from the guardian, 11 March 2009:
Police footage obtained by the Guardian has revealed the crude monitoring methods deployed across the country against protesters, thousands of whom have their personal details stored on criminal intelligence systems for up to seven years...
* Paul Lewis and Marc Vallée
* guardian.co.uk, Friday 6 March 2009 19.30 GMT
Shocking footage shot by police, accompanied by their own critical commentary, shows how their officers monitored campaigners and the media – and demanded personal information – at last August's climate camp demonstration in Kent.
At 11:37am on August 8 last year (2008), two police surveillance officers sat in a patrol car in Kent and switched on their Sony digital video camera.
When the tape started to roll, they stated they were "evidence gatherer" surveillance officers and explained the purpose of the operation. A lead surveillance officer and his assistant, they were on duty to help police the Climate Camp demonstration, an environmental protest against the nearby Kingsnorth coal-fired power station.
What the pair did not know when, 20 minutes later, they stood on a grass verge at the entrance to the camp and started work, was that their surveillance footage would be obtained by the Guardian. It would provide evidence of the crude monitoring methods used to glean information about campaigners and would prove that journalists are being targeted by police surveillance units.
This was no rogue operation. An investigation by the Guardian has established that surveillance footage such as that shot by the Kent officers is routinely uploaded onto a police database. In fact it seems that thousands of activists – from campaigners against Heathrow's third runway to anti-racism marchers – have their personal details stored on criminal intelligence systems for as long as seven years.
The Metropolitan police's Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs) and Evidence Gatherers (EGs) have over the last decade pioneered the controversial use of "overt surveillance", a technique now widely used by forces across the country at political demonstrations. It is designed to "record identifiable details" of protesters who may commit crime or anti-social behaviour and gather intelligence that could help police a public order event.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) recently commissioned the National Police Improvements Agency (NPIA) to establish a "national standard" for overt surveillance, to which all forces in England and Wales have signed up.
Surveillance officers receive briefings before protests about key targets and are handed "spotter cards" containing the images of individuals police want to monitor.
The operations are normally carried out by regular police officers who have received additional training in surveillance. The human rights watchdog Liberty – which did not know about the database – is challenging police surveillance tactics in a judicial review at the court of appeal.
However police appear not to have disclosed to the court they were transferring the private details of campaigners to a database. Lawyers believe the transfer makes it more likely the technique is in violation of privacy rights under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.
"The time is now 11.57 hours," said the lead officer. "We're up at point three, the front entrance to the climate camp site." The camera panned to show officers from West Yorkshire police, among thousands drafted into Kent from across the country in the £5.9m policing operation, searching activists as they entered the camp.
Kent police, which was in command of the operation, had activated an order under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, authorising officers to search anyone in the area for dangerous weapons. The film shows how police zoomed in on virtually any protesters in the area, noting down items of clothing or other distinctive features. They also appeared to have knowledge of some activists' past political activity, on one occasion noting that a protester had "spent a lot of time" at a different part of the camp. Others seemed to have been targeted for standing beside, or near, prominent environmental campaigners.
But whenever journalists were in the area, the lens was almost exclusively pointed at them. In total 10 journalists were monitored emerging from the camp, where they had been interviewing protesters.
The officers zoomed in to pick out the logo on the back of a Sky News cameraman's jacket, monitored several photographers and followed an ITV Meridian news crew, including the anchor of the evening show, Ian Axton.
"A lot of press officers aren't there. Just think they can bloody wander in and out of the field. It's wrong, I think," the lead officer remarked when the ITV crew was in shot. "I trust them less than the protesters."
Later, referring to ITV cameraman Pete Lloyd Williams, he said: "The time is now 13:19 hours. Same date. Same location. Press cameraman here. Being awkward a little. Being asked to stand back by officers on at least two occasions and then asked to stand by the inspector. Or asked by the inspector to stand out of the road. Coming out with witty comments."
After spotting a videographer and photographer across the road, the assistant officer said: "Inquisitive, ain't they – these two, by the pole."
The lead added: "He don't like having his photograph taken – that one there with the bald head."
The surveillance lens returned to the ITV crew after the pair overheard a discussion between an officer and Lloyd Williams.
"He's giving him a ticket if you want to record any of that? As to whether or not he wants to give his details," the assistant officer said.
The officers walked closer, to within earshot. "Did he give details?" asked the assistant officer. "Don't know if he did or not," replied the lead. "Think he just said he was from ITV Meridian. Don't know if he gave personal details." This was not a one-off event; the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has documented eight occasions over the last year when, it says, police surveillance officers photographed and filmed journalists.
In May the general secretary of the NUJ, Jeremy Dear, alerted the Home Office that journalists – particularly photographers – were "routinely and deliberately" watched by police surveillance teams.
The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, replied that the government "greatly values" the free press, but "decisions may be made [by police] locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances". Senior police officers in turn also assured the NUJ that journalists were "not being targeted unfairly".
Moments after the camera stopped rolling at the Climate Camp, a group of journalists, including some of those caught on the surveillance footage, were followed by a team of surveillance officers to a McDonald's restaurant several miles from the camp.
Police filmed the journalists, who were using wireless computer networks to file their material, through the restaurant window. Kent police later apologised after complaints about the McDonald's surveillance incident and the use of the Section 60 order to subject journalists in the area to intensive searches.
Assistant chief constable Allyn Thomas, Kent police's commander of the operation, said in November his officers had not been properly briefed about actions they could "reasonably take when engaging with members of the press".
The forces's heavy-handed approach to the Climate Camp demonstration received widespread criticism, including in parliament.
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker, who initially claimed Kent police's approach had been "proportionate and appropriate", was forced to apologise to MPs after the Guardian revealed the 70 police officers he claimed had been injured in clashes with protesters had actually suffered from unrelated ailments such as bee stings and toothache.
Many of those captured in police surveillance footage – which is filmed at all types of political demonstrations – will want to know what their images are being used for. The raw data gleaned through police surveillance material is stored on marked CD-Roms in a warehouse, and is not searchable by the names of activists.
However, disclosures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the law firm Hickman and Rose, representing the NUJ, document how in the case of the Metropolitan police the surveillance material is "added to a corporate intelligence database". They continue: "If names are known, they will be included" and: "generally, records are retained for seven years".
Superintendent David Hartshorn, a senior officer from the Metropolitan police public order branch, told the Guardian the database in question was CrimInt, a general intelligence system used to catalogue details about criminal activity.
"In relation to what we can keep on databases, we are governed quite strictly on that," he said. "Obviously you've got the Data Protection Act but also, in terms of intelligence, we have to justify what we are able to keep on our systems.
"So for example, if we've got someone who is a known activist for a particular group, and we keep their images live on that intelligence database, along the side of that intelligence there will be a report justifying why that image is being kept." He added: "We can't just randomly take your photograph and hold it on a database. There has to be a reason for it."
Reasons, Hartshorn said, include if a person has a criminal record for activity relating to a demonstration or is an outstanding suspect for an offence.
He added a third category. "There are people we have seen on a regular basis involved but may not have been charged or arrested – but believed to be on the periphery." That might include people "bordering on civil disobedience" or "doing something more than attending a rally".
He said the data was reviewed annually to ensure it remains "valid". "Just because someone did something 10 years ago and they might, off chance, do it again in the future, that is unlikely to justify keeping them on the database."
Asked why law abiding citizens should be held on a database because of their political activity, he replied: "We have to be able to say: this person has been seen at this event. They've been dealing with a person who was arrested at this event. It's not just: we've seen them floating around, don't know who they are, we'll keep them."
Hartshorn conceded that police can use the database to search which political events an individual may have attended. Although surveillance teams attend hundreds of events each year, Hartshorn claimed not to know how many political activists have their details stored on CrimInt.
However lower rank surveillance officers have indicated in open court testimony that officers can search the database for "thousands" of protesters.
In trials of Jeff Parks, an activist from London twice convicted for blocking police cameras at protests, surveillance officers revealed, according to solicitors' notes of proceedings, that one reason they were monitoring him was to gather information for the database.
In December PC Dan Collins told the City of Westminster magistrates court that his material was uploaded onto a central "intelligence system" which enabled police to search the political history of Parks, as well as "thousands" of other protesters.
Last month at Tower Bridge magistrates PC Hall and PC Pritchard accepted that there was a general police database that would include records of surveillance material relating to Parks.
"From the evidence of police officers in these cases, it is becoming clear that the police are maintaining a systematic record, including photographs, of those who attend demonstrations or even political meetings," said Parks's solicitor Raj Chada, who is appealing against his client's convictions. "Our cases suggest if you attend an anti-war meeting or other political meetings, your photograph will end up stored on some database."