Photography of Military Vehicles/Ships on Public vs Private Land (UK)

Is It Illegal to Take Photographs of Military Vehicles, Ships, etc?

Devon & Cornwall Police state:

It is not illegal to take photographs or video footage in public places unless it is for criminal or terrorist purposes.

They go on to state:

If a person is seen taking photos outside a police station/mosque/chemical factory/facility/military base then this should be reported to the police.

Can I Photograph Military Vehicles, Ships, etc. on/from Public Land?

Yes, providing:

  • There is no expectation of privacy; and
  • It is not doing being done for criminal or terrorist purposes.

Can I Photograph Military Vehicle, Ships, etc on/from Private Land?

Yes:

  • Subject to the landowners permission; and
  • It is not doing being done for criminal or terrorist purposes.

What About Expectation of Privacy?

Devon & Cornwall Police state:

Taking of a photo of a person where they can expect privacy (inside their home or garden) is likely to cause a breach of privacy laws. It would be appropriate and would avoid unnecessary complications if you ask the person for permission.

The taking of photographs of an individual without their consent is a civil matter.

What does the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) State?

The MOD, in answer to a freelance photographer on the matter, states:

The law as it stands, does not prevent someone from taking any pictures/video from public land of anything provided there is no expectation of privacy, such as taking pictures of the inside of a person’s home or garden which is likely to cause a breach of privacy laws. If pictures are being taken on/from private land then there is a requirement for the landowner’s permission to be given.

An Example of Contemporary Legislation

  • With regards to the Terrorism Act 2000, the Metropolitan Police has produced a summary of guidance which both professional and amateur photographers and video makers may find useful.
  • It outlines what police can and cannot do with regards pictures and videos, as well as the photographer/video maker.
  • The burden of proof lies with the defendant.

An Example of Historical Legislation

  • During World War I the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (DORA) became law on 08 August 1914, five days after the war began.
  • It was passed in order to:
    • Censor newspapers and correspondence to and from the trenches to maintain morale and keep troop movements secret.
    • The nation’s ports.
    • Subject civilians to the rule of military courts.
  • It was amended and extended six times during the course of the war:
    • 28 August 1914 by the Defence of the Realm (No. 2) Act 1914.
    • 27 November 1914 by the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation Act), 1914 (which repealed and replaced the previous Acts).
    • It was amended three times in 1915, by the Defence of the Realm (Amendment) Acts, 1915 (5 Geo. 5, cc. 34, 37), and (5 & 6 Geo. 5, c. 42).
  • It introduced a wide range of changes in society including prohibition, rationing, the introduction of British Summer Time and the widening of police powers.
  • It was even used to ban bonfires, whistling in the street and flying kites!
  • No-one was allowed to:
    • Talk about naval or military matters in public places.
    • Spread rumours about military matters.
    • Buy binoculars.
    • Take pictures of military vehicles, equipment, ships, etc.
    • Trespass on railway lines or bridges.
    • Melt down gold or silver.
    • Light bonfires or fireworks (were considered prone to possibly attracting enemy aircraft).
    • Give bread to horses or chickens (feeding wild animals was considered a waste of food, especially after rationing was introduced in 1918 near the end of the war).
    • Use invisible ink when writing abroad.
  • People who breached the regulations with intent to assist the enemy (or not) would have been sentenced to death.
    • 10 people were executed under the regulations.

Reference

FOI 2021/15662 dated 21 January 2022.

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