.

      This has long been a problem in the UK. The police can easily get warrants that destroy you life, with no compensation or comeback if they turn out to be bogus, and the judiciary are far too often strongly biases in the police's favour.

      It's why we have so much police corruption here. Even when there is

    • Was there ever a better incentive for a comprehensive off-site backup program?

      Yes. There are much better incentives given that in this case it wouldn't have made even the slightest bit of difference.

  • Dicks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You can't beat yourself up for what dick heads do man. Just remember enforcement of law always comes down to someone holding a gun to your head. Its basically like you complied with a robber which is the smart thing to do so don't beat yourself up over your decision.

  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @12:08PM (#54018235) Journal
    From TFA:

    Two weeks ago a senior police officer at a road accident ordered me to stop recording audio and delete any video that Iâ(TM)d already shot. I didnâ(TM)t delete the video so the officer took my press ID card, recorded my details, and told me that my camera would be seized.

    Was this illegal activity that might have been captured on video, or was it some kind of security service activity that the authorities didn't want to see the light of day?

    • The police might just have a policy against letting people film car accidents - it's embarassing when that stuff ends up on youtube, and the number plates and faces are sensitive information. The officer wasn't going to let someone film police at work just because he was a journalist, and when a non-police-person ignored his polite request resorted to the default police tactic of heavy-handed intimidation.

  • Not unheard of (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 11, 2017 @12:36PM (#54018325)

    > Rather than trying (and likely failing) to get a warrant to seize the photos, the prosecutor used a tactic that nobody had heard of before: He got a warrant to seize all of my cameras, computers, memory cards, etc

    It's known as a writ of assistance and it was part of the reason why we sent a loud Fuck You to His Royal Majesty, by the Grace of God, Defender of the Faith, King George III.

  • by CrAlt ( 3208 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @12:56PM (#54018427) Homepage Journal

    From you blog...

    I'd just finished covering a trial at the local sheriff court when there was an altercation between people involved in the trial. I photographed the incident.

    Why not just PUBLISH the photos?
    It happened in the public court.
    Publishing would give the police, and everyone else access to what happened that day.

    As a reporter why would you take the photo's and then try and hide them? Did you maybe have an interest in protecting one of the parties involved?

    • You stopped reading at the end of that paragraph?

      "Doing so would have set a dangerous precedent and would compromise the impartiality of myself and the other press photographers who work at the court. It’s quite foreseeable that one photographer handing over photos would endanger all other photographers at the court as we may be perceived as informers or allies of the police."

      The photographers need to be seen as impartial observers, not collectors of evidence that can be used against people. That mean

      • by McFortner ( 881162 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @01:49PM (#54018699)

        You stopped reading at the end of that paragraph?

        "Doing so would have set a dangerous precedent and would compromise the impartiality of myself and the other press photographers who work at the court. It’s quite foreseeable that one photographer handing over photos would endanger all other photographers at the court as we may be perceived as informers or allies of the police."

        That doesn't hold up. Reporters are supposed to report on what happened truthfully, regardless of which side it favors. By refusing to publish and release these photos, he has biased himself and chosen a side. If it would have embarrassed the police and/or the court, would he have felt compelled to withhold it in order to be "impartial"? No, because that is what a reporter does. But that works both ways. He must report on what is favorable for them as well as what hurts them.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That doesn't hold up. Reporters are supposed to report on what happened truthfully, regardless of which side it favors. By refusing to publish and release these photos, he has biased himself and chosen a side.

          Reporters aren't firehoses. They don't list names and faces of everyone they see at rallies. They don't give the names and home address of the police officers. At some point, their job is to cover the story and that often involves leaving a lot of potentially embarrassing or abusable information.

          If

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      If the police had just kept quiet the photos might have been published. Depends on how graphic they were, and chances are only one in the series would have made it to print, maybe two on the web site.

      The problem was created by the police asking. Once the police ask a journalist for something, the journalist can't give it to them because it would make other people unwilling to trust the journalist. Imagine someone gave an interview on condition of anonymity, and the police forced the interviewer to give up t

    • The incident in the photos brought about the immediate collapse of a trial, and an arrest, potentially leading to another trial. Publishing the photos would have been contempt of court.

  • by McFortner ( 881162 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @01:42PM (#54018667)
    Something sounds fishy about this. I have a feeling we aren't getting the whole story out of this. Face it, human beings are by nature energy conserving (read lazy) and it would have been a lot easier to ask first, then get the production order. The press hands over photographs and videos to the police as evidence all the time without any problems. Why is it they are trying to make an example out of him? Or has it been he's been doing his best to make trouble for authorities and this is just a clever excuse? It's probably somewhere in between the two extremes, but how far one way or the other is going to be hard to determine with the limited, one sided information that his post gives out.

    Remember, understanding is a three edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth. (with apologies to JMS)
  • by darthsilun ( 3993753 ) on Saturday March 11, 2017 @02:00PM (#54018759)

    If the prosecution, i.e. Queens Counsel, in a criminal trial wants his photographs to use as evidence against someone else, I would expect them to subpoena them.

    What they don't do, AIUI, is have the police get a (search) warrant to search the home of an innocent third party. for "evidence".

    Maybe standards have slipped in the UK, but I really can't imagine a judge in Scotland approving such a warrant. Some other places in the world I can see it happening, but I wouldn't have thought in Scotland.

    But IANAL, not in Scotland, not anywhere. (Even though I play one on TV)

  • .....and of course the fox raided the chicken coop. Guard Dog=Citzens of the UK Fox=Your government
  • ........and of course the fox raided the chicken coop. Guard Dog=Citzens of the UK. Fox=Your government Chicken Coop=everything you hold dear, including your freedom
  • Sell all of your equipment. To a friend, to a family member etc. Sell it all, have everything in writing.

  • Another Glorious Triumph for the National Socialist Scottish Workers' Party and Police Scotland. All hail the victory of True Scottish National Socialism and the Almighty, 1000 year blockhouse blockhead Fuhrer, Mrs Rab C Nesbitt!

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