ACPO have come clean about the number of photographs of political protesters they, and their ‘extremist units’ are holding. According to their website, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) now holds no more than 1822 images. They suggest that these images are purely of a ‘hardcore’ criminal element, and that there is no chance at all of ‘ordinary’ demonstrators finding their way onto such a system.
So can we now relax and take political action without being tagged as ‘extremist’, right? Not quite. Over the years, Fitwatch have learned a thing or two about police databases. And I’d hazard a guess that ACPO is being about as honest as a Tory MP with a moat to be cleaned. They’re not lying exactly. There are just things they’ve forgotten to say.
For one thing, just because they don’t hold an image of you, doesn’t mean they can’t access one if they want to. There are many other police databases that the NPOIU also have access to, such as custody records, which contain images of anyone who has been arrested, even if they have not been charged or convicted.
Some databases may be easier for the NPOIU to access than others. The image database operated by the Metropolitan police’s public order unit (CO11), is known to have held thousands of photographs of identified individuals taken at political protests and demonstrations. It is a 'stand alone' and highly restricted database.
Yet CO11 have accepted that they grant ACPO, a private company, access to this database. In practical terms this doesn’t present much difficulty for them – both CO11 and ACPO’s NPOIU occupy the same building – London’s New Scotland Yard. NPOIU are only metres away. Use of this system would significantly increase the number of images available to the NPOIU.
Secondly, I suspect that the NPOIU holds a lot of different kinds of data on us, not merely images. Names and addresses, vehicle registration numbers, descriptions, political affiliations, friends and associates, political events and meetings attended - to name just a few of the potential categories. The NPOIU has not yet come clean on the number of individuals it holds information on. I’d hazard a guess it’s more than 1822.