Photographs, names and video footage of people attending protests are routinely obtained by surveillance units and stored on an “intelligence system”. The Metropolitan police, which has pioneered surveillance at demonstrations and advises other forces on the tactic, stores details of protesters on Crimint, the general database used daily by all police staff to catalogue criminal intelligence. It lists campaigners by name, allowing police to search which demonstrations or political meetings individuals have attended.
Disclosures through the Freedom of Information Act, court testimony, an interview with a senior Met officer and police surveillance footage obtained by the Guardian have established that private information about activists gathered through surveillance is being stored without the knowledge of the people monitored.
Police surveillance teams are also targeting journalists who cover demonstrations, and are believed to have monitored members of the press during at least eight protests over the last year. …
Superintendent David Hartshorn, from the Met’s public order branch, conceded law-abiding campaigners were being added to the database. He said individuals on the system included people convicted or suspected of public order offences.
But he added “people we have seen on a regular basis involved but may not have been charged or arrested” were also stored on the database. He added that the data was reviewed every year. “In relation to what we can keep on databases, we are governed quite strictly on that. Obviously you’ve got the Data Protection Act but also, in terms of intelligence, we have to justify what we are able to keep.”
Then do so.
Why is it necessary and proportionate to:
- have a protestor database in the first place (as opposed to merely storing the details of those who commit crimes);
- store details of those who have not been convicted or suspected of public order offences, i.e. simply storing the details of every protestor;
- store the details of members of the press who cover protests.
It was reported yesterday that Jack Straw will today drop clause 152 of the coroners and justice bill. This clause amends the Data Protection Act to turn it into a government data-trafficking charter.
If true, no doubt this will be presented as a magnanimous realisation that the public and parliament needs further reassurance that “their aim is good“. Really it would be a victory for those of us who have furiously lobbied MPs and peers over the past couple of months about the ministry of justice’s mendacious presentation of profound changes in government power as a bit of administrative tidying up.
Don’t hold your breath, though. Even if part eight of this bill is dropped completely, as rumoured (slyly punishing the Information Commissionerfor dissent on data sharing by losing the improvements to his powers at the same time), information sharing will be back. It is at the core of current administrative fashion, and the cult of transformational government is still very much in charge at the cabinet office.
A subject-matter expert has said that “there is effectively no enforcement” of the Data Protection Act, and suggested that corporate data losses or breaches are even more prevalent than in the public sector. …
Even where a UK firm was caught bang to rights losing or revealing data there was little comeback, said Sharpe.
“In other fields, companies go to lawyers to make sure they are complying with the law,” he said. “Nobody comes to me to make sure they’re complying with the Data Protection Act, because there’s no downside for them if they screw up.
“If somebody loses your data, or leaks it, or gives it to someone you didn’t want to have it, don’t come to me – don’t expect the law to do anything… there is effectively no enforcement.”