Hunting and anti-hunting groups locked in tit-for-tat row over data gathering


Longstanding disagreements between searching groups and anti-hunting activists have damaged out into allegations of unlawful data gathering from either side.

Activists declare that two leaked inside paperwork created by pro-hunting groups counsel they’re amassing and holding private data on hunt saboteurs – activists that use sabotage as a type of direct motion to cease unlawful fox searching – and additional counsel the data is being shared with counter-terror police.

The saboteurs have accused the searching groups of illegally amassing their private data and at the moment are in search of to instigate a number of claims beneath the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

However, there are allegations these paperwork have been obtained illegally and would be the topic of a legal investigation. The hunt supporters concerned are additionally involved how private details about hunt members is likely to be utilized by the activists, following a sequence of current data breaches.

The searching groups and hunt saboteurs deny partaking in any criminal activity.

Monthly experiences on anti-hunting activists

The data assortment practices of the Hunting Office (HO), a central organisation delegated to run the executive, advisory and supervisory features of the UK’s searching associations, and the Countryside Alliance (CA), a marketing campaign organisation with over 100,000 members that promotes rural points, have been questioned by activists operating a web site referred to as Hunting Leaks.

The web site house owners mentioned {that a} month-to-month round-up of anti-hunting exercise – which seems to have been shared by way of e mail with hunts throughout the UK – was handed on to Hunting Leaks by an undisclosed animal rights group.

The leaked doc, a report on saboteur exercise between 14 November and 12 December 2020, lists the names of anti-hunting groups, the names of 30 activists (a few of that are referred to a number of occasions) and details about their automobiles, together with registration numbers. 

It additionally contains data on the variety of anti-hunting activists in attendance, particulars about their actions and exercise on a given hunt day, in addition to steering for a way hunt members ought to method amassing data and video footage.

For instance, it mentioned that hunt members shouldn’t have interaction with saboteurs as they use closely edited footage on social media to discredit hunts, and that any pictures or video footage ought to be gathered in a non-confrontational method in order to not put hunt supporters in any harmful conditions.

The doc additional states the gathering of this data has instantly led to quite a few profitable convictions towards hunt opponents.

In response to questions from Computer Weekly, the CA mentioned its practices are compliant with GDPR, including that detailed authorized recommendation was sought and clear processes have been put in place.

A CA spokesperson mentioned: “There is no justification for leaking and publishing the details of private individuals who support a lawful activity other than to intimidate them and leave them vulnerable to harassment. We hope the police will investigate this matter thoroughly and punish those responsible appropriately.”

Data safety issues

The Telegraph reported on 22 January 2021 that three hunts – the New Forest Hounds, the Cottesmore Hunt and the Mendip Farmers’ Hunt – have all been hit by data breaches this month, the place dwelling addresses and contact particulars had been printed on-line by anti-hunting groups, though it’s unclear if the breaches are linked to the leaks in query.

The breaches have prompted police to write down to a whole bunch of hunt members, warning them to safe their digital footprints and assessment the safety of their properties whereas the incidents are being investigated.

Benjamin Mancroft, chairman of the HO, advised the Telegraph: “We are investigating the supply of the breaches and instances of unlawful hacking of our members’ non-public e mail accounts, in addition to the theft of non-public data by animal rights extremists.

“We take these security breaches very seriously – this coordinated attack from anti-hunt groups and resultant online harassment of our members and the potential exposure to violence and criminal damage is something our community should not have to tolerate.”

A publish on the Hunting Leaks web site mentioned: “The Countryside Alliance claim to use the ‘prevention of crime’ as an excuse to get round GDPR regs [regulations] and then create these reports which they broadcast to every hunt in the country. Yet in this most recent of reports covering the entire country for four weeks, there is not one incident where saboteurs have been arrested and charged.”

Nothing we’ve been given seems prefer it’s from hacked emails. Any allegation that what we’ve put out has been illegally obtained is simply that – an allegation
Ernie Goldman, Hunting Leaks member

Ernie Goldman, a member of Hunting Leaks, mentioned the paperwork handed on to the group come from quite a lot of sources – together with nameless senders and even folks clearly concerned in searching themselves – however he claimed there may be nothing to counsel they had been illegally obtained.

“Nothing we’ve been given looks like it’s from hacked emails – there are no screenshots of people’s private conversations, just hunt-related documents, spreadsheets, red books, subscriber lists,” he mentioned. “Any allegation that what we have put out has been illegally obtained is just that – an allegation – and we do not recognise that allegation at all.”

Goldman added that the gathering of data on anti-hunting activists may have severe penalties.

“West Midlands hunt saboteurs…recently had someone come to their home and pour petrol through their letterbox,” he mentioned. “Elsewhere this season, a house was attacked that used to be occupied by hunt sabs [saboteurs] and is now occupied by a retired couple – a number of their windows were smashed.”

Lee Moon, a spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs Association, mentioned the impression on people named in the report “can be life changing”.

“Sabs have had their homes damaged, vehicles set on fire and dead foxes left on their doorsteps. The number of sab vehicles stolen from outside our properties has also always seemed unusually high,” he mentioned.

“The Hunt Saboteurs Association are grateful to Hunting Leaks for bringing this matter to the public’s attention, and we look forward to a full and thorough investigation by the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office].”

Second leaked doc

A second leaked doc – a saboteur replace from September 2019 that was additionally handed on to Hunting Leaks – suggests the CA holds a central database with additional details about anti-hunting activists.

The doc suggests the CA mentioned it had created a devoted database to carry related data on hunt saboteurs, which can be collected by hunt members and groups of proof gatherers.

It steered that, with out this proof, the CA’s lobbying, media and social media features can’t be used to full impact towards hunt saboteurs, and that the CA and HO had been in settlement that the failure to gather such data has been the first barrier to coping with anti-hunting opposition.

It additional claimed that data collected in the database is for a special objective to the fundamental data that has lengthy been collected and distributed on searching days, which it mentioned was solely for aiding hunt masters in deciding easy methods to conduct their day’s exercise.

It is at present unclear if that is referring to data collated in the leaked month-to-month report or one thing else, and what the precise relationship is between these experiences and the central database.

The CA mentioned it doesn’t have a “systematic database of animal rights activists”.

“[As that document states], data held by the alliance is mainly photographs and videos of incidents and activity that has taken place at hunts or hunt property, together with supporting material from social media, that could lead to criminal prosecution for violence, public order, harassment or other offences,” a CA spokesperson mentioned.

“The alliance does not hold a systematic database of animal rights activists, it does not hold sensitive personal information on such people, and it only shares relevant information with law enforcement bodies.”

The CA declined to say what number of anti-hunting activists’ private data it was holding.

Goldman famous that as a result of 30 activists had been already in the month-to-month report from November 2020, the database may comprise data on a whole bunch of individuals.

“The CA database has been known about, or at least guessed, for some years,” he mentioned. “There are a number of individuals in hunts across the country who are very overtly taking lots of pictures…The confirmation for us came in the past few weeks when we were passed on the CA document outlining the central database.”

The Countryside Alliance identified that one other anti-hunt organisation, the League Against Cruel Sports, additionally gathers private data “in relation to individuals that we investigate for animal cruelty in the name of ‘sport’ and in support of our campaigns”, as said in the LACS privacy policy.

Hunting Leaks has denied any connection to the LACS.

Data sharing association with counter-terror police

The leaked doc additionally steered that the brand new system had been promising to this point, and that the CA is working with the Counter Terror Policing – National Operations Centre (CTP-NOC) after agreeing an information-sharing protocol to move on data about extremist exercise. It added that concentrating on ringleaders was a foremost precedence.

A Counter Terror Policing spokesperson mentioned that, previous to April 2020, it was the duty of the CTP-NOC “to collect and assess data in relation to protest groups on behalf of UK policing nationally, primarily to make sure they didn’t pose a safety menace, but additionally to assist forces facilitate lawful protest and forestall legal exercise.

“Since April 2020, the responsibility for gathering such information was handed to the National Police Operations Centre [NPoCC], allowing CTP-NOC to focus on keeping the country safe from terrorism,” it added.

The NPoCC was despatched questions in regards to the information-sharing protocol – together with the character of the way it works, whether or not any motion has been taken towards anti-hunting activists because of the settlement, and why they’re of curiosity to counter-terror police – however didn’t reply by time of publication. It is unclear when this settlement was made.

Kevin Blowe, a coordinator on the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), advised Computer Weekly: “We don’t yet know for certain whether there is a formal information-sharing protocol between the Countryside Alliance and Counter-Terrorism Policing.”

Netpol has submitted a freedom of information request to the Metropolitan Police, which leads on counter-terrorism, in search of clarification.

“We do know, however, that the Countryside Alliance has a vested interest in portraying hunt saboteurs in the worst possible light because it is largely evidence gathered by the alliance’s opponents that puts pressure on extremely reluctant police forces to act on persistent breaches of the Hunting Act,” mentioned Blowe.

“Perhaps due to the variety of previously very senior retired cops concerned in ‘field sports’ organisations and the ability and affect of native landowners, we all know that the police are deeply suspicious of hunt sabs.

“We have monitored this for a number of years and heard about the misuse of police stop and search powers intended for finding offensive weapons, wrongful arrests, the use of police drones and indifference by officers towards threats of violence. This all seems designed to actively frustrate efforts to investigate illegal fox hunting.”

Counter Terror Policing’s curiosity in anti-hunting activists

Goldman claimed that counter-terror police have been traditionally motivated to analyze the animal rights motion – one thing that has continued to the current day.

On 10 January 2020, the Guardian reported on a counter-terrorism police briefing document distributed to medical staff and teachers as part of the government’s anti-radicalisation Prevent programme.

In it, Counter-Terrorism Policing listed quite a few groups it seen as “extremist”, together with Extinction Rebellion, Stop the Badger Cull and the Hunt Saboteur Association, alongside fascist groups similar to Combat 18 and Generation Identity.

If the connection between the police and the Countryside Alliance has led to any alternate of details about searching’s opponents, this can be a disturbing instance of political policing utilizing sympathetic allies to attempt to quash dissent
Kevin Blowe, Network for Police Monitoring

“Police forces traditionally have seen hunt saboteurs as the people breaking the law – that should, of course, have changed with the Hunting Act coming into force in 2005,” mentioned Goldman.

“There are certainly far fewer arrests of hunt sabs, but the police are still very much seen by sabs to be in the pocket of the hunts with the high-up connections, rich landowners, judges, high-ranking police officers, etc., all riding with hunts.”

In late November 2020, two secretly recorded Zoom webinars hosted by the HO seem to point out a number of the UK’s main hunt personnel, together with high-ranking former cops, discussing easy methods to keep away from prosecution for allegedly unlawful fox searching, in addition to easy methods to use path searching as a “smokescreen” to disguise their actions from authorities. 

ITV later reported the webinars were being investigated by police officers in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service to see if any legal offences have taken place.

“As was evidenced in the leaked Hunting Office webinars last year, most hunts have spent the past 15 years building up a smokescreen to hide their criminal acts,” mentioned Moon.

“Hunt saboteurs are out there doing the police’s job for them by stopping the hunts, yet week after week we are targeted by police who seem to be in the hunts’ pockets. To find this high-level engagement between the police and the CA at least starts to make sense of the regular police bias we experience out in the fields.”

Blowe added: “If the relationship between the police and the Countryside Alliance has led to any exchange of information about hunting’s opponents, this is a disturbing example of political policing using sympathetic allies to try to quash dissent.”

Goldman mentioned Hunting Leaks’ intention is acquire a public clarification from the CA about why it’s holding data on anti-hunting activists and to obtain reparations for the victims.

“We plan on doing this by publishing leaked data on hunts that we hold. We are publishing at a rate of about once a week and we will be doing this throughout the spring and summer, or until the CA capitulates,” he mentioned.



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