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
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
Help us raise £2500 to pay for 500 face coverings to distribute to protesters
With the police granted extraordinary discretion by the courts to obtain and retain personal information of protesters, the time has come to everyone taking part in a protest to cover-up their faces.
Wearing a face covering during a protest is entirely legal. Only in limited circumstances can the police require you to remove a mask or scarf and seize it, if a section 60 order is authorised by a senior officer “in anticipation of violence”. This allows the use stop and search powers without grounds for reasonable suspicion, in order to look for weapons.
During arguments over a 2013 appeal against the recording of information about people attending public protests, even London’s police chief admitted a face covering is the most effective way to avoid police photographers and overt intelligence gathering by his officers.
Since then, in March 2015, the UK Supreme Court granted what amounts to judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK protest movements. From now on, every protester should considering taking the Met’s advice and covering up their face to avoid unwarranted police surveillance. Read more
The Metropolitan Police has dreamt up a new excuse for blocking “domestic extremist” subject access requests
In the judgment in the recent Supreme Court hearing on the retention by the police of data on the Brighton protester John Catt, one of the panel of judges, Lord Sumption insisted that records on alleged ‘domestic extremists’ were kept ‘in accordance with the law’ because “with limited exceptions relating mainly to current investigations or operations, any personal data in the possession of the police can be accessed by the subject by a request under the Data Protection Act”.
Netpol believes this reflects an entirely sheltered view of the problems anyone with a reasonable expectation they have been subject to police surveillance will face when trying to prise information out of the police. So how true is it in practice? Read more
Today was the third and final day of legal argument at the Supreme Court in the attempt by the Metropolitan Police to overturn a Court of Appeal decision on its ‘domestic extremism’ database. Judgement has been deferred to a later date.
John Catt’s case at the Supreme Court concluded today, but not before submissions by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and closing remarks from the Metropolitan Police. Read more
Today was the second of three days of legal argument at the Supreme Court in the attempt by the Metropolitan Police to overturn a Court of Appeal decision on its ‘domestic extremism’ database. Today’s submissions were made by Tim Owen QC, representing the campaigner John Catt.
A summary from day 1 of the Supreme Court hearings is available here
The barrister Tim Owen QC, counsel for peace campaigner John Catt, was today faced with the task of convincing the Supreme Court that the actions of the police in retaining his client’s personal data on the ‘domestic extremism’ database had a “chilling effect” on protest and breached his fundamental human rights. At times this seemed like an uphill struggle. Read more
Increasingly, police will neither confirm nor deny that they hold personal data on activists. Netpol believes there is a policy of deliberately avoiding data protection responsibilities until after a Supreme Court hearing in December
In March, Netpol relaunched our call for campaigners and activists to submit Subject Access Requests (SARs) under data protection legislation, to discover if a record is held on them on the National Domestic Extremism Database and by domestic extremism units in different police forces. We are also keen to reveal the extent of inaccuracies or trivial information in any data that the police hold.
Many of the responses people have obtained are illuminating, displaying a pattern of overt surveillance by Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) stretching back for many years. Other requests have revealed the retention of publicly available information from newspaper articles, updates on Twitter feeds and blog posts. However, we have also noted a trend within the police – the Metropolitan Police in particular – of growing reticence about disclosing information. Instead they seem increasingly ready to hide behind a policy of ‘neither confirming nor denying’. Read more
The Metropolitan police is acting unlawfully in failing to confirm existence of secret records on political activities.
Netpol is calling for the Metropolitan Police to face a regulatory investigation for its “systemic failure” to confirm to campaigners whether their personal data is held on a secret surveillance database. Read more
Last week, the Metropolitan police confirmed that its officers have started to use mobile fingerprint scanners, the 25th UK police force to do so. Initially the Met have 350 of these devices, linked to police Blackberry phones, which they claim can provide, in under two minutes, confirmation of personal details, warning markers and whether a person is wanted for a crime.
The police can use these devices to take a person’s fingerprints, with or without consent, if they ‘reasonably suspect’ they have committed a criminal offence. The individual concerned does not need to be under arrest , nor does the offence they are suspected of need to be a serious offence. Once fingerprints have been used to establish ID, the police may decide to arrest, summons, give a fixed penalty notice, give ‘words of advice’, or take no further action.
The police PR spin suggests that this measure is all about saving police time, providing a more cost-effective alternative to making arrests. But, given the history of ‘function creep’ in police powers, the use of portable biometrics testing could pose a serious threat to civil rights. Read more