Police tactics seek to ‘intimidate people and prevent lawful dissent’

By Linda Catt |

It comes as no surprise to me to read that “Police are targeting thousands of political campaigners in surveillance operations and storing their details on a database for at least seven years” (Revealed: police databank on thousands of protesters, 7 March). As a regular protester, I have long decried to a seemingly deaf world the ham-fisted and sinister surveillance techniques described in your article, even ensuring that my comments are recorded by police cameras.

So while I am pleased to read that “Liberty, the human rights group, is challenging the police surveillance tactics in a judicial review at the court of appeal”, this action is long overdue.

You say that “Overt surveillance by police forward intelligence teams (FITs) or evidence gatherers (EGs) is designed to record potential criminal activity and gather useful intelligence.” But to me it seems clear that it is designed to intimidate people and prevent lawful dissent.

While these techniques were “Pioneered by the Met’s public order branch in the late 1990s”, Sussex police have also made great efforts to advance them, particularly against the people who protest against the US defence company ITT/EDO in Brighton. Through determined perseverance, I have had complaints about intrusive and prolonged filming by Sussex police EGs upheld, including when I was followed and filmed for two and a half hours during an anti-arms-trade march, even though my yellow tabard clearly indicated that I was a legal observer for the protest. This continued well after the march had ended, and even extended to waiting for me outside shops and a cafe.

When the boot is on the other foot however, it is another matter. Twice I have had a camera snatched from me by police officers when I tried to film their actions in public, with one officer even trying to delete the footage. Although an EG had filmed the latter, my Data Protection Act request for video footage could only uncover stills of everything but the offending moment. I was told that my next port of call would be the National Public Order Intelligence Unit in London, which in itself has sinister undertones.

I have already had an “of interest to public order unit” Sussex police marker placed against my vehicle on the Police National Computer for attending three peaceful and lawful protests outside ITT/EDO, resulting in a stop and search of my vehicle under the Terrorism Act 2000 in London in July 2005.

It therefore seems a logical development that the process of criminalising innocent protesters has been extended to secretly storing their data on Crimint, a database about criminal activity. Superintendent David Hartshorn asserts that the police, “in terms of intelligence, have to justify what we are able to keep”. But it would appear that this justification can be pretty flimsy when Hartshorn believes it is reasonable for people like me who have no criminal record to be kept on such databases because we are “seen on a regular basis” at demonstrations.

I have just reread the tiny printed flyer Sussex police rarely give out at demonstrations entitled “Why are you filming me?” Absent from the reasons stated – which it maintains are in compliance with privacy rights under the Human Rights Act – is the transfer of images to Crimint. I look forward to seeing the government account for this in court.