The Guardian has investigated the police’s forward intelligence teams, which compile intelligence against everyone who attends any political protest in this country, and have made an alarming (if unsurprising) discovery. Their very existence is to pre-criminalise protesters, journalists and photographers whom the police just don’t like, and now they’re setting up a database with the information:
Photographs, names and video footage of people attending protests are routinely obtained by surveillance units and stored on an “intelligence system”. The Metropolitan police, which has pioneered surveillance at demonstrations and advises other forces on the tactic, stores details of protesters on Crimint, the general database used daily by all police staff to catalogue criminal intelligence. It lists campaigners by name, allowing police to search which demonstrations or political meetings individuals have attended.
Disclosures through the Freedom of Information Act, court testimony, an interview with a senior Met officer and police surveillance footage obtained by the Guardian have established that private information about activists gathered through surveillance is being stored without the knowledge of the people monitored.
Remember this isn’t as the result of any legislation, this is (as with the Damian Green affair) the police making decisions outside of the law, and ignoring human rights as if they don’t matter. We know from the experience of the Kingsnorth climate camp protest last summer that if the police are allowed to abuse protesters they invariably do, and lie to justify the actions they take. How can they be allowed to set up a database which enables them to continue this abuse? Liberty believes their action is illegal under the Human Rights Act:
Corinna Ferguson, Liberty’s legal officer, said: “A searchable database containing photographs of people who are not even suspected of criminal activity may well violate privacy rights under article 8 of the Human Rights Act. It is particularly worrying if peaceful protesters are being singled out for surveillance.”
I couldn’t agree more. If I peacefully attend a peaceful political demonstration, it should be unthinkable that the police could actually be conspiring against me. Yet that is exactly what they are doing. In explanation of the database, Superintendant David Hartshorn of the Metropolitan Police said:
“people we have seen on a regular basis involved but may not have been charged or arrested” were also stored on the database. He added that the data was reviewed every year. “In relation to what we can keep on databases, we are governed quite strictly on that. Obviously you’ve got the Data Protection Act but also, in terms of intelligence, we have to justify what we are able to keep.“
To whom? One another? Parliament? The authoritarian government? How likely are they to intervene willingly when they admit they’re already trying to share our private information across government bureaux and departments without our consent? This petty (and ultimately ineffective) authoritarianism has no doubt yet again to be challenged in the European Court, leading again to the strange (and offensive) spectacle of the government which introduced the Human Rights Act being prosecuted for breaching it. Meanwhile we continue our lazy drift into a police state.