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Civil liberties campaigners claim Supreme Court judgment gives Police ‘extraordinary discretion’ to compile database

Campaigners express disappointment after Supreme Court rule that collation of data on 90-year-old campaigner was lawful

4 March 2015

The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), a national civil liberties organisation, has expressed great disappointment to a Supreme Court judgment handed down today which found that the Metropolitan Police’s ‘domestic extremist’ database was lawful.

Netpol, which monitors police conduct and challenges unfair and discriminatory policing, intervened in the case of peace campaigner John Catt which was heard by the Court in December last year.

The Metropolitan Police had brought the Supreme Court challenge against a Court of Appeal ruling in March 2013, which found that the gathering and retaining information on Mr Catt was unlawful.

Mr Catt, who is 90 with no criminal history, was known for making sketches at anti-arms trade protests in Brighton called by the ‘Smash EDO’ campaign.

When he used the Data Protection Act to find out what personal information had been noted and recorded by the police, he discovered that details of his appearance, his vehicle, demonstrations he had attended and details about his daughter who went with him to protests had been retained.

In total, there were 66 separate entries about Mr Catt on the intelligence database. Netpol argued that the existence of a secretive database maintained by the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit, based within the Metropolitan Police, fundamentally damages the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Speaking today, following the verdict Kevin Blowe, a coordinator for Netpol said:

"This ruling allows the police extraordinary discretion to gather personal information of individuals for purposes that are never fully defined. “The Supreme Court has accepted that no further justification is apparently required other than investigating the ‘links between protest groups’ and their ‘organisation and leadership’.

“This Judgment represents judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK protest movements.

“The Supreme Court says that overt surveillance “has never been concealed from those who wish to know about these matters”. Our experience working with campaigners to help them obtain alleged 'domestic extremist' data suggests the exact opposite.

“It is normal for a request for personal information to take months longer than the statutory maximum of 40 days and when it is eventually provided, the detail is often partial and incomplete.

“This ruling leaves many activists with little choice but to repeatedly resubmit requests if they want to check any new data about them on police files is not, as we have often found, either inaccurate or misleading.

“John Catt's case demonstrates the limits of relying on the courts to protect against unwarranted police surveillance. It reinforces our belief that activists must take their own steps to actively prevent the gathering of so-called 'intelligence' in the first place."

Rosa Curling a lawyer in the human rights team at Leigh Day said:

“Our clients are extremely disappointed by the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court today.

“The appeals, in which our client intervened, raised extremely important questions about the right to privacy and the freedom of assembly, association and expression.

“The police’s policy to collect and retain data about individuals involved in demonstrations and protests fundamentally breaches the right to privacy, the freedom of assembly, association and self-expression. All these rights are inter-dependent and are fundamental requirements of a truly democratic society.

"The judgment handed down today allows the Police to continue to collect and retain data about individuals who have no criminal record and who simply wish to engage in political discussions, debates, activism on the streets of the UK. This cannot be correct and our client is currently considering its position in regards to further legal action on this issue.”

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