UK Liberty

Protest surveillance challenge

Posted in surveillance society by ukliberty on May 2, 2008

The BBC:

A legal bid to challenge the power of the police to use surveillance against peaceful protesters has been launched at the High Court.

Andrew Wood, from Oxford, claims he was harassed by the Metropolitan Police for campaigning against the arms trade.

He says they breached his human rights by photographing and questioning him even though he had not broken the law.

The Metropolitan Police says its actions were “justified and proportionate”.

The judicial review could decide if police are legally entitled to gather information on people even if they do not commit an offence.

Mr Wood told BBC Radio 5Live: “It was very intrusive.”

Mr Wood, who was then a press officer at Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), attended the 2005 annual meeting of Reed Elsevier, a company which organises arms fairs.

Martin Westgate, representing Mr Wood, told the High Court: “He asked one question. His behaviour was completely unexceptional, although there was a small disturbance and two other people were ejected.”

Mr Wood says that when he left the meeting officers from the Metropolitan Police breached the Human Rights Act by photographing, questioning and following him and six other campaigners.

And he says they committed further breaches by storing the photographs on police computers even though none of the protestors was arrested or charged with any offence.

“The behaviour of the police was oppressive, bordering on harassment,” Mr Wood said.

“A police surveillance operation like the one I experienced risks a real prospect of a chilling effect on democratic participation.”

Lawyers representing Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair insist that any interference with Mr Wood’s human rights was at a very low level and in pursuit of the legitimate aim of preventing crime. …

Ok, so it is agreed that there was an interference with his ‘human rights’ – namely, it seems to me, the freedoms of assembly, association and expression.

Now, of course there is no expectation of privacy in a public place. That is, people are free to take photographs of others.

But does that freedom extend to interference with someone else’s freedoms, specifically those set out by the HRA / ECHR? That is, if there is a “chilling effect” caused by such actions (and I believe people are deterred), does that amount to a disproportionate interference against law-abiding citizens?

The Guardian:

The Metropolitan Police openly photographed and questioned members of the public who attended the central London meeting.

Yes, they have the freedom to do that. But should they? And does that too deter protestors? And what would happen to those who refused to answer their questions?

(note that doing something with the intent of harrassing or distressing is a crime)


New Statesman (hat-tip Anthony Barnett, OurKingdom):

Those contained within the pen were subject to continual harassment by the FIT-team, who filmed us continuously and shouted at the seasoned activists, calling them by their first names. Other protestors experienced their first brush with FIT-team intimidation: “You’ve been identified by the photographer. You live in Brixton.”

Kept for over three hours without water or access to a toilet, several people were forced to urinate within the cordon, and the eventual release of the detained activists was conditional on each leaving individually or in pairs, to be interrogated by the FIT-team, photographed, video-taped, and often escorted off-site by teams of police officers.


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  1. […] surveillance challenge part II May 23, 2008 Earlier this month there was a “legal bid to challenge the power of the police to use surveillance against […]

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