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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Protest as Blair gives Iraq evidence

Stop the War happily entered into negotiations with the police about their protest tomorrow, only to be told that the police will not allow them to congregate outside the QEII conference centre as they planned. If the police get their way, protests will be kept well away from the people they have come to protest against.

Stop the War appear to be resisting pressure from police, and are still advertising the QEII as a convergence point.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Mass Photography Gathering Trafalgar Square Sat 23 January, "I'm a Photographer Not A Terrorist"

There were about a thousand photographers and also a couple of hapless PCSOs attempting to detain a leafletter (she was leafletting for the No Borders CCTV for later that day), but the thousand-strong photographer pack gently accidentally on purpose closed in to record the incident in such numbers as to make pursuit impossible.

One punter reported actually seeing a cop at the Mass Photography Event, and overheard this cop talking into his radio, asking "What, withdraw completely or just hang around on the edges?"

Fancy dress ironic fake cops seemed to outnumber real cops.
Photograph copyright Matt Salusbury

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Police plan to use military style drones


The FITwatch blog has previously reported on the use of chopper drones by police, to carry cameras above the heads of demonstrators. But it seems these are no longer enough for our surveillance obsessed forces - they now want military style unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to keep an eye on us all.
The Herti (pictured) is a pilotless aircraft developed by the arms manufacturer BAE systems. According to BAE it is a "highly adaptable, fully autonomous, platform-based solution providing robust, cost-effective surveillance and reconnaissance capability to support a range of military and civil requirements.”
In a recent article the Guardian has claimed that BAE have drawn up with various police forces and agencies a list of potential ‘civil requirements’ including “road and railway monitoring, search and rescue, event security and covert urban surveillance.” They'd like to have the unmanned planes in use in policing operations within the next five years.
The Guardian does not give a figure for the price of this crucial piece of kit, although it surely won't come cheap. Tax payers need not worry though - apparently the police can offset running costs by hiring it out to corporate business during 'down time'. Well, that's alright then...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Life is too short to be controlled

No Borders Jan 23rd. St Pancras 2pm; Piccadilly Circus 4.30pm

FIT cameras are not the only surveillance that political protesters need worry about. CCTV is routinely used by police for the surveillance of political demonstration, as an alternative or an addition to deploying police photographers on the ground. Images are used to control the movement of demonstrations, to identify and record participants, and to provide evidence for the prosecution of misdemeanours. Information from CCTV systems can be shared with all manner of agencies, both in the UK and abroad.

It is therefore good to see groups like No Borders focusing attention on the controlling mechanism of CCTV.

There is an estimated half a million CCTV cameras in London, most of them installed and operated by private / corporate security. But there are also huge numbers of CCTV cameras directly linked to police control centres. Figures obtained by the BBC put the number at 7431, compared to 326 in Paris, 82 in Sydney, and 71 in San Francisco.

Academic research has cast a great deal of doubt over the effectiveness of CCTV in cutting crime – key research from Cardiff University claimed that CCTV alone had no effect in reducing the level of street crime. But what it does do is provide corporate and state authorities with an unprecedented level of surveillance and social control.

No Borders will be holding two demonstrations. “One will be at St. Pancras, where the UK (e-)border agency put up their controls in the middle of London. The second one will be at Piccadilly Circus where, while commuters, tourists and clubbers stare at the never-ending stream of commercials at ground level, they themselves are under constant observation by security and police in their cosy CCTV headquarters below ground.”

Monday, 18 January 2010

Anonymity: or how I learnt to stop worrying about FIT and masked up well

(This article was posted on indymedia, but caught our eye, and we thought it merited a re-print... )

A note on caution and paranoia:

It will be suggested that the threat of surveillance we outline here is exaggerated and paranoid. So we thought it necessary to clarify our stance. We choose to prepare for the worst case scenario. We accept that, for instance, the chance of the police both bothering to, and being able to obtain CCTV from third parties in the event of most “public order” situations is low. However, we believe to prepare for the fact that they may is cautious. We would be paranoid if our fears stopped us from acting, but careless if we did not let our fear inform us to prepare.

This has been a long time coming for us to write. Over the past few years we have seen an huge increase in police surveillance at demos. This has taken many forms: Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) - The FIT was formed in the early 1990's. Its purpose is to film, photograph and watch us whilst in plain sight, wearing blue and yellow fluorescent jackets. Their aim is to intimidate us. The FIT have been highly effectively combated at demos by the tactics developed by FITwatch, please see www.fitwatch.blogspot.com if you haven't already and join their fantastic work.

Evidence Gathering Teams (EGT) Similar to FIT, the EGT film demonstrations and in effect have the same job, only they don't belong to the FIT unit. Similarly annoying and obnoxious, and as well targeted by FITwatch.

Drones Right, now this sounds really paranoid, and we would say it was, had it not happened recently (at the anti-bnp demonstrations against the red, white and blue festival last year), but the police may use unmanned drones to film demonstrations from the air. These may be nullified on demonstrations in the same way any police surveillance can, through proper clothing and masking up.

Helmet Cameras These are cameras attached to the side of cops' heads and look like small cylinders. Some may have sound recording. Fortunately, they are new and expensive, but are becoming slowly more common. In reports on the death of Ian Tomlinson and the G20 protests, senior police officers concluded that this was a more suitable surveillance tactic to FIT teams. This is because, though we may see the cameras, the “general public” will not, thus making the state look less authoritarian. Again, mask up.

CCTV Is supposedly everywhere in city centres where demonstrations tend to take place, but it isn't as common as they want you to think. Be wary, and look around before masking up and unmasking, but it shouldn't be hard to get out of the gaze of the cameras. Most commercial CCTV only points down to the doors of the shops it is there to protect. Recently, police have been equipped with portable CCTV robots that climb lamp posts and can be deployed on the routes of demonstrations. We should remind everyone that these are very expensive pieces of equipment. They are also no more effective than any other tactic if we protect our anonymity well.

We must be honest, we have not adapted to the increase in surveillance well. Our ideas of anonymity are still caught ten years ago, from the black blocks of Seattle and the summit protests. We need to accept that now we cannot simply get away with wear darkish clothing and half covering our faces. While that may make you hard to pick out of an identity parade by an individual officer, to positively identify you for your file, and is pretty effective against standard old grainy CCTV, it is not a match for modern surveillance. By trawling through hours of high definition footage, police have picked out people before and then long after they lifted a mask over their face, and proved it in court by pointing to distinguishing clothing, piercings, tattoo's or hair. They have pointed to people in the corner of shots, or half in shots, and identified them from their other footage. Police have also used footage to arrest and raid houses months after demonstrations. We do not wish to create fear or paranoia, but it is important not to underestimate the sometimes unbelievably tedious lengths cops will go in the attempt to secure protester convictions. Yet all this can be easily combated simply by masking up well.

So, why mask up on demos? The first and most obvious reason why we should wear masks on demos is to protect ourselves from the ever watchful eyes of the surveillance state. The police and intelligence services are using an increasing variety of methods to document and gather evidence at protests. By effectively masking up you avoid being caught on police evidence gathering footage and/or CCTV and can dodge having further information on yourself being put on the police protester database ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/mar/06/police-surveillance-protesters-journalists-climate-kingsnorth).

It does not matter if what you do is entirely peaceful, the police will still attempt to identify you, create a file and if possible prosecute you. Even the most law-abiding protesters have been the target of police investigation and prosecutions. If you are going to participate in direct action or confrontation with the cops then be especially aware that police will be pouring over video/photo footage of the event afterwards and will seek to pin-point known activists and recognisable faces. It is not advisable to engage in these activities without first masking up properly.

Secondly, even if you do not plan on participating in direct action or confrontation masking up allows you to give solidarity to those who do by hiding them within our ranks. It is much harder for the cops to identify and isolate masked up activists if they are part of a larger masked block or one of many similar dressed people.

A note of caution: It is often claimed by activists and liberals who are opposed to masking up that if you are proud of what you do you should not be afraid to show your face. Don’t listen to them. Be proud of what you are doing but mask up to avoid the inconvenience of getting nicked. The system does not reward our pride.

Effective Masking Masking up to avoid police surveillance properly involves more than simply wrapping a scarf or bandanna around your face. Effective masking up means consideration must be given to how you are dressed as well. Ideally we would all dress the same and mask up in the same way. However, where there is not a consensus on clothing it may be good to dress identically to your affinity group to at least make it a little bit harder. Here we will provide you with some tips but it is by no means the bible on masking up and the best advice is to just use your common sense and ingenuity.

Head and face: This is by far the easiest part of your body to be identified by and must be properly covered. People have been identified by the police on the basis of the cops recognising their hair and even their distinctive brow. The best advice is to make sure that no part of your head is showing; a hat pulled low with a scarf and a pair of sunglasses works well to cover most of your face. Remember that you need to stay masked at all times when police are filming. Try not to pull your mask right down if you need to eat or have a cigarette as that is an easy time to get snapped. Alternatively you can wrap a t-shirt round your head to give you the ninja-protester look (see image). When a section 60 A (A) order is being implemented and masking up not possible then wearing your hood up with a baseball cap pulled low and a pair of sunglasses helps to obscure most of your face especially from mounted cameras. It is paramount that you cover your hair!!!

Body: Cover all piercings/tattoos/scars that you can be identified by. Wear simple plain clothing all of one colour (it doesn’t have to be black!) and if a demo has called for a colour scheme then stick to it. Do not wear clothes with any visible distinctions that can be noted and used to identify you later. Wear an alternative coloured t-shirt and carry a different coloured jumped in your bag in case you need to quickly look like you’re not that person from just before who was masked up. Ideally, protester looking trousers (such as black combats) are not the best idea, unless suggested that all on the demo wear them, as they make disappearing away into a crowd once de-masked harder.

Shoes: Again, another way a lot of people get identified and pulled out of a crowd. Wear plain shoes with no visible markings on them and if you are wearing black, make sure they are black! Boots are good, but may create the same problems with de-masking as black combats. Undercover cops may often be identified by their shoes, let us not fall into the same trap.

Masking Up/De-masking: A classic mistake made is to mask up/de-mask at the wrong times. De-masking whilst still in a crowd is a good idea if you have just done something you would not like to be caught for as long as you do not keep wearing other bits of clothes you can be identified by. After an action it is important to not de-mask in an area where there are cops or CCTV you can be identified by. For more info on masking and riot situations read http://www.wombles.org.uk/article2010015807.php

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Remember Gaza Smash EDO

Brighton Monday 18th January. 1pm at the Wild Park Café

Smash Edo has attracted a remarkable degree of attention from the ACPO ‘domestic extremism’ units for their long running protests against Brighton based arms manufacturer EDO. Jan 18th looks likely to be a lively affair, and no doubt FIT will be there in number. So, of course, will FITwatchers.

From the Smash Edo website:

For three weeks in January 2009, the bombs rained down on Gaza. At the end of Israel's brutal bombing campaign and ground offensive over 1400 Palestinians had been murdered, including 314 children.

Here in Brighton EDO MBM/ITT manufacture some of the weapons components that devastated so many lives. All over the world thousands of people watched appalled at the carnage on the streets of Gaza. Thousands marched and raged at the destruction of peoples' homes and lives. On January 18th 2010, the anniversary of the final day of Operation Cast Lead, we will come together to remember the people of Gaza.

We will not allow those who supported their pain and profited from their suffering to go unchallenged. We will not let this genocide be forgotten. On the first anniversary after their deaths, we will rise up. We will take to the streets. We will remember...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Belated Fitwatch Review of 2009

Throughout the course of 2009, the police have been forced to justify their public order tactics through media and governmental pressure, but also through militancy. From Fitwatchers blocking cameras to Gaza protesters ripping up the confines of their protest pen, people started refusing to accept repressive policing at ground level. Tactics, such as overt filming began to provoke the disorder they were designed to prevent, forcing the police, at times, to question the tactics utilised on the ground – either by not deploying cameras in the first place or by withdrawing.

Undeniably, the policing of the G20 and the death of Ian Tomlinson had the biggest impact on protest policing in 2009. Hyped out of all proportion by Superintendent David Hartshorn with his infamous “summer of rage” proclamations, the G20 was always going to bloody, but Tomlinson’s death and the police attempted cover-up combined with countless other stories of police violence led to blood on the hands of the police and investigations into public order policing.

However, up until a pesky banker gave The Guardian footage depicting the true circumstances behind Tomlinson’s death, the media were happy to buy into the Met’s “summer of rage” fallacy. Looped footage showed black clad people breaking through police lines. Film of those covered in blood was narrated as protester rather than police violence. The people fighting back were labelled as “troublemakers” and “rent-a-mob” when they should have been hailed for the courage and determination shown in rebelling against a repressive policing operation.

Whilst for those of us used to police violence and lies, the G20 was nothing new, for those who do not have regular contact with the police, the fabrication was truly shocking. For the rest of us, used to reading the fiction masquerading as fact in police notebooks, it confirmed a nasty suspicion.

Following the release of the video, the floodgates opened for stories of G20 police brutality from the clearing of the Climate Camp, to Nicole Fisher’s disservice to any males assaulted by the police by stating her treatment at the hands of former FIT officer Delory Smellie was worse because of her gender.

Fitwatch research and experience, both pre and post G20, has been at the heart of many media revelations in papers diverse as The Guardian and the Financial Times, and journalists such as Marc Vallee have done amazing work in ensuring these stories have been covered. Many of the stories focussed on the existence and scope of protester databases, and getting this information into the public domain has been a major achievement.

However, as good as some of these stories have been, the mainstream media has show reluctance endorsing the true source of these revelations – direct action. It has only been through the arrests of Fitwatchers for blocking cameras that we have been able to force the cops into court to justify their collection and retention of data. Through directly challenging their behaviour we have forced the police to account for themselves – something which would never have happened if we’d left this area to NGOs. Liberty chose a weak case to fight this issue and were happy to lap up the police lies in the civil courts. Liberty eventually won the Wood judgement, but only after Fitwatch revelations exposed the scope of data retention.

Personal stories made up another part of the media interest – The Guardian gave front page coverage to the story of two fitwatchers violently arrested and imprisoned for taking photographs of cops at the Kingsnorth Climate Camp. This story was picked up by national and local media, including Channel 4, The Daily Mail, and regional BBC.

2009 started with fear and paranoia with the advent of S76 making photographing police officers a terrorist offence. However, this was the year when photographers fought back, and groups such as I’m A Photographer Not a Terrorist have forced the police to admit the legislation is “unlikely to be used”, and have established a successful campaign not only against S76 but against the use of S44 stop and searches of photographers. This has now become a major issue with news stories regularly appearing covering the arrests and mistreatment of photographers.

Public order policing has undoubtedly changed throughout the course of 2009 in a way none of us would have predicted. Climate Camp at Blackheath saw a virtually non existent police presence – although it must be remembered that CCTV from a cherry picker monitored everything happening. Disarm DSEi protests, synonymous with repressive policing, were treated with this same light touch, with protesters allowed to gather and march without being kettled for the first time in ten years.

However, as welcome as these changes have been, they have not been universal. Animal rights protesters continue to face harassment and intimidation. Young Asian males are subject to harassment on all protests they attend. And, however much we hate the EDL, the systematic documenting of their demonstrations has to be recognised.

We have achieved a lot in 2009, but there is a long way to go. Whilst NETCU and the other extremist units have come under fire, they will continue their shadowy existence and FIT will still operate. Climate Camp and DSEi were policed overwhelmingly by FIT officers – and we need to examine how we tackle FIT when they are not shoving cameras in our faces.

Data gathering hasn’t gone away, but it has been exposed, and it is being challenged. Round two of the Fitwatch trials begin in March when the first case for obstruction comes to appeal. We have barely scratched the surface of the scope of data gathering, and hopefully these appeals will bring more clarity to the processes used to document protesters.


Already 2010 has seen the European Court in Strasbourg finding the use of Section 44 searches at DSEi in 2003 was in contravention of Article 8 right to privacy, and the police admitting an unspecified number of people were unlawfully stopped and searched at Kingsnorth. There is a real chance to change public order policing and we must keep up the pressure and continue to hold the police to account wherever we are - in the courts, the media, and on the streets.