Hands Off Gaza : Saturday 3rd Jan 12.30pm London Embankment

On Saturday the 3rd January there will be another demonstration in solidarity with the people of Gaza and to call (once again) for an end to Israeli attacks.

The horror being inflicted upon Gaza is such that the job of dealing with the FIT could be seen as almost trivial in comparison, and for that reason this call out is hard to write. But the Met are very good at using the intimidation and harassment of Forward Intelligence Teams to kill off protest. If we are going to be effective in giving solidarity to the people of Gaza, we also need to be effective at protecting our own ability to protest on the streets of London.

The police have already been busy ‘gathering intelligence’ on those protesting this week outside the Israeli embassy, and they will be busy again on Saturday. The data, like all of that collected by FIT, will end up on a database in New Scotland Yard. Without knowing it, people who have taken part in legitimate and justified political protest will find themselves labelled ‘extremists’.

Nobody wants to be distracted from an issue as urgent and important as that of Gaza, and no-one should be. But we also owe it to ourselves not to stand by and allow the Met to get away with their normal brand of intrusion, harassment and bully-boy tactics. So this is the Fitwatch call for the demonstration on Saturday. Come and support the people of Gaza, but also come prepared to deal with the cameras, cordons and harassment of the Forward Intelligence Teams. Their presence is no longer accepted.

For further info see www.palestinecampaign.org

FIT officer admits in court to the existence of a protester database.

A Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) officer this week admitted publicly that he entered data from FIT operations onto a centrally operated database. This is the first time the Met has publicly acknowledged the existence a database containing details of people involved in political protest.

The admission is significant because this database would hold a great deal of sensitive information about an individual’s political activity. The accumulation of information by the police on a person’s political affiliations or beliefs is a very sensitive area, and potentially a breach of the Human Rights Act.

FIT records could include not only which demonstrations an individual had attended, but also whether they had attended planning meetings or taken an active part in organisation. They would also include any association with recognised political organisations or groups.

PC Dan Collins (pictured above) was giving evidence in court during a trial of three activists charged with obstructing a police cameraman. He spoke openly about entering data gathered during FIT operations onto a computer system, a database that could be searched to provide information on individuals.

“Is there a mechanism to check which demonstrations [the defendant] has attended?” asked the defence.

“Not just [the defendant]. Thousands of people” he replied.

“And the system could check on just one individual?”

“Not me personally. But the police could, yes.”

The revelation will hardly come as a surprise to political activists that have been on the receiving end of the FIT’s data gathering activities. But it is another chink in the armour of the Public Order Intelligence Unit.

The three people on trial for obstructing a police cameraman were found guilty. Two were given conditional discharges and a third was fined. All three have been ordered to pay costs of £150. They are considering their appeal.

A privatised police force, just for us…?

It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems probable that the officers pictured above at Smash EDO in Brighton were collecting ‘intelligence’ on behalf of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). The NPOIU work alongside that other lovely bunch, NETCU (National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit) who came to public attention recently by escalating Earth First! and climate campers to the status of terrorists in an article written for the Observer newspaper. The article was later withdrawn by the Observer when it was slammed by their readership as unsubstantiated police propaganda.

However, both the article, and the retraction failed to mention that NETCU is not part of any police force at all. It is part of a private company. The same applies to the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) whom we believe may have been operating at Brighton.
Both of these units are operated by an organisation which clearly states on its website that it is a private company. It is registered as such at Companies House, and provides annual returns. This company is ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers.

NETCU and the NPIOU (and believe it or not there is a third unit, the NDET – National Domestic Extremism Team) employ serving police officers seconded from police forces across the country. They appear to have access to police resources and intelligence. They gather and analyse intelligence which is then used to ‘advise’ police operations, investigations and public order strategy. They are, in effect, a privatised police force.
Unlike existing police forces, they do not have to answer publicly to a police authority – a body which is usually made up of local politicians and members of the public. Unlike police forces, they are not required to provide any information under the Freedom of Information Act. They appear able to operate without justifying their actions to anyone, save the Home Secretary.
This lack of openness and transparency is remarkable in an era where even MI5 must comply with the Freedom of Information Act. This total lack of accountability makes it even more disturbing that they are able to plant misleading and potentially damaging articles in a newspaper like the Observer.
Given they operate under this shroud of secrecy, little is known about these three interlinked units. We know they have in the past focused their attentions on animal rights campaigns, but have now developed a wider circle of interest. They have a stated aim to ‘reduce or remove the threat from domestic extremism’ with an apparent emphasis on protecting the interests of private business. Given the presence of the above officers at EDO, it seems the campaign against the Brighton arms company has also come under the heading of ‘domestic extremism’.
We also know these units have friends in high places. They have direct representation on the Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee, a high level committee including counter terrorism units, the security services and high level government officials. One of the key roles of this committee is to work out what new laws might be needed in the struggle against terrorism and domestic extremism, and how best to use (or misuse) the huge amount of legislation they already have.
This is an unaccountable, outsourced police force, which has a clear self interest in promoting fear of ‘domestic extremism’ and in promoting the need for ‘intelligence’ on political campaigns. Alongside this, there is an obvious remit for promoting the needs of big business over such campaigns. The Forward Intelligence Teams know the value of having ‘intelligence’ on your opponents. It is therefore only right that we should make it our business to know what NETCU and NPIOU are up to, so that we can make sure we can devise strategies to, in their words, deal with them “effectively and robustly”.
We cannot afford to ignore the power of these organisations. However, we can arm ourselves with a knowledge and an awareness of the lengths these organisations are prepared to go to quash political protest and dissent.
Information is power, which is why so many police officers dislike this blog. It is why we, despite whatever legislation they devise, will continue to publish all the information we have on these police officers and the units that support and control them.

European Court Rules on DNA

European Court Rules on DNA

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg yesterday found that the keeping of DNA from people who have no criminal convictions was a breach of their Article 8 rights to privacy. This should mean that the police will be forced to destroy hundreds of thousands of samples, including 40,000 taken from children.

This is exceptionally good news in itself, but the ruling could also re-open the debate about whether photographs and film retained by police public order intelligence units could also be a breach of Article 8. The courts have been heavily influenced by the DNA case when looking more generally at police rights to collect and collate data. Now the House of Lords decision on DNA is in tatters, the courts may be forced to accept that other forms of police data gathering also breach the Convention.

Of course, much depends on the government response to this ruling. The European Convention on Human Rights is not exactly popular amongst either of the two main political parties and there have been murmurings for many years that the European Court has too much sway over UK law. Jacqui Smith has so far commented only that she is ‘disappointed’ with the ruling and that the government will now ‘carefully consider the judgement’.

…and Ken Norman

We’d also like to introduce Detective Sergeant Ken Norman. Ken works for CO11 doing the ‘detective’ work for the Met’s public order unit. His work has included a number of Fitwatch trials, where people have been prosecuted (but rarely convicted) for obstructing police cameras. He is most noticable in his police liaison role, where he works with the courts, prosecution lawyers and police witnesses to make sure the police put forward ‘the best possible case’ and get convictions. Happily, his success rate doesn’t seem to be very high.

We think he may work alongside the National Domestic Extremism Team, a small unit run by ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) which appears to exist purely to pursue prosecutions against political activists. It’s hard to know for certain however, because so little is known about this less-than-accountable unit, and Ken, for all his friendly smiles, is not exactly open with us about the structures he works within. (That’s an open invitation, Ken – tell us all about it!)

Ken is well known for his friendly/chatty routine, but don’t be fooled. If you are in court for a politically motivated offence, he’ll want to get to know you a little. And it’s not because he wants a new friend on facebook….

Counter Terrorism Bill receives Royal Assent and picture of head of NETCU

The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 received Royal Assent on 26th November. This is obviously much earlier than we expected. However, we have not yet found out whether it is enforcable immediately, or whether there will be a date when it comes into law. If this is the case, we will publicise the date, and carry out our act of mass resistance then.

However, if it is effective immediately, we will propose a date for people to join the mass resistance.

Whatever the status, it is business as usual here at Fitwatch. We will continue to publish whatever details of FIT, NETCU, Evidence Gatherers, Special Branch etc we can lay our hands on.

Please send us any useful photographs, or information, and we will publish them on our blog. If for some reason the blog is shut down, check http://www.indymedia.org.uk/ or email defycops(at)yahoo.co.uk for updates.

So, to kick off the new era – here is a picture of Steve Pearl, head of NETCU (National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit)

If you see Steve wandering the streets of Cambridgeshire, be sure to say hello.

For further information about NETCU see http://www.netcu.wordpress.com

We will not be intimidated – Mass resistance to new offence of publishing information about police officers

The new Counter Terrorism Bill, currently in The Lords, contains an amendment to Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This amendment will make it an offence, punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, to publish or elicit information about any police constable “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”.

Furthermore, Schedule 7 of the Bill applies this amendment to internet service providers and web hosting services. This means they will have a legal duty to remove all sites perceived to fall under this offence, and has provisions for use at home and abroad.

It is unclear what information will be classed as “useful” to terrorists, but due to this ambiguous wording, the Bill has implications for bloggers, journalists, photographers, activists and anyone who values freedom of speech.

This is a call from Fitwatch for a mass publishing of information on police officers on the day this Bill receives its Royal Assent. The date will be published as soon as we have it, but it is likely to be early 2009.

Fitwatch are one of the groups who could be targeted by this new legislation. Fitwatch, started eight months ago by activists, resists and opposes the use of Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) on demonstrations. FIT are police officers who photograph, follow, and generally intimidate protesters. They bring, in the words of Jacqui Smith, “harassment style policing” to protests.

As part of this opposition, we run a blog – http://www.fitwatch.blogspot.com/ – where we share information about these officers. We feel this blog could be under threat from this new legislation.

Whilst it is obvious from our blog that we do not like these officers, we are not terrorists.

Neither are:

  • people filming, and uploading to Youtube, footage of police officers acting illegally.
  • bloggers writing about being randomly stopped and searched.
  • journalists publishing details of corrupt or racist cops.
  • photographers publishing photographs of police on protests.

The list goes on, but all are under threat.

This legislation not only attempts to stifle our ability to hold the police force to account for their actions, but also attacks the principles of open publishing on the internet. It must be resisted.

Join the mass action and oppose this ludicrous law.

This action can be taken by anyone, anywhere:

  • Get hold of a piece of information about a police officer, or a photo or video. If you are stuck, feel free to use anything from our blog!
  • Publish this on Flickr, Youtube, your blog, website, myspace/facebook, whereever you want.
  • Send us a link, and we’ll publish a list on our blog.
  • Please circulate and publish this call as widely as possible, and join this act of cyber resistance.

ps – this bill also applies to intelligence officers. If anyone does have any photographs or information on MI5 officers they wish to publish, we would not seek to discourage them in any way, shape or form, but please do send us a link!!!

More on photography in public places

Spotted on Marc Vallee’s blog

On Thursday 20th November the Home Office will publish new operational guidance to the police on the use of stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 of those taking photographs in public places.

The draft guidance says,

There is no power under the Terrorism Act 2000 to prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place.

“If officers reasonably suspect that photographs are being taken as part of hostile terrorist reconnaissance then they should act appropriately, by searching the person under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act or making an arrest. Cameras, film and memory cards may be seized as evidence but there is no power for images to be deleted or film to be destroyed by officers.”

If section 43 with its powers to seize “cameras, film and memory cards” is misused in the same way that section 44 has been misused by the police then just think of the chilling effect this will have on photography in a public place.

And then we have Clause 83 of the new Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008.

“(1) A person commits an offence who–

“(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been–

“(i) a member of Her Majesty’s forces,
(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or
(iii) a constable,”

A “Constable” is the legal term for all police officers. Elicits or attempts to elicit information” does that include taking a photograph and publishing it?

“(b) publishes or communicates any such information.”

Yep. And you can get 10 years for this one! And I all most forgot, every police force in Britain is going to be equipped with mobile fingerprint scanners which will allow the police to carry out identity checks on people on the street.

Read the full article here!

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