Terrified London cops spending millions gathering useless intelligence on peaceful protestors

British journalist Matt Salusbury decided to investigate the information that the London police had gathered on him as part of their intimidation campaign against activists and protestors -- the Met spends over GBP9MM/year gathering "intelligence" on nonviolent, noncriminal demonstrators -- and discovered a file filled with paranoid notes about his presence at lawful public gatherings.

I don't really understand how or why the Met has become so pants-wettingly scared of peaceful protest. I have spent my life in various protest movements, and can count the number of violent or out-of-control demonstrations I've seen on the fingers of one hand, and in every instance, the loss of control began when the police decided to suddenly and forcefully break up the event.

Now Salusbury has produced a guide to getting your file from the London cops. Something we should all do, I think.

This all seems part of the change in the British government seeing its role as representing people to seeing its role as managing people.

After two Data Protection Act requests to the police, I'm bemused rather than outraged to discover 17 extant entries on me in the Metropolitan police's Crimint (criminal intelligence) database. I feature in the database because I was "seen" or "observed" at various public events. In Crimint's most recently recorded entry on me in 2007, I was stopped and searched approaching an arms fair protest that I was reporting on, and found to have my press card on me. There is no suggestion in any of my Crimint reports of any remotely criminal activity.

My Crimint database entries suggest that the Met's forward intelligence team (FIT) are interested in who's turning up to anti-arms fair demos and what they're doing there, which journalists are covering protests, and who's with the volunteer legal observers who monitor and gather evidence on arrests and other police activity on demos (usually from a safe distance). In most of my Crimint reports, I seem to be of interest to the police because I'm taking an interest in them. Much of their data is alarmingly inaccurate or poorly recorded, they get basic facts - like the colours of my bike and rucksack - wrong, and one Crimint entry finished in mid-sentence.

FIT surveillance is deliberately obvious, its "overt surveillance" carried out by police in uniform, or by uniformed civilian photographers hired by the Met. To me, it looks as if their attention's aimed at ensuring that new faces don't feel like showing up on demos or actions again, that pub landlords and other venue managers become reluctant to let activist groups use their meeting spaces, or that bands get cold feet about playing at anti-capitalist benefit gigs again... One entry on my Crimint file records a conversation I had with a City police officer back in 2002, who seemed preoccupied by me "taking note of officer's shoulder numbers", and that's a pretty good place to start. Most data I've got out of the police is the result of me scribbling down a note of the shoulder number of the police officers who have photographed me or appeared to take notes about me, the time and location, and what event they were policing, and putting these details in a letter requesting this "personal information", invoking the Data Protection Act

Protesting against police tactics


  1. Very interesting coverage as always. I would be appreciative if there could be a post on how to go about getting your own file, though being in the US I assume such records would be with the local police and various federal agencies.

  2. Cory, you’re not a native Briton, why do you live there? Every story on this site about the UK is terrible, orwellian, maybe even a bit fascist, why would you choose to live there? I’m not saying the US or Canada is any better, but you’re a writer, and the internet exists, so even if your publisher is in the UK, it’s not like you have to be, just GTF out before it’s too late man.

  3. I’m pretty sure the irony would be lost on the Metropolitan Police if you pointed out to them that “Crimint” is a Newspeak word.

  4. This kind of surveillance is a waste of time, since activists involved in seriously illegal activity keep their distance from protests and high-profile public events. They know all about this type of surveillance profiling, and avoid it quite easily.

    I think the surveillance is more theatre than detective work – that is, it’s for the benefit of the activists present. It’s intended to make them feel that everything they do is being recorded for use against them, which can dissuade people from doing anything assertive, legal or not. Nobody wants to stand out, to catch the eye of Big Brother. Also, as was mentioned, it has a very chilling effect on those peripherally associated with a movement. While experienced organizers are used to invasive police monitoring, interested newcomers and supporters can be easily scared off by such things.

    1. The “theater” aspect makes sense both to dissuade those who don’t want attention, and to satisfy those who do. If you’re being watched and bullied, your actions seem significant. After all, The Man is worried, right? So then you don’t bother with making real trouble, and stick to the almost entirely harmless (and fruitless) protesting. The kid isn’t going to smash a lamp to get attention if you’re already looking at him.

      Then again, it’s probably not that sophisticated…

      1. @Moriarty
        It’s a mutualistic relationship; the protesters feel important because “The Man” is annoyed, and the police feel important because they can claim that they are protecting society from radicals/terrorists, without, you know, actually having to deal with actual dangerous characters that might shoot at them or something.

  5. At the next big demo in the UK, everyone, and I do mean everyone, should bring some kind of video camera with them.

    It could be a mobile phone, but you can get cheap cameras for about £35 now, or splash out a bit more and get a Flip or similar.

    Then just film everything the police do, and everything that happens from every angle. Every confrontation, every scuffle, every punch or baton strike needs to be filmed and uploaded.

    If the police are doing nothing wrong then they have nothing to fear? Right?

    The same goes for the protesters, if they really believe that they a demonstrating peacefully then they won’t object to being filmed, and those that just want an excuse to trash a McDonalds can knob off and stop embarrassing all the peaceful protesters who’d actually like to see things change.

    In an ideal world the cameras would operate in a kind of mesh network, distributing their footage, with some nodes acting as uplinks. We don’t want anyone having their camera confiscated on some dubious charge so that the footage can be wiped.

    In an ideal world, that’s what the press would be doing more of, but they can’t be everywhere, and are often not able/willing to get into the thick of things.

  6. What is going on in Britain? It has somehow become the most surveilled society in the world, on its way to a police state, if it’s not already one.

    And it seems to be happening with little protest or opposition. Or maybe I’m ignorant of what protest or opposition there is. Cory, can you do a post, or can you readers offer some links, regarding the fight against all this, the police control, the CCTV cameras, and so on?

      1. “Surveil” is a legitimate verb, and “surveilled” is its past-tense form.

        The OED identifies it as a back-formation, with citations going back to the 1960s, including one from the Guardian in 1968. ( “It was some time before I was being surveilled . . . with the full courtesy of a Home Office warrant.”)

  7. If you’re a UK Happy Mutant interested in challenging FIT’s activity, support FITwatch:

    Also, educate yourself about the private companies that dictate policing policies and procedures in our sceptic isle under the umbrella of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO):

    National Counter Terrorism Security Office
    National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit
    Confidential Intelligence Unit

    ACPO, NCTSO, CIU and NETCU are all exempt from freedom of information laws and other kinds of public accountability, even though they are funded by the Home Office and deploy police officers from regional forces.

    Terrifying, indeed.

  8. Paul #6 – I like the idea…. a youtube for activists. Run by a community, hosted outside the west’s area of legal influence so we can put anything up and refuse all non-copyright based takedown requests. I think this could also be of use to provide hosting space for vids of extremely bloody warfare – show the peeps what our society deems to be too horrific for our little, fragile minds.

    Anon #2 – running away from problems is not the solution because eventually you will run out of places to run to.

    It seems to me that western governments have taken the ‘if you cant beat them, join them’ mentality in regards to China but they’ve adapted it to: ‘if you cant beat them, just employ their sneaky and illegal monitoring tactics and implement on your own people so you dont lose the compeditive edge’.

    If I were in the UK I would make it my mission to spray or sticker every camera I came across. Does anyone know of any technology which can temporarily/permanently damage the light sensors inside cameras? I think we need to get some activist tech up and running. How about someone fashions one of those vomit-inducing-light-guns we saw on BB a few weeks ago? This could make for more interesting interactions with the cops.

    Also how about we make our own community-sourced database called “Pigint” (Piggy ‘intelligence’) database? Start a place for activists to collate all the shoulder numbers/photographs they take. Again needs to be hosted somewhere which is stable, but not likely to play nice with the west’s legal systems.

    The UK govt is slowly making Britain the laughing stock of the world. Morally upstanding, my ass. Whilst feigning it for centuries, I dont think the UK govt has ever been so.

  9. In support of StanleyK, surveilled is commonly used within sociology, particulary that in relation to forms of social governance and used particulary by (but not limited to) French theorists.


    as an example.

    The inference from the word (though again it’s not restricted to this) is that is it something conducted by State authorities or thos with power deriving from the State. Thus it places a greater emphasis on the activity as a means of control (social control in particular) than the use of the word ‘watch’ conveys.

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