New disclosure obtained by Fitwatch from the Metropolitan Police, (and revealed in the Financial Times today), has further revealed the extent to which police gather data on political protesters. The documents - ‘Criminal Intelligence’ reports (CRIMINTs), compiled by FIT (Forward Intelligence Teams) – show the Met are compiling and retaining reports of individuals, despite them having done nothing unlawful.
The reports contain information about individuals attending and speaking at a demonstration against the BBC in January 2009. The protest had been called after the BBC decided not to broadcast an appeal for the victims of Israel’s offensive against Gaza.
Details of individuals who appear seem to have been picked out at random by police. One individual, who was stopped and searched (although nothing unlawful was found), told police he was a member of Stop the War, one of the groups who had organised the demo. His attendance at the protest, and political affiliations were then recorded on the CRIMINT, along with his personal details. Jeremy Corbyn MP, attending the demonstration as a speaker, was also named on the report. A Liberal Democrat speaker was referred to, but not named.
CRIMINT reports are entered onto a general purpose criminal database accessible to all Met Police officers and can be cross referenced and linked to other databases, including the Met’s Public Order Unit (CO11) image database at New Scotland Yard. Searchable by name, address, or by protest event, they create a sinister database that can be used to track the attendance of individuals at political meetings, rallies and demonstrations, allowing the police to build detailed Stasi-like files on political protesters.
The CRIMINT reports obtained by Fitwatch form only a small sample of those produced on the day, which was a peaceful and mostly uneventful demonstration. FIT teams were focussed on surveillance of young Asian males, as this was the ‘profile’ they said, of those who had committed violence on previous demonstrations. These people would also have been the subject of CRIMINT reports, which are available to a range of policing units including the ‘domestic extremism’ units run by ACPO, and counter-terrorism units.
There is a web of data and ‘intelligence’ stored across the UK’s police forces, agencies and ‘quasi-operational units’ such as NPOIU and NETCU. Increasingly this information is capable of being linked and cross referenced, enabling the police to build profiles of individuals and their activities, whether criminal or not. (see for example The Guardian's recent exposé).
The depth and breadth of these profiles are unprecedented. The rapidly growing capability of databases and search systems allow a much greater collection and more detailed analysis than was ever possible before. The capacity of our modern day police to create ‘intelligence’ on political activists would put the Stasi to shame. It is a serious threat to political freedoms, and puts a huge amount of power in the hands of the police and their political masters.
The CRIMINT reports were obtained as disclosure during a criminal case against three Fitwatchers arrested for obstructing police cameras during a demonstration in London on 24th January 2009. The three have been convicted and have had an appeal against conviction dismissed. They now intend to take a further appeal case questioning the legality of FIT operations and data gathering activities.