(Pic: Lou Macnamara)
Time and again the state’s sense of entitlement to our personal information exceeds its own laws. I am appalled, but unsurprised to hear that during the Birmingham student demonstrations police held students hostage in kettles demanding their personal details and images under threat of arrest.
Last year I won my judicial review against the police, establishing in the High Court that police misuse of kettling for indiscriminate fishing expeditions is unlawful. In my own case I was kettled for several hours and not allowed to leave under threat of arrest until I gave personal details and complied with individual police filming. My successful judicial review challenged both the misuse of police powers for intelligence gathering as well as the state’s decision to retain my data and images. It is now beyond doubt that the police may NOT demand that protesters be individually filmed or their details taken as the price for leaving a kettle. I would urge anyone who witnessed or was engaged in the kettling or arrests at Birmingham to contact Green and Black Cross at: firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>
The purpose of intrusive police surveillance and intelligence gathering tactics is two-fold: firstly it is an attempt at intimidation and secondly it contributes to the maintenance of a vast police intelligence database. Very many people on the NDEU database will have no criminal record. Anyone may be considered a potential extremist who might dare to raise their voice in healthy dissent, whether at police acts of racism or oppression on student campuses or the treatment of grieving families of those killed whilst in police custody. Under such conditions we are all considered “fair game” and our identities and (however lawful) movements committed to the police database.
The student movement, by virtue of its demographics, is in large part an unknown quantity to the police. And regardless of all our rights to privacy and freedom of protest, it seems the police are incapable of remaining within the bounds of either basic decency, or indeed legality.
As well as mass kettling the police commonly use a number of intelligence gathering weapons against protesters. The mass arrests are themselves an effort to gain large amounts of data on protest attendees and commit them to police databases. At Cambridge University a student was able to film police attempts to coerce them into becoming a police informant. This means of gathering police intelligence is well known within the wider protest movement. http://netpol.org/2014/01/26/activist-accosted-by-counter-terror-police/
Police have also been known to infiltrate and monitor meetings of any group that tries to criticise their worst excesses. It was with some interest I noted that when I received my subject access request of the police database that along with my attendance at various public meetings, my time as speaker at the last Defend the Right to Protest National Conference was awarded its own page on the database! I attribute this as testimony to DtRTP’s legitimacy within the student movement and its determination to speak out against state oppression where other groups and student mechanisms have allowed themselves to become mollified or co-opted by the police or hijacked by careerist students with political aspirations.
Having watched the emergence of a beautiful and vital new student movement arise from the ashes of the triumphs and injustices of 2010, and having witnessed the joining up in struggles of those who study and those who work at university campuses, I am profoundly hopeful. The police do not target the student movement with oppressive intelligence gathering tactics because it is weak, but because it is strong. It has integrity and represents real opportunity for positive change. Through solidarity and determination it can win.
Read the judgement in Susannah’s case: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2013/1695.html
Read Netpol’s easy guide to making an access request of the police database: http://netpol.org/2013/11/21/subject-acccess-requests/