Police have been forced to leap to the defence of a picture taken of the comedian Michael McIntyreby a helicopter team. Snapped while standing in a London street, the picture was posted on the National Police Air Service’s London twitter account. The caption read: “Whilst on tasking [sic] in central London this morning we spotted a certain energetic funny man … Can you guess who?”
The picture itself was taken by a surveillance camera positioned outside of the Global Radio offices in Leicester Square, and has raised the ire of several social media users. The image was quickly attacked as inappropriate with many calling into question the likelihood of Mr McIntyre’s permission being sought and referring to the photo as an abuse of the team’s surveillance powers.
As summed up by Edward Davie, a Labour councillor for Lambeth: “You do a great job but this is dodgy. Do you have permission to post pics of these people from a spy cam on Twitter?”
The helicopter surveillance which is use by the Metropolitan police is overseen by the National Police Air Service, which has regional bases positioned across the country. Supt Richard Watson, the ground operations director for the NPAS, stated that: “We are aware of the tweet and, as far as we are aware, it does not breach any data protection legislation. We feel however it was inappropriate and it has since been removed. We will be speaking to the person who posted the tweet.”
The aircraft employ a range of highly sophisticated digital cameras which are used to take high-resolution images for use in evidence or to provide officers with assistance while planning or conducting operations. These systems are also able to stream live footage back to command bases. It has been reported that planes fitted with equipment capable of intercepting phone calls are also frequently flown across London by the police.
Such a commanding network is impressive, but draws questions concerning legitimate usage, especially in situations such as this. Gerard Batten, aUkip MEP for London, spoke out against the photo by arguing that: “The photograph of Michael McIntyre by a police helicopter and its publishing online is a gross misuse of police power. It isn’t some private citizen taking a snap of a passing celebrity, this is the police, abusing their authority.”
As Mr Batten went on to say, “The implications for civil liberties raised by this are appalling to consider. This isn’t Hollywood, this is real life.”