There is a disturbing film and story on The Guardian site which shows two London Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) hassling an Italian art student, Simona Bonomo, largely, it seems to me, because she wasn’t submissive towards them and stood up for herself. This comes several months after the Home Office issued new guidelines, yet it looks like photography and filming is still being treated as if it is inherently suspicious – as Marc Vallée points out.
The additional issue is that PCSOs are not even proper trained police officers in the first place, yet they increasingly seem to be under the impression that they can make the kind of judgements that senior police officers should be making. There need to be some changes to UK law here (amongst many of course!) – one to replace Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, since it seems clear that it can’t be interpreted appropriately, and secondly, the powers of PCSOs need to more carefully delineated and restricted.
For those involved in photography, video or film-making, in the UK or nearby, there will be a mass photography action, “I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist!”, on January 23rd at 12 Noon, Trafalgar Square in London.
The city government of Rio de Janeiro has voted 46 to 3 in favour of installing video surveillance cameras inside all new police vehicles, and overridden the veto of the Governor, Sergio Cabral.
Cabral, who is otherwise all in favour of video surveillance, did everything he could to stop this law, but in vain. The reason that the pro-police governor is so against this particular law and order measure is that the cameras are supposed to be installed not simply to ‘protect’ police officers but also to prevent abuse of power, corrupt practice and police violence against suspects. This is a huge issue in Rio (and Brazil more generally), and we saw a good example of this recently with the inhumane actions by officers after the fatal assault on Evandro, the founder of Afro-Reggae.
However, I do wonder how officers will take this development, how the cameras will be used in practice, and how many of them will conveniently experience technical failures at important moments…
(Thanks to Paola Barreto Leblanc for the heads up)
The UK’s DNA database, already under fire by the European Court of Human Right for retaining samples and data from innocent people, has now been lambasted in a report by the government’s own genetics watchdog. The Human Genetics Commission.
The report, called Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear? contains a numbers of serious criticisms, most notably the finding that police forces around Britain are routinely arresting people simply in order to obtain their DNA. Almost a million innocent people, including many children, are now on the database, and the ECHR ruling has finally prompted the government to make some minor concessions, such as keeping the DNA of innocent people for 6 years as opposed to 12, but there appears to have been no fundamental change in police practice, nor any change in the instructions given to local forces on best practice.
It’s main recommendations are:
- that there should be a parliamentary debate about the recording of what it calls ‘unconvicted’ people;
- that because the purpose of the database has shifted over time, there should be constraints set out in new primary legislation;
- that “robust evidence of the ‘forensic utility’ of the database should be produced to justify the resource cost and interference with individual privacy it represents”; and,
- that there should be an independent oversight board and appeals board to consider removal of profiles; and transparency over data and other issues.
These are all laudable, but I really start to question their judgement in using the term ‘unconvicted people’. British law has always worked on the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. People are therefore ‘innocent’ until they have a conviction. The term ‘unconvicted’ seems to imply that innocence is no longer an assumption, and that the working hypothesis is that everyone is either guilty or not yet (therefore, potentially) guilty. This is what results from the normalisation of surveillance in everyday life, and it’s one thing we warned most strongly against in our own Report on the Surveillance Society back in 2006. When even critical reports start using language that reflects the worldview of the people they are criticising, you have to be concerned.
Calling people ‘unconvicted’ and not ‘innocent’ matters.
Research in the UK has shown that police forces in Britain are continuing to add the DNA – and incidentally the fingerprints, although this is never mentioned – of innocent people to the DNA database despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling that it was illegal (and the government’s promise to accept the ruling). According to The Guardian newspaper today, 90,000 innocent people have been added to the National DNA database (NDNAD) since a the court ruling and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) – incidentally, a private organisation – is still telling chief constables to continue with this collection. On the other hand the process of removing individual profiles has been painfully slow: only 611 DNA profiles of innocent people have been removed, and all as a result of individual challenges in court. It seems that the police are determined to drag their feet as long as possible and, in fact, break the law quite openly. Hardly a good example…
A new campaign launches on the 1st October in Europe to reclaim your data from the European police authorities.
Now in Europe, national police databases systems, the Schengen Information System (SIS) on immigration and border control, the files of Europol and more, are planned to be integrated following the Prüm Treaty and the so-called ‘Stockholm Programme’ (now in preparation for European Council vote in December this year).
As the organisers make clear, this does not just concern people convicted of any crime, but all immigrants, political protestors arrested at demonstrations, all the many entirely innocent people included on the UK’s National DNA Database – or any other national police database that includes data on the innocent, etc. What’s more, as a result of pre-existing (and originally secretly negotiated) agreements with the USA, the data will also be shared with the FBI and other US intelligence agencies.
So – first of all, protest! In what ever way you can. And secondly, as the campaign suggests:
“to anyone who would like to know what the police (think they) know about you, or simply to register your dissent, we recommend exercising your right to access your own data by sending a request for information to the relevant police authority in your country. The digest received in response will help to give us an idea of the full extent of police access to citizen data, as well as serving as a starting point for getting your data out of the computer systems, by legal or political means.”
Further details here (in English and German).
German-language document generator for data requests.