UK Police Routinely Spy On 9000 'Domestic Terrorists' Very Loosely Defined
from the self-sustaining-activity dept
In the wake of the news that spies at GCHQ — the UK equivalent of the NSA — have been tapping into every fiber optic cable that comes into and goes out of the country, downloading and storing phone calls and Internet traffic for up to 30 days, you might think the British authorities have enough information at their disposal, without needing to turn to other sources. But it seems not, according to the latest revelations in The Guardian:
A national police unit that uses undercover officers to spy on political groups is currently monitoring almost 9,000 people it has deemed “domestic extremists”.
The National Domestic Extremism Unit is using surveillance techniques to monitor campaigners who are listed on the secret database, details of which have been disclosed to the Guardian after a freedom of information request.
A total of 8,931 individuals “have their own record” on a database kept by the unit, for which the Metropolitan police is the lead force. It currently uses surveillance techniques, including undercover police, paid informants and intercepts, against political campaigners from across the spectrum.
Senior officers familiar with the workings of the unit have indicated to the Guardian that many of the campaigners listed on the database have no criminal record.
Aside from the scale of this surveillance, one of the most disturbing aspects of this operation is the way it redefines campaigners as “domestic terrorists”. This is not a new trope, but it’s depressing to see it deployed on such a massive scale.
That has the corollary that the UK’s authorities can conveniently claim that “terrorism” is a major threat, as evidenced by the thousands under observation — omitting the fact that these have nothing to do with the headline-grabbing terrorism that is used to justify bringing in laws that makes such assaults on the privacy of ordinary citizens possible in the first place. In other words, it’s a self-fuelling system of exaggeration leading to a disproportionate response which is then used to justify that response in the future.
But it gets worse. It turns out that the undercover police referred to above have adopted highly unethical techniques in order to infiltrate political groups, possibly breaking the law:
Dozens of police officers could be put on trial for stealing the identities of dead children, and sleeping with female activists they were spying on, according to the police chief leading an inquiry into Metropolitan police undercover work against protest groups.
Another troubling aspect of this undercover operation is that it was used as part of a smear campaign against the family of a victim of a racist attack, and against those who were trying to expose corruption in the police force itself:
Scotland Yard deployed undercover officers in political groups that sought to uncover corruption in the Metropolitan police and campaigned for justice for people who had died in custody, the Guardian can reveal.
At least three officers from the controversial Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) spied on London-based activist groups.
That is, the activities were purely to cover up the police force’s own failings, rather than to tackle any kind of serious threat to the nation or public.
It’s interesting that these undercover operations are finally being exposed now, alongside ones about pervasive online surveillance. It suggests that Edward Snowden’s highly public act of whistleblowing is maybe creating an atmosphere where other whistleblowers feel they can finally come forward after hiding dark secrets for so many years. Let’s hope they keep doing so until we know the full extent of these morally-questionable and probably illegal activities — and that effective new frameworks can then be put in place to stop them happening again.