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NUJ members under police surveillance mount collective legal challenge

20 November 2014

Six NUJ members have discovered that their lawful journalistic and union activities are being monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police. They are now taking legal action against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary to challenge this ongoing police surveillance.

The NUJ members involved in the legal challenge include Jules Mattsson, Mark Thomas, Jason Parkinson, Jess Hurd, David Hoffman and Adrian Arbib.

All of them have worked on media reports that have exposed corporate and state misconduct and they have each also previously pursued litigation or complaints arising from police misconduct. In many of those cases, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has been forced to pay damages, apologise and admit liability to them after their journalistic rights were curtailed by his officers at public events.

The surveillance was revealed as part of an ongoing campaign, which began in 2008, during which NUJ members have been encouraged to obtain data held about them by the authorities including the Metropolitan Police 'National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit' (NDEDIU).

The supposed purpose of the unit is to monitor and police so called 'domestic extremism'. In the course of the campaign, a number of NUJ members have obtained data held about them and the union fears there are many more journalists and union members being monitored.

The NUJ has instructed Bhatt Murphy Solicitors to pursue the case. The cases raise significant and wide-ranging concerns about: the impact on privacy, the chilling effect on the ability of NUJ members and journalists to do their jobs, and their ability to take part in legitimate trade union activity.

The claim challenges the surveillance and retention of data on the basis that it is unnecessary, disproportionate and not in accordance with the law. Journalists and union members have no way of knowing the circumstances in which their activities are monitored, retained, disclosed and systematically stored on secret police 'domestic extremism' databases.

The NUJ continues to offer support and assistance to the members involved and extends its support to other media workers who may be affected.

The union is extremely concerned by the lack of legal safeguards to protect the press and trade unions from state interference, and believes the actions of the authorities do not abide by domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 8 on privacy, Article 10 on freedom of expression and Article 11 on freedom of assembly and association.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"It is outrageous that the police are using their resources and wide-ranging powers to put journalists under surveillance and to compile information about their movements and work on secret databases. There is no justification for treating journalists as criminals or enemies of the state, and it raises serious questions for our democracy when the NUJ is forced to launch a legal challenge to compel the police to reveal the secret evidence they have collected about media workers.
"The union will continue to give its full support to the members involved in the case and we are committed to putting a stop to this unacceptable state interference and monitoring that labels our members as domestic extremists."

Shamik Dutta, from Bhatt Murphy solicitors, representing the claimants, said:

"Journalists who seek to expose corporate and state misconduct are entitled to legal protection which enables them to do their job. Likewise, union members should not have to fear blacklisting by the state.
"We have yet to receive any satisfactory response from the Commissioner or Home Secretary as to how it could possibly be reasonable, proportionate or necessary for the police to monitor and retain information about them for any purpose, let alone for the purposes of policing 'domestic extremism'."

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, said:

"There is growing concern that the authorities are using surveillance against union members, journalists and campaigners. Political policing has no place in a democratic society, it threatens press freedom and any unjustified conduct must stop.
"I fully support the NUJ members in their campaign to know what information is being held about them in secret. We must expose and challenge wrongdoing wherever it exists and act against those who undermine the rights of journalists, union members and everyone who supports an open, transparent and democratic society."

 Jules Mattsson, national newspaper journalist, said:

"Keeping files on journalists feels a draconian and ridiculous waste of time and money – an incompetent by-product of a surveillance mindset. The revelations of files on my colleagues and I, alongside the use of wiretapping laws to spy on the media, suggest a reckless disregard for press freedom by the police.
"Individual police officers do a difficult job in often dangerous circumstances but this sort of behaviour by their force undermines good police work and public trust. If somebody was actually a criminal you'd understand the need to keep tabs on them, but I cannot see how reporters who cause inconvenience by doing our jobs could be legitimate targets for this sort of intrusion.
"In the disclosed information from my file there isn't even a hint that I'm suspected of any offence, nor do I have a criminal record. Instead the entries held about me contain such obvious statements as the fact I am 'always looking for a story' and 'has previously recorded police officers'.
"While some of what I've seen in my files is almost amusing up to a point, it's also sinister and upsetting. It appears that records of every time I've been a victim of crime have been transferred to the domestic extremism unit with details of my phone number and past addresses, appearance, childhood and even a family member's medical history recorded.
"At one point an officer taking a statement from me as a victim appears to have secretly written an entry about my appearance and demeanour, showing their focus was on me as some sort of suspect rather than on investigating the offence that I was the victim of.
"I can see no justification for keeping this information, or reasonable defence of the impact it has on my ability to do my job – like disclosing it to third parties when I apply for press accreditation, which notes on my file show to have happened.
"I hope the Metropolitan Police won't fight this action. If they argue these files should continue to be retained it would in my view contradict previous statements in which they have expressed their respect for press freedom and support for the rights of journalists."

@julesmattsson on Twitter

Mark Thomas, journalist and comedian, said:

"In my view, the police surveillance and the collation of data on journalists point to a police spying culture that is out of control and without proper oversight.
"The fact that none of the journalists are suspected of criminality but all of them cover stories of police and corporate wrong doing hints at something more sinister, that the police seem to be spying on those who seek to hold them to account.
"The inclusion of journalists on the domestic extremist data base seems to be a part of a disturbing police spying network, from the Stephen Lawrence family campaign to Hillsborough families, from undercover officers' relationships with women to the role of the police in the construction blacklist.
"Personally my entries relate to a network of collaborations, the police appear to be in contact with private security firms to collect data on myself, as well as (bizarrely) an employee at the Open University.
"This legal action is part of a process to try and hold the police to account."

Mark Thomas info website

Jason N. Parkinson, freelance video journalist, said:

"My file is 12 pages long and holds around 140 separate surveillance logs spanning nearly a decade. The files make it very clear they have been monitoring my movements, with whom I associate and even what clothing I wear, in order for police intelligence units to build up a profile of me and my network of associates and contacts.
"The files also show signs that my social media and internet activities have been monitored. They also logged that I was asked to give a speech at a conference in 2011, which ironically was about police surveillance.
"Some of the most worrying logs have been of my activities away from work. In July 2008, an officer spotted me, 'on Forty Lane Wembley NW9 on his bicycle'. For no reason at all, there appears to have been a search of voter registration records and the CRIS database, where information on witnesses and victims of crime are held.
"This pulled up my previous address, my current address and the name of my ex-partner, who, it appears, was then checked for a criminal record on the Police National Computer. Another log noted my visit to a supermarket and recorded my vehicle registration number.
"The disclosure of my domestic extremist files seem to show what I had suspected for the last eight years, the police have been keeping journalists that cover political protest under surveillance and it is not merely an intimidation tactic that should be ignored, as some have suggested in the past.
"MI5 describes Domestic Extremism as, 'individuals or groups that carry out criminal acts of direct action in pursuit of a campaign'. For one thing, it is of serious concern for our freedoms in this country that peaceful protestors have ended up on this database, tracked and monitored exercising their democratic right of protest. It is something entirely more sinister when those same police units are putting the press under surveillance and keeping records of their movements.
"My video work has been published across the world and, among many other things, it has exposed police, state and corporate misconduct from the UK to the Middle East and Central America. I have faced multiple legal battles to defend press freedom under the Human Rights Act. I have endured years of harassment, repeatedly detained under the Terrorism Act and other laws and I have faced abuse and even violence at the hands of police.
"The Met Police has behaved like the Stasi. My detailed files read like I am some kind of public enemy, simply for doing my job as a journalist.
"With UK police and security services facing revelation after revelation over their spying activities and the government is in a rush to get rid of the Human Rights Act and gag and ban non-violent groups they deem 'extremists', in a country that already has secret courts, this legal challenge could not come at a better time.
"We need to defend our right to free movement and free expression now and halt this surveillance of law abiding citizens before we lose these rights altogether."

Jason Parkinson's website

Jess Hurd, freelance photographer, said:

"I have faced intimidation, surveillance and on occasion violence, from the police all my professional life. It should not be the case that I sometimes fear going to work. The very creation of a 'domestic extremist' database which stores details on innocent people feels like state intimidation.
"Either the police do not like the journalistic work that we do or the trade union and press freedom campaigns we have been involved in, either way this is no justification for targeted state surveillance and squandered tax payers money.
"This is not about terrorism, it is about criminalising dissent and those who would document it. The right to democratically protest and hold the state or corporations to account is being eroded. Our access to justice via legal aid is being cut and the journalists who shine a light on the crimes of the state and corporations are being targeted. It is not just about intimidation and surveillance, it is about the sinister way information can be shared and impact on our lives as we have seen with corporate blacklisting.
"Secret police, secret databases, secret courts – what kind of society are we living in? It is no surprise that they are coming after journalists, we have been campaigning hard about state incursions into press freedom. The campaign group 'I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist', alongside a legal challenge in the European Court successfully saw the use of s44 of the Terrorism Act deemed unlawful. This blanket stop and search power was routinely used against the media to prevent us from doing our jobs.
"My secret police records date back to 2000 but there are clearly gaping holes. I have held the police to account for detaining me whilst photographing a wedding for doing suspected 'hostile reconnaissance'. I've also received a police apology for multiple stops and searches whilst covering Climate Camp, a protest at Kingsnorth Power Station, where the police followed a group of journalists to a restaurant and covertly filmed us through a window.
"However oddly, this was not found on my secret police file. In fact, much more interesting is the data that seems to be redacted from the databases and we hope the gaps will be filled with full disclosure.
"I am proud to stand alongside my NUJ colleagues in this legal challenge which aims to hold the police to account for their sinister activities. We want an end to the surveillance of journalists and all those lawfully exercising their democratic and human rights."

 Jess Hurd's website

Report Digital blog: Jess and Jason's surveillance videos and photos

David Hoffman, freelance photographer, said:

"I have worked as a full-time professional photojournalist covering social issues for almost forty years. Over the last ten or fifteen years my colleagues and I have been aware of the close attention being paid to us by police surveillance teams.
"They have not simply been recording our presence but have been deliberately intrusive, threatening and bullying, often filming us from close quarters and making comments designed to intimidate us. We have been followed, even when popping in to a pub to use the loo. It is hard to see a legitimate policing justification for this calculated and oppressive behaviour.
"When questioned about this at an NUJ conference Public Order Commander Bob Broadhurst denied that the police were building records on photographers and journalists but a freedom of information (FOI) disclosure earlier this month revealed more than 2,000 mentions of media workers in police databases.
"In 2011, I finally managed to obtain a heavily redacted copy of an entry under my name on the database held by the National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism. There can be no reason for my name to be included in such a register. I have never been involved in any form of extremism.
"Simply being documented on a state extremism database is itself harmful. I fear my face is likely to be flashed up at pre-protest police briefings and my name passed to officers for special attention. I fear officers that I meet in the course of my work will be mistrustful.
The normal constructive and professionally cooperative relationships that might otherwise exist between journalists and police feel sabotaged: in tense situations my requests for access are more likely to be denied and the police are less likely to share any information with me that would otherwise help me to report properly on public events.
"None of the entries contain useful or relevant information. For instance – I am described as an 'Anti Nazi League photographer' I am not, never have been and that organisation has not even existed for many years. It misdescribes a small, peaceful demonstration that I photographed and includes material taken from the totally unreliable and violently racist Redwatch site.
"One might laugh at such ludicrous incompetence but this is probably only a tiny fraction of the complete entry. The full entry is likely to contain information on my colleagues too. Perhaps also on my friends and family.
"Given how inaccurate the information disclosed is, there is a real fear that there is much else by way of untruthful and damaging material also held on these secret databases. With whom do the Met share these fantasies and to what purpose? Who has decided to put the data there and why have they done so? What harm may they be doing to my career and to the careers of my personal or professional associates?
"We have launched this action in the hope of exposing the Stasi like processes concealed in the hidden recesses of the Metropolitan Police. We want all records on us to be revealed to us together with their associated metadata and then we want these records destroyed.
"If they are to restore the trust betrayed by these excesses the Metropolitan Police need to make public for discussion the basis on which decisions to put journalists under surveillance are made. Further, we want an undertaking from the Met that will reassure us that any future surveillance will be proportionate, necessary and justified."

David Hoffman Photo Library: Police Surveillance of NUJ Members

Adrian Arbib, press and features photographer, said:

"The unsettling part of the Police holding data on you is not knowing who is accessing it, who is party to it? Potential employers? What work was I not given because of it?
"I've been a press and features photographer for around 30 years having studied photography at the London College of Printing in the 1980's. I've been particularly privileged to be able to cover stories on social documentary and environmental issues. This has taken me all over the globe to cover key topics of the time.
"In the UK I covered lot of road protests of the 1990's and recently completed a black and white photography book on one in particular – Solsbury Hill near Bath.
In the late 90s and 2000s I covered a lot of rural social issues and in 1999 at a Romany Horse fair in Kent I was arrested for taking a photo of a police barricade preventing the Romanies from reaching the fair.
"The constant harassment of photographers covering protest in the UK has reached ludicrous proportions, culminating for me when I had an injunction placed on me by the energy giant N Power for photographing their activities at Radley Lakes, Oxfordshire.
"An entry on the database from 2004 is surprising, to say the least, as it logs me taking photographs of Heathrow Airport for an article in the Guardian Newspaper on the decline of the English orchard.
"I did all these stories and many others, as any journalist should do, with a keen eye for the truth. It seems that this fundamental and important exercise now makes journalists subjects of covert surveillance and intimidation."

Further information:

I'm A Photographer Not A Terrorist – NUJ supported campaign.

Met's journalist files include details of sexual orientation, childhood and family medical history - Jules Mattsson
Times journalist Jules Mattsson is one of six members of the NUJ to launch a legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police after finding that it keeps surveillance files on them in a database of Domestic Extremism.

When police spy on journalists like me, freedom is at risk - Jason N Parkinson
Persistent requests under the Data Protection Act revealed that files were kept on journalists who were simply doing their job

IFJ backs legal challenge by journalists over police surveillance in UK
The International Federation of Journalists has joined in supporting six NUJ members who have taken legal action against the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary. The legal challenge concerns the monitoring and recording of their lawful journalistic and union activities.

Resources:

In November 2013 the NUJ launched a campaign to find out about the monitoring and surveillance of journalists. Mark Thomas helped to launch the campaign and the union asked members to submit subject access requests to find out what information was held about them.

Read about the launch of the blacklisting campaign.

Use the NUJ template letter to submit a subject access request.

Read the ICO guide: find out how to request your personal information.

Tags: , surveillance, photographers, police, press freedom, guardian, tuc, mark thomas, jess hurd, jason parkinson, david hoffman, adrian arbib, jules mattsson, bhatt murphy solicitors, metropolitan police, domestic extremist