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UK police spying on activists… again

March 6, 2009

The Guardian has posted another worrying story (and an interesting video) on the routine police surveillance of environmental activists, most of whom have no connection to any criminal behaviour. The Metropolitan police, who have always been in the forefront of efforts to try to portray political activists as actual or potential criminals, is collecting storing and sharing information, including many private personal details, on activists using Crimint, the national criminal intelligence system. The data includes activists “seen on a regular basis” as well as less frequent activists, regardless of arrests or convictions, their names, political associations and photographs. This information is being shared between police forces to build up more complete portraits of political activity nationwide.

The human rights group, Liberty, is challenging this data collection and sharing on the grounds that it breaches Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. My view is that it almost certainly does, and that the Met are unlikely to care. They are not generally known for their respect for the political rights of British citizens indeed one of their original purposes was to crack down on political dissent back in the Nineteenth Century and they have always maintained this role. They operate the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) which is also involve in spreading disinformation on political activists and their HQ at New Scotland Yard will apparently host the new privately-run ACPO Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU).

I have had my own personal experience of the Met’s way of dealing with activists and it is certainly not in any way respectful of anyone’s rights. It urgently needs to be brought under some proper control and accountability, and hopefully being found guilty of breaching Article 8 of the ECHR, if it happens, will be a good start.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen Eliot permalink
    March 7, 2009 12:31 pm

    “the new privately-run ACPO Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU).”

    It’s not new, the CIU has been in operation for ten years.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Public_Order_Intelligence_Unit for references.

  2. David permalink
    March 7, 2009 1:05 pm

    Thanks, Karen. The thing is that there is, so far as I can tell, no substantive evidence for this. The Wikipedia entry is not a reliable source. It merely quotes Seamus Milne’s comment of the 16th February in The Guardian, in which he says, and I quote:

    “The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) insists that its confidential intelligence unit – reported last week to be now coordinating surveillance and infiltration of “domestic extremists”, including anti-war protesters and strikers – is not in fact a new organisation, but has been part of its public order intelligence operations since 1999, liaising with MI5 and its 44 forces’ special branch outfits across the country.”

    However we don’t actually know whether this means that the CIU has been operating since 1999 or longer, whether it is a rebadging of an existing organisation, the product of an internal resuffling of responsibilities, or whether it is ‘new’. We do know that the National Public Order Intelligence Unit was set up then, but even this was a collection together of existing intelligence groups including those on animal rights protestors. We don’t actually know whether the CIU was part of this.

    However, besides the question of how ‘new’ this is (and I think I made it pretty clear that none of this is really very new in terms of policing in general), the important thing about these units is that they are run by a private organisation (ACPO) which has no accountability, yet it is being allowed to have offices within public buildings and have police officers seconded to it to run these groups.

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