Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The same problems everywhere

In 2008, we learned that our police had engaged in extensive spying on left-wing groups using a bribed undercover informer. They had spied on unions, on political parties, on court cases against them, on people whose sole "crime" was to raise a placard and engage in lawful and peaceful protest. Now it seems the UK police have been doing exactly the same thing:

A police officer who for seven years lived deep undercover at the heart of the environmental protest movement, travelling to 22 countries gleaning information and playing a frontline role in some of the most high-profile confrontations, has quit the Met, telling his friends that what he did was wrong.

PC Mark Kennedy, a Metropolitan police officer, infiltrated dozens of protest groups including anti-racist campaigners and anarchists, a Guardian investigation reveals.

The operation reportedly cost £250,000 a year. And Kennedy wasn't the only spy - he's named a second one. So the UK police were spending half a million pounds a year to spy on peaceful activists.

Except it wasn't just spying. Kennedy and his fellow spy seem to have also worked as agent provocateurs, actively inciting peaceful protestors into criminal actions so they could be prosecuted. This has led to the collapse of at least one criminal case, and likely more in the future.

Again, this shows a deeply disturbing mindset in the police, which sees peaceful public protest as sedition which must be crushed. Quite apart from being wrong - the police should not be spying on citizens engaged in lawful activities - this anti-democratic agenda is also stupid. It undermines public confidence in the police as neutral enforcers of the law, making it harder for them to do their jobs. Even if you disagree with the politics of those targeted, respect for human rights and the rule of law means that the police's attitudes to protest need to change.