Covert Government Surveillance Databases in the UK

May 05, 2013 0 Comments Bloggies by Graham Penrose

Recently a landmark lawsuit against the police was won by an 88 year old man with no criminal record. The police had labelled him a "domestic extremist" and logged his political activities on a secret database. The ruling by three senior judges puts pressure on the police, already heavily criticised for running undercover operatives in political groups, to curtail surveillance of law-abiding protesters. The judges decided police chiefs acted unlawfully by secretly keeping a detailed record of John Catt's presence at more than 55 protests over a four-year period.

Catt, who has no criminal record, is among thousands of political campaigners recorded on the database by the same covert unit that has been embedding spies in political movements for more than a decade. The judges noted that the police could not explain why it was necessary to record Catt's political activities in minute detail. Lawyers for the police had argued that the anti-war activist regularly attended demonstrations against a Brighton arms factory near his home, which had at times descended into disorder.

The judges added that it appeared that officers had been recording "the names of any persons they can identify, regardless of the particular nature of their participation". Catt said: "I hope this judgment will bring an end to the abusive and intimidatory monitoring of peaceful protesters by police forces nationwide. Police surveillance of this kind only serves to undermine our democracy and deter lawful protest."

A similar court of appeal ruling four years ago forced the Met to remove 40% of photographs of campaigners held on another database. In a separate ruling, which also challenged the police's practice of storing the public's personal data on databases, the three judges ordered the Met to erase a warning that had been issued against an unnamed woman.