Court rules against police precautionary surveillance
In another chapter in the current struggle over the means of visual representation, the UK Court of Appeal has made an important ruling that could affect the future of police surveillance tactics. In a case brought by anti-arms trade protestor, Andrew Wood (no relation!), the judges ruled that the Metropolitan Police should destroy photographs taken of Mr Wood at the AGM of giant dataveillance conglomerate, Reed Elsevier ( the BBC calls them a ‘publisher’ but that’s a rather archaic and inaccurate term for what Reed Elsevier does, which is to collect, analyse, organise and trade in personal and business data of all kinds). Reed Elsevier had been involved with running arms trade exhibitions through a subsidiary at the time.
The ruling argued that the police should not take and retain pictures of people who were not suspected of any current wrongdoing, but whom the police considered might do so in the future. According to the BBC, the Met had argued that its actions “were reasonable in helping officers to detect crimes that may have occurred in the past or may do so in the future.” But that is exactly the kind of blanket risk-management-based way of thinking that allows almost any preemptive or precautionary mass surveillance to be justified, and it is quite right that the Court should have ruled that it should be controlled. It is about time that a ruling like this was made.
The one cautionary note here is that the Met will be appealing this to the House of Lords, and no doubt beyond if that fails, so watch this space…