By Peter Walker | Guardian.co.uk
Following complaints of over-zealous security ahead of the Olympics, the Guardian attempted to film the O2 arena in south-east London from a public pavement – something completely legal. Security guards arrived almost immediately. O2 managers later confirmed it has a policy of routinely intercepting anyone who photographs or films the venue, even 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."
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