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”.
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
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
The UN’s Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai is visiting the UK next week. We assess what has changed in relation to the freedom to take part in protests – and what issues remain a concern – since his last official visit three years ago.
Netpol was one of a number of groups who met Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, when he last visited the UK in January 2013. His report on that visit was published in June 2013 [, 588 kB].
Next week we are meeting him again. Here are some issues we think he should consider – and a reminder of how in a number of important respects, little has changed since his last report. 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
Just before Christmas, Netpol made a submission to Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which is examining the government’s proposed changes to legislation on the interception and retention of communications data and bulk personal datasets by the police and the security and intelligence agencies
UPDATED: 12 February 2016: on the issue of thematic warrants – the use of targeted interception against groups of people who share a common purpose – the Joint Committee has acknowledged in its report [, 3.4 Mb] that:
“Witnesses expressed concerns about the contexts in which these powers could be deployed. The Network for Police Monitoring highlighted the possibility that “in the context of protest policing, this extends the use of surveillance activities to any individual associated with a protest groups… Not only does the surveillance extend to individuals themselves engaging in (possibly low-level) criminal activity, it arbitrarily extends it to all individuals believed to share a ‘common purpose’ with them.”
The Committee goes on to call, in Recommendation 38, for an amendment to the the language of the Bill “so that targeted interception and targeted equipment interference warrants cannot be used as a way to issue thematic warrants concerning a very large number of people”.
Much of the opposition to the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill has rightly focused on requirements for internet providers to store records of websites visited for up to a year and on powers for the security services and police to hack into and bug computers and phones. Both already have a sorry track record of repeatedly abusing wide-reaching surveillance powers. Our submission sets out to tackle the impact on protest and looks specifically at one issue that we have raised before: how easy it is to use powers intended for ‘serious’ criminality against far more minor illegal actions that are almost overwhelmingly peaceful. 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
It remains unlawful for police to require identification and submission to filming as a condition for release from a kettle
The decision by British Transport Police (BTP) to use Railway Byelaws [, 174 kB] to obtain personal details from people taking part in recent Calais solidarity action does not change the basic advice to protesters – you do not have to consent to having your photograph taken or comply with demands to provide your name and address as a condition of release from a kettle.
The principle that the police have no powers to force people to give their details, or comply with police filming and photography, simply because they are held in a kettle, is contained in the High Court ruling on the Mengesha case in 2013. Lord Justice Moses made it clear that “it was not lawful for the police to maintain the containment for the purposes of obtaining identification, whether by questioning or by filming. It follows that it was not lawful to require identification to be given and submission to filming as the price for release.” Read more
If you are planning to attend this November’s national student march, you should start planning now to cover up against intrusive surveillance
On Wednesday 4 November, students from around the country will assembly in London for the ‘Free Education & Living Grants For All’ protest called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. Coming almost five years to the day since the start of a wave of student unrest began in London, marchers will find themselves joined by an array of police intelligence-gatherers. The demonstration is liable to face an intense level of surveillance.
As well as demanding living grants for all and an education system that is free, this is also an opportunity for student protesters to take an important stand to protect their individual privacy while out on the streets and exercising their freedom of assembly. One of the few remaining ways to do so in the current climate of mass surveillance is by covering your face with a mask or scarf and ensuring that in future, this becomes as normal on every protest as carrying a placard. Read more