Photo © Jess Hurd / reportdigital.co.uk
Are you a ‘domestic extremist’?
Six members of the National Union of Journalists have launched a legal challenge to have their data removed from a police ‘domestic extremist’ database and stop the state surveillance of journalists and trade unionists.
I’m a freelance photographer and my colleagues in the legal challenge with me include Times journalist Jules Mattsson, freelance video-journalist Jason N. Parkinson and freelance photographers Adrian Arbib and David Hoffman. We have joined with campaigning journalist and comedian Mark Thomas, to oppose the targeted surveillance and intimidation we have faced during policing operations in a Bhatt Murphy led legal challenge.
After several years of complaints we launched a campaign group I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist with NUJ-funded films Collateral Damage and Hostile Reconnaissance which exposed what was happening on the ground, including increased violence towards the press. The routine abuse of s44 Terrorism Act stop and search powers was made unlawful after a vibrant, photographer led campaign and a European Court challenge.
This secret state surveillance has been going on for a long time but now we get the chance to examine our files via Subject Access Data Protection (DPA) requests we find that nearly 15 years of information has been logged (of the information that they have allowed us to see), from ridiculous notes identifying me as always wearing ‘Joe 90-style’ spectacles, to more sinister records about our involvement in trade union activities, sexual orientation and even a family member’s medical history.
We are all accredited journalists yet we find ourselves sharing a police database with other, mostly unknowing UK citizens who have had information gathered on them in the apparent interests of policing an ill-defined and opaque concept: ‘domestic extremism’.
It is hard to see how this can be about policing domestic extremism – it appears to be about criminalising dissent and those who would document it. From Orgreave through to Occupy, the right to democratically protest, and the right to report upon it, is being eroded. Our access to justice via legal aid is being cut and the journalists who shine a light on the crimes of the state and corporations are being targeted. It is not just about intimidation and surveillance – it is about the sinister way information can be shared and impact on our lives as we have seen with corporate blacklisting.
I am proud to stand alongside my NUJ colleagues in this legal challenge which aims to hold the police and Home Secretary to account for their activities. We welcome support from the labour movement in our demand to end the state surveillance of journalists and all those lawfully exercising their democratic and human rights.
Frances O’Grady is supporting the campaign and recently spoke at an NUJ event about mass surveillance. She said:
“There is growing concern that the authorities are using surveillance against union members, journalists and campaigners. Political policing has no place in a democratic society, it threatens press freedom and any unjustified conduct must stop.”