Monday, April 12, 2010

More police spying

In 2008, it was revealed that the police had engaged in extensive spying on left-wing groups using a bribed undercover informer. They spied on unions, they spied on political parties, they spied on legal cases against them (including on legally privileged material). When all this was revealed, Commissioner Howard Broad said

[w]e're not interested in the to-ings and fro-ings of protest groups who may be wanting to stand outside a building and put placards up, or do all the sorts of things that you would associate with lawful protest in a free and democratic society
He lied. A comment in the police's 2009 annual report referred to 84 operational orders to police public demonstrations. An OIA by Peace Action Wellington has revealed those protests. Some of them are legitimate - for example, large protests do need traffic control. But there are also protests outside embassies, outside sporting events, outside workplaces (typically as part of a strike), a Bible group protesting outside the US embassy, a candlelit vigil for Tibet, a group of local residents protesting the lack of a swimming pool in Otahuhu - in other words, people standing around outside buildings with placards, the very activity the police have declared they have no interest in.

We are supposed to live in a democracy, with freedom of speech. But it seems that the police are still stuck in the mindset of the C19th and the Six Acts, viewing protest not as a legitimate expression of opinion but as "public disorder", if not sedition. This has to change. Protest is the lifeblood of a democratic society, and the police have no business snooping on it or trying to "contain" it.