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
In the final stages of this month’s general election, Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to bolster her increasingly fragile position with another attack on human rights laws, a move that was rightly condemned by national and international human rights groups.
With coinsiderably less publicity, however, a United Nations report on human rights in the UK, published in May, provided a reminder that legislation, on its own, does not protect our fundamental rights. People acting together to protect these rights are just as important. Read more
Launched in 2013, Netpol’s annual “Domestic Extremist Awareness Day” takes place on Monday 6 February. This year, we are calling for a complete end to the meaningless but sinister use of the ‘domestic extremist’ label against all legitimate political dissent.
As we have argued repeatedly over the last couple of years, the term “domestic extremist” means pretty much whatever the police want it to mean.
It is a critical justification for state surveillance on protest movements in the UK, but both the government and the police have struggled to devise a credible definition robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny. As a result, Prime Minister Theresa May’s flagship counter-terrorism and safeguarding bill, announced back in May 2016, is currently floundering precisely because government lawyers have still been unable to codify ‘extremism’ or ‘British values’ in ways that are compatible with fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. 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
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