[DEBATE] : UK - Surveillance of protesters ruled illegal
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Fri May 22 10:20:14 BST 2009
[Slow reclamation of rights of making the usurpation look less despotic?]
Surveillance of protesters ruled illegal
* Buzz up!
* Digg it
* Matthew Taylor and Paul Lewis
* guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 May 2009 21.25 BST
* Article history
Police surveillance of a peaceful protester was ruled unlawful today in
a decison that lawyers say will change the way demonstrations and
protests are policed.
Judges ruled that specialist surveillance units from the Metropolitan
police had breached the human rights of Andrew Wood, an arms trade
campaigner, when they photographed him and stored the pictures on a
One judge said there were unresolved civil liberties questions about
the way images were taken and retained in "the modern surveillance
society". Lord Justice Dyson said there were "very serious human rights
issues which arise when the state obtains and retains the images of
persons who have committed no offence and are not suspected of having
committed any offence".
The judgment is a blow to the Met, which has been criticised over the
way it polices protests since last month's G20 demonstrations and the
death of Ian Tomlinson.
Tonight, human rights lawyers said the ruling could force police to
delete thousands of images of protesters stored on their database unless
they have grounds for suspecting them of criminal activity.
Anna Mazzola, of the solicitors Hickman & Rose, said: "The judgment of
the court of appeal should act as a stark warning to the Metropolitan
police that the circumstances in which they can justify taking and
retaining photographs of members of the public who have committed no
crime is highly circumscribed."
The case follows an investigation by the Guardian, which revealed police
have been targeting thousands of campaigners in surveillance operations
and storing their details on a criminal intelligence database for up to
Parts of the Guardian's investigation, which included information
obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, were submitted in
evidence to the court of appeal.
Yesterday, Wood, who was represented by the human rights group Liberty
and who was a member of the Campaign Against Arms Trade when he was
photographed leaving a meeting in 2005, said he was delighted with the
ruling. "The Human Rights Act is part of the essential checks and
balances which help to ensure that we can properly participate in a
democratic society without repressive state intervention," he said. "The
police don't just uphold the law - they must abide by it."
The case went before the high court last year when judges ruled against
Wood. But yesterday two of the three judges ruled in his favour, saying
there had been a "disproportionate interference in the human right to
Dyson said: "The retention by the police of photographs taken of persons
who have not committed an offence, and who are not even suspected of
having committed an offence, is always a serious matter. The only
justification advanced by the police for retaining the photographs for
more than a few days after the meeting was the possibility that the
appellant might attend and commit an offence … that justification does
not bear scrutiny."
Lord Collins added that the substantial police presence which confronted
the arms campaigners had a "chilling effect" on people who had been
lawfully protesting. A third dissenting judge said the Met had acted
The judgment does not ban specialist police cameramen, known as forward
intelligence teams, but it does mean the long-term retention of their
pictures must be justified on a case-by-case basis.
The photographs of Wood were taken in April 2005 as he emerged from the
Millennium hotel, London, where he had attended the annual general
meeting of Reed Elsevier plc, the parent company of Spearhead
Exhibitions Ltd, which runs trade fairs for the arms industry.
He had gained access to the meeting by buying a share in the company. He
has no criminal convictions and has never been arrested as a result of
any campaigning activities.
Last night the Met said the ruling did not mean it was unlawful to use
"overt surveillance", which it said was "truly valuable in public order
Chief Superintendent Ian Thomas, the officer in charge of the Met's
public order branch, said the police would continue to use surveillance.
But he added that the judgment provided a "valuable set of guidelines".
Surveillance of protesters ruled illegal | UK news | The Guardian (22
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