>On the buses

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This photo was sent to us by a demonstrator on the Mayday protests in Brighton. It shows two Sussex police evidence gatherers escaping the attention of the Mayday marchers by filming from the top deck of a bus.
FIT and evidence gatherers at the Brighton demo were given an exceptionally hard time. Evidence gatherers were pushed out of the crowd as it assembled near Brighton pier, and their cameras were the focus of constant attention from that point onwards. Photographers crowded them, demonstrators squirted water at them, FITwatchers blocked them. So presumably, these two took it upon themselves to escape from all that and hide on the top deck of a bus where no-one would notice them.
There is just one problem with that decision – it quite possibly meant that their filming of the march from this point was unlawful.
Their problem is RIPA, The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. This defines covert surveillance as follows:
9) For the purposes of this section—
(a) surveillance is covert if, and only if, it is carried out in a manner that is calculated to ensure that persons who are subject to the surveillance are unaware that it is or may be taking place;
Just like hiding out of sight in a bus with a video camera, then?
This type of surveillance is perfectly lawful if the police have justified it and obtained the appropriate authorisation. It is, apparently, quite an onerous process. According to an ACPO review it takes on average five hours to fill in the forms for an authorisation. Somehow I suspect that these two just didn’t bother to do that.
Normal FIT surveillance escapes all this because it is OVERT rather than COVERT. This means, according to the Met, “officers should clearly identify themselves as police officers and not hide the fact that they are filming”*.
COVERT filming, as defined by RIPA, carried out without authorisation, is of questionable legality. I am sure Sussex police, concerned as they are to prevent breaches of the law, will now conduct a thorough enquiry, discipline those involved and destroy the footage taken. Of course.
*Met police Use of Overt Filming / Photography Policy Statement, taken from Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2009]EWCA Civ 414 §13

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