Look at him, Minister Mitchell | Editorial

The commissioner of prisons initially called for the arrest of anyone recording videos of police officers on duty.

Now comes the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts who questions the legality of photographs taken of people in public places and asks the director of the public company CreativeTT to provide a Senate committee with a written brief on the law regarding the taking of photographs in a public place.

Keep in mind that Minister Randall Mitchell is not just a lawyer but a member of the Cabinet Legislative Review Committee and also enjoys substantial access to state legal resources. Presumably, therefore, in seeking legal advice from CreativeTT Director Dionne McNicol Stephenson during last Friday’s Special Senate Special Committee, Minister Mitchell was merely playing the virtual public gallery for reasons that are clean.

The short answer to his question is that there is no law prohibiting anyone from taking photos in a public space. It doesn’t matter if the person behind the camera is an amateur or a professional. Once in a public place, they are free to take photos and share as they wish. This freedom is tangentially circumscribed by existing laws against intrusion into private property, physical assault, blackmail, etc.

Additionally, the right to take and share photos does not extend to commercial events open to the public without permission from the producer, or to commissioned commercial photography. These are areas of intellectual property rights with which Minister Mitchell must surely be quite familiar.

What is concerning, however, is its questioning of photography in public places mixed with references to aggressive responses from police officers and individuals who do not want to have their picture taken in the street.

In the context of the Commissioner of Prisons’ recent call for the arrest of those who record videos of police officers on duty and record and share images of victims of crime, Minister Mitchell’s questioning of the legality taking photos in public spaces cannot be dismissed as a case of simple ignorance.

While we accept that the technology that has put cameras in everyone’s hands is often abused in gross, callous and nerve-wracking ways, we are also on our guard against authoritarian instincts that exploit public disgust to censor the public information.

One of the great things about communications technology, including camera technology, is that it has given the average person the tools to capture and share information. For us in the media, who cannot be everywhere at once, people who are citizens and attentive to developments in the public interest are an invaluable resource. Technology has also brought a whole new community of citizen journalists into the news sphere who add great value to the diverse interests and right to know of the public.

Any attempt to limit the freedom to take photos in public places while respecting the law as it currently exists must be opposed from the outset.

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