Facebook has pulled a page calling for members to share accounts and photographs of PSNI (police service of northern Ireland) cops who have been engaged in the harassment of people in republican areas following recent conflicts between republicans and police.
The Crown Forces Watch page stated, “Over the past few days in East Tyrone and South Derry the Crown Forces the PSNI/RUC have launched a massive harassment and intimidation Campaign aimed at Irish Republicans , we must work together to combat this campaign of intimidation and harassment , by working together as a fraternity opposed to this British oppression the aim of this group is to keep people updated on the attacks intimidation and ongoing harassment by the Crown Forces.”
At the same time as clamping down on the sharing of information amongst republicans, the PSNI are fighting a fierce legal battle to force journalists to share unpublished information with the PSNI.
The PSNI has said that news organisations have unbroadcast material of the recent riots that was of ‘substantial evidential value’, and have demanded that they hand it over. The news agencies , including the BBC, have gone to court to resist the demands, saying that passing over such information makes them merely ‘evidence gatherers for the police’.
The two incidents amply demonstration the state’s attitude to the control of information. Putting it simply, they want to know all about us, but they want us to know little about them. They hide behind the cover of security and confidentiality, while our rights to privacy and freedom of expression count for nothing. And they continue to get away with it, despite the fact that there cannot be many people left who trust the police to operate with integrity behind closed doors.
Our right to share information as well as to keep information to ourselves, is fundamental. That is why Fitwatch got such amazing support when the police shut down our website last winter. But the police have huge powers to interfere with those fundamental rights.
Facebook has a reputation for pulling any discussion at the first sign of controversy, so it’s doubtful if the police had to apply a great deal of pressure. If needed though, they would probably have quoted the provisions of the terrorism act 2000. This makes it an offence 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”. It is an offence so widely drawn it could be applied to almost anything, and has consistently worried journalists, bloggers and fitwatchers alike.
So far, we’ve not been aware of any successful prosecutions under the act. But if the crown forces watch page reappears as a website – and we hope that it does – they may be best advised to make sure they have a secure site.
Meanwhile, Fitwatch remain committed to publishing photographs of forward intelligence teams, and information related to police harassment of demonstrators or political groups, wherever that is taking place, and would be particularly pleased, in the circumstances, to publish any such pictures of the PSNI that people are kind enough to send us.