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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Fitwatch: It's Not Just About the Cameras

When people think about Fitwatch, there is an immediate focus on the cameras. This is not unsurprising. Fitwatch actions have generally been focused on either us taking pictures of them, or us physically getting in the way of their cameras.

However, it is important to remember it's not just about the cameras. I commented on an email group recently that I would not have got so involved in Fitwatch if it was just about the cops taking my photo. It's not nice, but it's something I can live with. This is not to denigrate anyone who feels upset or intimidated by having their photo taken - it can be a very frightening experience the first time it happens - but what myself and others have dealt with is far more serious.

Announcing she intended to extend FIT operations to problem estates, Jacqui Smith admitted she wanted targets "harried and harassed." And this is exactly what they are doing on demonstrations - they are trying to harass people enough they know longer attend.

This harassment takes many forms , but if you end up on one of their target lists or spotter cards it can be anything from repeatedly having your photograph taken (and anyone who talks to you having their photograph taken), being stopped and searched, derogatory comments, being followed, assaults, wrongful arrests, and false imprisonments.

There is no respect for family life, something I'm sure the residents of the Five Links estate in Essex are realising. Not only have I been followed home on numerous occasions, I have been followed whilst heavily pregnant, and with my child. I've been photographed breastfeeding. My child now distinguishes between "good" cops and "bad" cops - the "bad" cops being the ones who wear "blue and follow us". I've now reached the point where I won't take him to protests.

I was last convicted of an offence in 2002. Since then, I have been arrested twenty five times, the majority of these have been by, or due to, forward intelligence officers. I do not have a single conviction from any of these arrests.

The psychological damage of these tactics should not be under estimated. In 2002, I ended up in hospital after drinking too much, vomitting blood, and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics. I still have regular nightmares about cops chasing me. I have to steel myself before going to demos because I know what the situation will be - I can't just go on a march - I know I will be photographed, followed and spoken to. I know the cops will end up outside whichever pub we decide to visit.

This has not just happened to me. It has happened to a number of my friends. And, it is one of the reasons I became involved in Fitwatch. It is the reason why I wanted to start fighting back.

In this article the police admit they do not want their photos taken because it "unnerves" them, and they fear "revenge attacks from civil liberties groups". Good. This is a huge victory for Fitwatch, and one we should celebrate.

Furthermore, this has given me an even larger personal victory. I no longer feel unnerved by them. The tables are turning, and we need to build on this initiative until we have driven FIT off our demos, and off our streets.

10 comments:

Dba said...

nice one keep the blogs up, mine is ok ,but could be better, i have about 5 blogs, you tube, http: www.youtube.com/user/wrexhamtravellers, one word , and again on you tube,
www.youtube.com/user/caiapark http://groups.google.com/group/caia--park

Anonymous said...

Good Job its not just about the cameras as you have comprehensively lost that argument:-

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2008/1105.html

ybvrxj said...

dear anonymous

if in future you want to make a big and clever point, please remember to paste ALL the link so people can marvel at your wit.

Anonymous said...

I'll make it easy for you:-

Activists suffer defeat over police surveillance

Activists have suffered a major defeat after the High Court ruled that police-ordered photography of an anti-arms trade campaigner did not breach protesters' privacy rights.

The case had been brought by Andrew Wood, a former media co-ordinator for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), who claimed that the taking and storage of police photos was a violation of his privacy. The High Court rejected the claim primarily because they were taken in the public street and retained only for a specific purpose.

The case was seen as hugely important by activists. As the Observer noted on 27 April 2008 the case represented a challenge to “the power of the police to mount surveillance operations at peaceful protests” and was “seen as opposing Britain's move towards a Big Brother-style society”. Wood, who was granted legal aid to fight the case, added: "I hope this legal action will safeguard our rights to privacy.”

ybvrxj said...

Yes yes, we all know about that. I thought you perhaps had something to add to the discussion but I see I was wrong.

Bored of sore loosers said...

'I see I was wrong'

You are certainly right about that!

ybvrxj said...

looser sores

perhaps if it was news i'd be more interested in it. as it is, that case is not necessarily finished, nor has the judgment only now been released.

come back in a bit when you DO have something new to tell us.

fotdmike said...

Just to add a little something to the discussion re that decision...

"it would appear that the Court upholds in principle the photographing, by police FIT or whomever, of protesters, demonstrators, and those attending public meetings etc. In a sense this decision is perfectly understandable, and indeed reinforces the rights afforded to photographers in general to practise their craft in public places without hindrance. There is however a clear distinction between innocently photographing public assemblies and deliberately, consistently, and repeatedly targetting specific individuals, which could surely be construed as unwarranted harassment"

pc comment said...

Pc Comment here. ybvrxj, who has annoyed you on my blog?

More Comment said...

It was ironic that the case was brought by Andrew Wood who, far from being a moderate, law-abiding campaigner is precisely the kind of person that the police should be taking an interest in. The police have an explicit function to uphold public order and over the years, Wood’s pivotal role first in the Newbury road protests and then the anti-GM direct action campaign, frequently meant direct involvement in actions which posed a serious threat to public order and often criminal activity.

Activists had been hoping that this case would have led to a curtailment of police surveillance of their activities. The case is significant because it is one of the few times that such alleged intrusion by the state rather than the media has been the subject of a UK ruling. Wood has not only failed in his objective but, in obtaining the ruling, he has effectively legitimised what the police are doing.