Home Office insists secretive Prevent programme “cannot in any circumstances be considered frightening”
Imagine feeling you have to tell your children to avoid talking about fracking at school, in case it is seen as a safeguarding concern. Or experiencing a knock at your door from counter-terrorism police because your child has been involved in protests against fracking. Or officers visiting your home because you have simply been reporting on these protests.
Imagine staying silent in a Prevent training event when, surrounded by your work colleagues, a police officer mentions opposition to fracking as a potential risk factor for”domestic extremism” and asks if anyone has been involved in anti-fracking campaigns.
Imagine your local council has secretly labelled your campaign as having the “potential for community tension”. Or discovering your college has referred you to a programme designed to “identify and provide support to individuals who are at risk of being drawn into terrorism”.
Most people would find any of these situations terrifying and all have been experienced by campaigners against fracking in the UK.
However, as five separate police forces in the north west of England continue to refuse to say whether or not they are referring anti-fracking campaigners to a controversial Prevent counter-terrorism programme, the Home Office has brushed aside concerns about how individuals might feel about sudden accusations of association with extremism.
It insists this “cannot in any circumstances be considered frightening”.
The label “domestic extremist” exists to justify intrusive police surveillance on political campaigners
The glacially paced Undercover Policing Inquiry, set up in 2015 and still wading through demands by former police officers for anonymity, recently released a limited number of new cover names of members of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) who spied on campaigners during the late 1960s and the 1970s.
Many ex-SDS officers are now deceased, whilst few of the groups they targeted in this period and who are linked to the latest batch of cover names have existed for decades.
Although Mark Kennedy, the undercover officer whose exposure triggered the public inquiry, was active as recently as 2010, the continuous obstruction by the Metropolitan Police and a desire by the inquiry to obtain evidence before more elderly former officers die too has undoubtedly had an impact on public perceptions of this long-running scandal.
It has helped create the impression that political policing, surveillance operations and the disruption of campaigns were unfortunate methods from some distant past, the world of TV series like ‘Life on Mars’ when the police were notorious for corruption, fitting up suspects and endemic racism
We know, however, that police intelligence-gathering on the activities of protest movements in the UK continues to this day. We know too that he label of “domestic extremist” remains a critical justification for this surveillance, even though a credible definition robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny has proven elusive.
This is why, on Monday 5 February, we are marking the fifth annual “Domestic Extremist Awareness Day” with a call for a complete end to the application of this meaningless but sinister label against all legitimate political dissent.
In previous years, we demanded the abolition of the secretive national unit responsible for mass surveillance on political campaigns. Its existence has proven an increasing embarrassment to the Metropolitan Police and it was eventually consigned to history, although its functions were largely absorbed into the police’s national counter-terrorism structures.
The smearing of individuals and campaigns has, however, endured unabated: a regular feature of Prevent ‘counter-radicalisation’ workshops where causes that have no association with terrorism are portrayed in the most negative light.
The revelations that led to the Undercover Policing Inquiry demonstrated how unaccountable political policing has a tendency to elevate the hunt for so-called ‘extremists’ to the point of obsession.
Netpol argues that the police have no business conducting surveillance based solely on people’s political beliefs – and as a first step, we must consign “domestic extremism”, a term that has absolutely no legal basis, to history too.
Taking to the streets and expressing our dissent is a right we can take enormous pride in exercising. On Monday 5 February, we are therefore holding a pre-work protest outside the Metropolitan Police’s new headquarters on Victoria Embankment between 8am and 9am. It is close to Westminster tube station (see map).
We are then heading to the Royal Courts of Justice for the latest hearing of the he Undercover Policing Inquiry, starting at 10am.
Why not come and join us? For further details, see this Facebook event
If you cannot make it, we are asking campaigners to share photos of their protests, actions and assemblies on social media – making it clear the police must stop spying on us – with the hashtag #DomesticExtremist.
One of the UK’s smallest police forces, Durham Police, is reportedly gathering video captured by officers’ body worn cameras to create a ‘troublemakers’ database – contravening national guidance that officers should not use the technology as an ‘intelligence-gathering tool’.
Body Worn Video cameras, or ‘bodycams’ as they are more usually known, are now a global phenomenon. Most UK police forces use them routinely, as do forces in the US, Australia and Europe. Nor is it just the police that is using this technology: bodycams are routinely worn by bailiffs, security guards, even traffic wardens and council workers.
This is arguably one of the biggest single expansions of surveillance capacity since the introduction of CCTV, and one that is highly profitable for bodycam manufacturers such as Axon (formerly Taser International). Read more
The Information Commissioner, in rejecting an appeal by Netpol over the refusal of the police to release details of a programme to ‘deradicalise extremists’, has endorsed unfounded and unsubstantiated links between anti-fracking protests and the threat of terrorism.
In October 2015, we asked Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside police for details of referrals made in the prior ten months through Channel, a ‘counter radicalisation’ process that is part of the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent strategy. Channel supposedly offers voluntary support to people identified as “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” and although there are a number of agencies involved in it, the police play a central role in its delivery. Rather than overall statistics, we asked specifically for the number of individuals seen as allegedly at risk through their involvement in anti-fracking campaigns.
Our requests were the result of concerns raised with us by campaigners from the region who were angered that their opposition to fracking had been used as an excuse to refer them to Channel, in most cases by universities or further education colleges. All related to an alleged ‘risk’ to adults rather than children.
In a startling determination, the Information Commissioner has said:
Channel may be appropriate for anyone who is vulnerable to being drawn into any form of terrorism… It follows from this that, for a referral to be made to Channel, it must be suspected that an individual is at risk of becoming involved in terrorist related activity.
In effect, the Commissioner is insisting nobody is referred unless there is a good reason for doing so – even if this is for nothing more than expressing legitimate political opinions about fracking. Read more
Netpol has put together a new guide for activists on how to start resisting the government’s Prevent strategy at a local level
As part of our support for Together Against Prevent, the campaign tactic adopted by a growing number of organisations, this guide is intended to help activists to organise locally in order to resist the government’s draconian and discriminatory Prevent strategy.
This is a first version that we plan to extend as we discover new ideas for action – if you have any suggestions, contact us. The guide is also a Creative Commons document so please feel free to copy, adapt and expand on it. The text is set out below.
Government unveils new ‘counter-extremist’ bill – but still cannot define what extremism actually means
While most of the media insisting this week’s Queen’s Speech was largely overshadowed by the EU referendum, one new law proposed this week looks set to create even more controversy as existing ‘anti-radicalisation’ legislation, already sweeping, is strengthened further.
The government plans to introduce a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill, which will ‘prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration’. A statement by the Home Office says it will protect “against the most dangerous extremists” and give police “a full range of powers to deal with extremism”.
Another counter-terrorism bill also formed part of the Queen’s Speech in May last year. It was subsequently criticised by David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, who said it risked legitimising “the state to scrutinise [and the citizen to inform upon] the exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people”. A year on, that bill had completely failed to progress any further because the government has been unable to find a “legally robust” definition of what ‘extremism’ actually means. Read more
Join the discussion online using the hashtags #DomesticExtremist and #ShutNDEDIU
Today is Domestic Extremist Awareness Day, an annual event launched by Netpol in 2014 to publicise how the label of ‘domestic extremist’ is increasingly applied by police to anyone involved in political dissent.
This year, we are calling for the closure of the National Domestic Extremism & Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU), the discredited police unit responsible for surveillance on protesters. We are also asking you to share why you think the NDEDIU should shut down.
On 5 February, the third annual #DomesticExtremist Awareness Day is calling for the closure of the discredited police unit responsible for surveillance on political dissent.
If you are an anti-fracking campaigner, you may have been branded a domestic extremist by a Prevent anti-radicalisation workshop, or identified as one when stopped unexpectedly at a UK airport. A whistle-blower has revealed police were so desperate to stop a Green Party peer from discovering the extent of their labelling of her as one that they improperly destroyed files she had asked for.
The police, it seems, remain obsessed with finding so-called ‘domestic extremists’ amongst campaigners and activists. In spite of the launch of a public inquiry into the activities of undercover police officers, however, there remains little real scrutiny of the Metropolitan Police’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU). Read more
Police forces in north west England have refused to confirm whether they use opposition to fracking as an example of ‘extremism’ in training delivered to hundreds of people – and will not say how many anti-fracking activists were referred this year to a controversial ‘anti-radicalisation’ process
The government’s counter-terrorism Prevent strategy is now a statutory duty for most public authorities since the introduction this year of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. Its guidance insists it offers a “risk-based approach”, through a multi-agency programme called Channel, to ‘help’ individuals from becoming ‘drawn into radicalisation’. Information about allegedly vulnerable people is shared between a number of different agencies to individually tailor “the most appropriate support plan” for them.
However, this ‘helpful’ programme is extremely lacking in openness and accountability. In spite of the potentially severe consequences of the state intervening to impose ‘support’ on someone arbitrarily accused of extremism, it is almost impossible to find out any information about Prevent or its equally secretive Channel process. Read more
Can you help us challenge the domestic extremism database?
In March 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the gathering and retention of Brighton campaigner John Catt’s personal data by police, while he took part in protests, was lawful. Mr Catt has now lodged an application in the European Court of Human Rights, seeking a ruling that by monitoring and retaining information about people’s lawful political activities the UK is violating the privacy rights of its citizens. Read more