‘Spy cops’ victims share ongoing data protection concerns

Undercover cops collected and disseminated a “substantial volume of personal information” about left-wing activists, together with girls they deceived into intimate sexual relationships, in surveillance that was “clearly disproportionate and inappropriate”, a public inquiry has heard.

Established in 2015 to research the practices of undercover policing items – together with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was created in 1968 to infiltrate British protest teams as a part of the Met Police’s Special Branch – the Under Cover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) started its second part on 21 April 2021.

Headed by former choose Sir John Mitting, this part will look at the SDS’s actions between 1972 and 1983, starting with three days of opening statements from witnesses.

The inquiry will take a look at whether or not the intelligence-gathering practices of undercover officers have been justified, and is predicted to disclose particulars of how data protection points have been uncared for at a time when legal guidelines have been being launched to manipulate the usage of private info.

Matthew Ryder QC, who was talking on behalf of anti-apartheid campaigners Peter Haine, Jonathan Rosenhead and Ernest Rodker, said a striking feature of the SDS’s intelligence stories was “how much mundane and trivial personal information was collected” because of its surveillance actions.

Ryder famous that two separate intelligence stories have been filed by undercover officers (UCOs) in 1976 about Rodker and subsequently shared with the safety service – one solely in regards to the start of his son, and the opposite solely about the truth that he had suffered a coronary heart assault at dwelling and was now in St James Hospital.

The UCOs equally reported on the presence of Hain’s youthful sisters, each youngsters on the time, at conferences of the Young Liberals held in his dad and mom’ dwelling, which was once more shared with the safety service.  

“How and why this personal information was deemed relevant to collect and to then pass on seems difficult to justify,” stated Ryder. “This info isn’t uncommon, however typical of what was collected.

“For example, HN304/‘Graham Coates’ filed a report on an anarchist and his wife, noting a subscription to Anarchy magazine alongside a comment that ‘the couple have a mongol child’. This information was signed off by a chief inspector and chief superintendent and the intelligence report was sent to the security service.”

Ryder beforehand stated in part one of many inquiry, in an opening statement on behalf of more than 100 participants, that each one of those folks have been topic to spying and reporting on their private lives by police, with data and data saved about them for many years with none justifiable goal.

Personal data ‘hoovered up mindlessly’

In her opening statement on 22 April, Diane Langford – whose ongoing activism started with the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination within the early Sixties – stated “our personal data was hoovered up mindlessly and meaninglessly with as little empathy as if by an algorithm”, and that this was “illustrated time and again” in SDS stories.

Referring to quite a lot of information submitted as proof to the inquiry, Langford stated this info ranged from in-depth descriptions of activists’ bodily appearances and samples of ladies’s handwriting, to particulars of individuals’s financial institution accounts and who owned their properties.

She added that one officer, HN45, displayed a “peculiar obsession” in his stories together with her private relationship together with her former companion Abhimanyu Manchanda (referred to by her as Manu) and their childcare preparations.

“He sent detailed reports to the Special Branch about what he apparently saw as transgressive behaviour – a man looking after his own child – and expressing horror that I was ‘sent out to work’. He informs his superiors of Manu’s ‘insufferable anecdotes’ about our baby,” Langford instructed the inquiry.

“Strangely, nothing in there about us overthrowing the state machine.”

Peter Skelton QC, counsel for the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, instructed the inquiry that SDS officers have been typically requested to offer an intensive vary of private details about the activists they have been spying on.   

“Some of this – such as a person’s approximate age, their physical appearance, their address, profession or trade, employment and employment history, contacts and associated vehicles – may be understood as being relevant to reporting on persons of interest to MPSB [Met Police Special Branch] or the security service,” stated Skelton in his opening statement.

“There is also reporting on sensitive personal information which may or may not have been justifiable to record, depending on the context. Such reporting might include detail about relationships starting and ending, with reasons, or attendees at social events, and the members of a person’s family or household.”

Skelton added that though “the MPS acknowledges that some of the information about personal lives was set down in more detail than was necessary… it reiterates that intelligence collection does on occasion require the recording of detail which may seem innocuous or irrelevant, but may be significant at a later date”.

A thread to the current day

Witnesses additionally expressed concern in regards to the retention of their private info with out their data and the extent to which it affected, and continues to have an effect on, their lives.

Langford added: “I’ll never know what career opportunities were denied to me, or what other barriers have been placed in front of me during my life, as a result of the machinations of the Special Demonstration Squad. I’ll never know whether unpleasant incidents, for example, being denied credit or visas, or break-ins at my home, were connected to the surveillance I was being subjected to.”

“Madeleine” – a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) all through the Seventies who was granted anonymity within the inquiry because of a UCO referred to as Vince Miller deceiving her into an intimate sexual relationship – shared similar concerns about information containing “information of a very intrusive and personal nature” being retained by authorities.

“Vince Miller was spying on me, that much I know, but the questions I am left with are: when exactly did the authorities start spying on me and with what justification? What events in my life led to this intrusion? I can see in the files that I am the subject of something ‘redacted.’ What has been hidden from me? Who was spying on me then? What other spooks have I been exposed to? Am I still being spied on? If not, when did it stop? It is chilling and sinister,” she stated.

“I now wonder what other ‘fictions’ have been perpetrated against others I love, my family and friends, in the name of this spying on me by the state. I have had to consider what hidden impact this may have had on the course of my life and those of my family.”

Madeleine requested the inquiry to make all info surrounding these occasions accessible to her, and that any info at the moment held is subsequently destroyed and faraway from archives, with written proof to verify.

Langford added: “It is patently obvious that a thread runs through police policies and strategies, from the time when surveillance of myself and my colleagues began, to the present day.” She stated she has questioned a number of occasions whether or not she remains to be being surveilled.

“If I was under surveillance in 1970 as a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, am I still under surveillance now? I became far more active in PSC in the early 2000s, following the Second Intifada, than I was in the sixties and seventies – and remain so,” she stated.  

“Despite the development of mind-boggling algorithms and digital surveillance techniques, is there any difference between the secret police methods and the harvesting of personal data by means of artificial intelligence?”

Statutory data protection compliance to be thought of

According to inquiry counsel David Barr QC, a notable function of the proof admitted within the inquiry’s first part was “how little criminality was reported among the groups that were being infiltrated”.

In his opening statement, he launched a doc from the Home Office from December 1984 entitled Home Office Guidelines on the Work of a Special Branch.

Although it was revealed shortly after the interval being thought of on this part of the inquiry (1972 to 1983), Barr stated: “Much of the content is in line with similar older documents that we have published.”

He added: “Of note is the fact that it contains the first substantial guidance that we have obtained on the subject of data protection. We assume that it was the result of the enactment of the first Data Protection Act in 1984.”

The doc set out the duties and features of Special Branch, which included finishing up “naturalisation enquiries” on behalf of the UK’s immigration authorities, aiding the safety service in “defending the realm”, and gathering details about threats to public order.

It additional outlined what info might be gathered, for what functions, and whom it might be shared with.

“Data on individuals or organisations should not under any circumstances be collected or held solely on the basis that such a person or organisation supports unpopular causes or on the basis of race or creed,” it stated.

“Care should be taken to ensure that only necessary and relevant information is recorded and retained. Each Special Branch should therefore maintain an effective system both for updating information where necessary and for weeding out and destroying information which can no longer be clearly related to the discharge of its functions.”

Barr stated the inquiry will take into account whether or not this authorized regime made any sensible distinction to what was recorded and retained by the SDS in “Tranche 2” of proceedings, which is able to take a look at the interval 1983 to 1992 for the primary time, however has not but been given a particular beginning date.

“For the moment, we note that the document permits a comparison between practice prior to 1984 and that which, from then on, ought to have been complied with,” he stated.

The first part of the inquiry, held in November 2020, examined the practices of the SDS from 1968 to 1972. In its third part, which is able to conclude Tranche 1, the inquiry will hear from SDS managers for your entire interval as much as 1983.

The inquiry’s second part will start listening to proof on 26 April 2021.

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