Police Surveillance at Demonstrations

The Guardian newspaper has released some footage that it has obtained from police who monitored the climate camp protest in Kent last year as part of an investigation into police surveillance.

The footage, and the report that accompanies it are quite worrying.  The Guardian’s investigation has revealed a number of worrying practices that police have when they are policing people exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms.  These are:

  • Police overly filming legitimate journalists present to report upon the demonstration taking place.  Freedom of the press is a fundamental civil liberty that is important in a democracy.  Journalists must be allowed to go about their business without interference so that they can report on what is happening.  As soon as you censor the press you are preventing the press from reporting upon things, which is essential in a democracy.  This can lead to an ultimate ban on the reporting of anything that is not favourable to the Government (in an extreme case)
  • Police are holding footage for up to seven years that they have gathered at protests and demonstrations.  There would be nothing wrong with this if the footage was depicting people violating the law (such as committing criminal damage, assaulting someone or causing a breach of the peace).  However, much of the footage (such the stuff released by the guardian) does not show people breaking the law, but merely exercising their democratic rights in a peaceful and law abiding way.
  • Police are sharing “intelligence” amongst each other on people who have not broken the law.  They are passing on details of which political organisations people belong to (which would be fine if the organisation was proscribed and was dangerous, but they are not) and which previous protests people have attended.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d have no problem with police sharing intelligence on the few who turn up to these protests with a chip on their shoulder the size of the universe and generally cause trouble (like they do with football hooligans etc.).  But, not on someone who regularly attends demonstrations and acts in a responsible and lawful way.  That is just a out and out violation of that persons right to privacy.
  • The police are holding the private details of individuals who have attended protests on databases (the Met hold these details on Crimint – a database access by police across England and Wales on a daily basis).  Again, fair enough if these individuals were causing trouble (and by trouble I mean violating just laws and not just causing a headache for the Government because they are preventing them from bringing in draconian or damaging laws)

Liberty, an organisation that I am a member of, is in the middle of a Judicial Review in the Court of Appeal just now on the use of police surveillance in the Court of Appeal.  However, it appears that the police have neglected to inform the court that they are transferring these details (and in some cases the actual footage) to databases.

I really do urge you to view the footage and read the report that goes along with it.  It has made my blood boil!