John Catt “Domestic Extremism”, Privacy Rights and the Supreme Court Hearing

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copsphotosReport by Jag Bahra

Last week police appealed to the Supreme Court to attempt to overturn a previous ruling which had found their intelligence gathering practices unlawful. John Catt had regularly participated in Smash EDO demonstrations around Brighton and after filing a subject access request under the Data Protection Act discovered that detailed records of his activities over several years were recorded on the National Domestic Extremism Database, despite having no involvement in any criminal activity. The Court of Appeal had ruled in 2013 that this had amounted to a breach of Mr. Catt’s right to privacy under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Police lawyers made some fairly brazen arguments before the Supreme Court judges. They suggested that Mr Catt’s human rights were not engaged as he had no reasonable expectation of privacy as he had chosen to demonstrate in public (this would entail a departure from decisions of the European Court of Human Rights which say that privacy rights are engaged wherever there is systematic processing of information by state authorities.) They also argued that there was no interference with Mr. Catt’s rights as the information had not been disclosed to anyone. It was suggested that due to the inherently broad nature of intelligence gathering it would be impossible to ‘weed out’ the irrelevant records relating to Mr Catt - this in spite of the fact that there has recently been a ‘bonfire’ of thousands of records from the database. Most bizarrely, police lawyers claimed in the closing stages of the hearing that there is in fact no national domestic extremism database, despite having referred to it by that name themselves in earlier court hearings.

Judgment is expected in the new year and will set an important legal precedent on the retention of intelligence on protestors. For a legal background to the case see this article, and for summaries of live tweets throughout the hearing see here, here and here.

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