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Recently while flying into the UK at Stansted Airport, I took a picture of a sign in the arrivals area pre-customs clearance. (The context is that when I travel, I like to take pictures of signs that I find amusing. Weird hobby, I know.)

This act was noticed by a member of staff - not someone from airport security or police, but someone assisting a wheelchair-bound traveller - who chased after me and asked me to delete the image since "photography was not allowed within the airport". She even ensured it was deleted from the phone's "deleted images" folder to prevent recovery.

I complied at the time with this request since it was late and I didn't want an argument but it got me thinking: what photography rights do people legally have, without prior media clearance, at UK airports? And if yes, is this restricted to certain areas before/after security and customs clearance?

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    Low level airport staff generally have no idea what the rules are, and frankly I am annoyed on your behalf that a wheelchair contractor felt she/he was entitled to accost you. Photographs of the security area and the border area may attract attention, and the law here is probably not clarified on purpose. The airport is a private business, and the airport is therefore entitled to set rules about your use of a camera on its property. Photographs of your jet coming up to its parking gate, or your champagne flute in the lounge are, in some circles, not merely legal but de rigueur. – Calchas Jun 24 '17 at 23:30
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    Last time I flew from Heathrow, I helped a group of young swimmers with support staff, by taking 6 or 7 pictures of the entire group in the area past security. The whole session took several minutes, so a lot of staff must have seen it, and noone said anything, so I doubt there are any UK rules that forbid photography in airports. – Henrik Jun 25 '17 at 6:55
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    Photos of security or secure areas in some places in the UK is sometimes not permitted - for example you can't take pictures of CCTV placements in UK railway stations but usually photography there is fine. At UK airports I've seen specific signage in secure areas saying no photography plus Airports have special statuses and some things you'd normally be allowed to do fine in a public place may be restricted – RoguePlanetoid Jun 26 '17 at 9:59
  • I'm glad I'm not the only one with a hobby of taking pictures of amusing signs when I travel. I usually do a gallery of them when I get back. – Zach Lipton Jul 15 '17 at 19:59
  • This just happened in front of me at a queue in security at Manchester. The guys phone was grabbed off him and his other photos flicked through. Surely this is not ok. – James Sep 15 '18 at 16:51
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In the UK, the laws does not prevent photography from a public place. However, airports in the UK are private, either in full and/or on land which is considered private property. Consequently, most ban photography, particularly in secure or security areas. When not in a secure area, and when done for personal, not commercial use, it's generally accepted. Pre-Customs Arrivals areas generally have security restrictions on electronic devices and photography.

To to be clear, while you do not need a permit to shoot in public places, public is a loose term: all land in the UK is owned, even if it's accessible at all times. Transport facilities (train, tube, plane) are private and have rules about taking photos.

Where some get the notion that photography is barred is under the 2000 Terrorism Act, which added prohibitions on taking photographs in secure areas and of airport staff.

And the over-zealous individual had no authority to do so. Only the police can challenge you, as has been made very clear by the Met.

You can be stopped by security and asked not to take photos, and you can be removed from the property by them, but they cannot physically prevent you from taking pictures, nor can they take your equipment, look at your photos, delete (or force you to delete) any images.

  • So what's the worst that can happen if you take a photo and ignore all requests to delete them? Can you be banned from flying from that airport? And can you refuse deleting the photo if asked by a police officer? – JonathanReez Jul 15 '17 at 15:50
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    @JonathanReez the worst? Who's willing to test that? Sure, the airport has the authority to bar you. No, the police can't delete them, but they can arrest you for trespass, at best ruin your day, and haul you and your possessions to booking, where they take your possessions, humiliate and offend... at worst, courts, fees, huge aggro. – Giorgio Jul 15 '17 at 16:06
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    @JonathanReez And depending on the location and how the security people feel that day you may find yourself not arriving at your destination but instead arriving at your departure point. – Peter M Jul 16 '17 at 13:19
  • @PeterM not if you're an EU citizen... – JonathanReez Jul 16 '17 at 14:52
  • @JonathanReez Your comment has an expiry date! Counting down to Brexit – Peter M Jul 16 '17 at 14:59

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