Arena hosting Games events in Greenwich defends security guards’ attempt to stop filming from public land
Media and civil liberties groups have expressed alarm after the managers of an Olympic venue pledged to intercept and question anyone seen photographing or filming the site, even from public land, and defended security guards who wrongly tried to invoke terrorist laws to prevent footage being shot of the arena.
The stance taken by the O2 in Greenwich, south-east London, which will host this summer’s basketball, wheelchair basketball, artistic gymnastic and trampoline events, highlights wider concerns that Olympic security operations could see photographers, film crews and even members of the public harassed for entirely legal activities.
John Toner from the National Union of Journalists said he would seek an urgent meeting with managers of the O2, saying their tactics had no basis in law. “I’m stunned, and what they say is utterly outrageous,” he said.
While there are strict photography rules inside Olympic venues and on many other private spaces, when standing on public land the press and public have a clear right to shoot still or moving images.
Ahead of the Games, police and the security industry have sought to train staff about this aspect of the law. There have nonetheless been a series of incidents in recent months in which photographers have been challenged while working on public land, especially in London.
As an experiment, the Guardian attempted to shoot video footage of the O2 arena from a public road on its southern edge, only a few minutes’ walk from the main entrance.
Very quickly the reporter was challenged by O2 security guards, who made a series of demands with no basis in law. They ordered that the filming stop – “We’ve requested you to not do it because we don’t like it” – and that they be shown any existing footage. Asked on what basis they could demand this, one replied: “It’s under the terrorist law. We are an Olympic venue.” Another added: “You have, for want of a better word, breached our security by videoing it [the O2].”
At one point they refused to allow the reporter to leave. One said: “It’s gone too far for that.”
Guards are entitled to challenge suspicious behaviour and call the police. However, they have no additional legal powers on public land. While such overreach is not uncommon it is often followed by a management apology.
An O2 spokesman defended the guards’ approach. He said: “On the basis that [the reporter was] filming areas of the O2 that are not usually of interest to the public, our security staff’s approach and handling of the situation was entirely appropriate.”
It was routine policy to intercept anyone filming the arena from public land, he added: “We work with the media and others to accommodate requests to film in and around the O2, which is situated on private property, but when we observe filming of the O2′s infrastructure and access points it is our policy to approach individuals so we can take the appropriate course of action.” The same policy was in force with people taking still photographs from public vantage points, he said.
The civil rights campaign group Liberty said it was alarmed. Its legal officer Corinna Ferguson, said: “There’s no power stopping a person taking photographs on public land, let alone to arrest them or seize property, without reasonable suspicion they’ve committed an offence. Police officers or security guards who get this wrong could well find themselves in trouble with the law.