Surveillance, undercover cops and what you can do.

Jul 27, 2011

Perhaps the best news on the protest front over the last couple of weeks has been the dropping of the charges against the majority of the F&M Uncut protesters and the overturning of the convictions of the Ratcliffe climate protesters, thanks to a rigged political trial.

It’s plain for anyone to see that the policing of protests and the prosecutions of activists in the aftermath has got far more severe under the Coalition Government. The 32 month sentence handed to Edward Woollard for not hurting anyone with a fire extinguisher, the ridiculous 16 months for antics that hurt no one on a demo for Charlie Gilmour or the 12 months for Francis Fernie for throwing a bit of matchwood at heavily armoured and protected riot cops are all indications that protest and protesters will not be tolerated.

Egypt: Infiltration and surveillance backed up with torture - and you think we've got it bad?

The cuts are starting to bite, but the protests are still in first gear. Before they build up a real head of steam which might lead to direct action, strike action or more determined protests like ones in Egypt, Spain or Greece, the Government’s tactic is to instill fear into people’s minds in the hope that might take the edge off the resistance. The cops do, and will continue to, use every tactic at their disposal – some are less controversial than others.

The revelations that uncovered the undercover cops earlier in the year have help peel the mask off some of the more dubious tactics of the police. They have also helped quash convictions. A couple of Guardian journalists have taken on trying to uncover a whole lot more and they’re asking for your help. Certainly contributing to the blog with any information you have is a certain way of helping, but if what you have is best sent direct you can email either Paul or Rob.

Mark Kennedy - spied on Climate Activists

Or perhaps you could do what I’ve recently done. Submit a Data Protection Act request to the Met Police (and/or your local police force) to see what they’re holding on you. It’s quite straightforward, and has the potential to provide fascinating reading when you get the results through.  My result was a handy record of what demonstrations I attended and an upsetting account of how often I have turned up late! I’m currently disputing the claim the Metropolitan Police seem to be making that they hold no information about me from more than five years ago.

The aim is to get a mass of records to properly analyse them and to build up a fuller picture of who the police are monitoring and why. Go on, do it yourself, get your records and help a public scrutiny of the police’s dirty campaign against activists.

In Globalise Resistance we’ve tried not to fetishise or give a high profile to police tactics. There’s enough paranoia and fear in the movement without accentuating the thought that one of the people you meet up with at meetings and actions might be reporting your every move and word to the authorities. The fact is that with electronic surveillance and monitoring, most of this kind of information is known to the cops, so why get paranoid or overly exercised about things? Then again, there’s one thing worse than being spied on – that’s not being spied on. There’s a history of police infiltrators amongst activists, their presence isn’t a determinant of the outcome of any campaign or movement.

"Simon Wellings" GR's police spy

That’s part of the reason why when we discovered our undercover, we didn’t make a song and dance about it. We had no definitive proof, no confession or admission, just our recognizing a voice on an answering service. When the case about Mark Stone/Kennedy broke we thought the info we had and the recording we’d kept for 5 years might be useful to the activists and their solicitors in the Ratcliffe case, we contacted their solicitor and he advised us to go public and help build up a fuller picture of police tactics against the progressive protest movement.

What was different about PC Wellings was the fact that what we held (the mp3 of his voice whilst going through photos of activists taken on a protest) the kind of evidence that police compile about activists. None of it particularly useful information about threats to the state or planned direct actions, more an attempt to define where people stood on the political spectrum, people’s relationships and sexual preferences. It would be extremely interesting to hear a defence of this kind of profiling of protesters from the Police. We hope to hear it one day soon when they are obliged to stand up for their actions.

Now some momentum is building we ask everyone who might have a file complied at the Metropolitan Police HQ, or at any other Police force in the country, anyone who has any information that would help build up a detailed picture of what’s been going on to help in the Guardian’s project. This could make a real difference to some people’s convictions, and in unearthing some of the more unseemly aspects of the huge spend of tax-payers money in keeping the rich and powerful where they are and the poor and progressive on the sidelines.

Keep us in the loop, and we’ll update folks about how things are progressing.

It’s worth checking out other websites and campaigns:

Fitwatch + United Campaign Against Police Violence + Inquest + Green & Black Cross + ukuncut (F&M index) + Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign + Campaign for Justice for Smiley Culture (facebook)

article by guy taylor

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