Aaron Porter, the NUS leader who has consistently condemned violence and property damage on demonstrations, has now joined ex cop Brian Paddick in calling for the Met to improve its intelligence gathering.
The best case scenario is Mr Porter is ignorant and should talk to a few of the activists and organisers who have been at the sharp end of police intelligence gathering over the last decade.
From past experiences, this is a snapshot of what student activists might expect from ‘improved’ intelligence and data gathering:
• Having to run a gauntlet of police and police cameras just to get to a planning or preparation meeting, never mind a demo;
• FIT teams ‘accompanying’ known activists on demonstrations, even to the point of following them back to their family home, place of work, or in one well documented case to their grandmothers nursing home;
• Thousands of students’ names and details placed on Criminal Intelligence or Domestic Extremism databases;
• Finding a police officer you’ve never seen before knows your name and personal details about you;
• A range of ‘disruption’ activities, to undermine and make life difficult for organisers and activist groups including excessive stop and searches (often many times in one day) and arbitrary arrests. This can also include undercover police officers getting involved with and disrupting activist meetings
• Trolling of websites with a targeted police ‘message’;
• Kettles, kettles and more kettles – they are so useful for data gathering, and for disrupting protest;
• Stop and search, breach of the peace arrests, and accusations of ‘anti-social behaviour’, all tried and trusted methods of getting the personal details of protesters
Over the last decade, the target of police intelligence hasn’t been the so-called criminal element, but the organiser, the facilitator, the groups who get active and make protest happen. These are the people most likely to feel the brunt of police tactics, and suffer real harassment for daring to organise demonstrations. However, the objective is to frighten away as many as possible, including those ‘on the periphery’ – the large contingent who support what is going on, but who may not have the commitment to keep going when the going gets tough.
Police intelligence gathering and ‘disruption’ doesn’t just prevent criminal activity – it seeks to deter people from getting involved in any protest at which criminality can occur. In effect, this means any they don’t like and certainly any with the audacity to not stick to a state approved A-B route or a protest pen.
The ‘harassment style policing’ of intelligence teams has a much greater effect on our civil liberties and our ability to organise and protest than any number of water cannons or horse charges, and must be opposed. As usual, Aaron Porter should be a lot more careful about what he says.