On Tuesday 21 March, The Guardianrevealed allegations that the police illegally hacked the email accounts of political activists. According to a letter from a whistleblower, the police used hackers from India to gain the passwords of hundreds of email addresses. And the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the claims.
The letter, sent to Green Party peer Jenny Jones, also listed the passwords of 10 environmental campaigners. Additionally, it contained assertions that Guardian journalists and freelance photographers were hacked. Lawyers contacted six of the campaigners on the list. Five of them confirmed their passwords. And the sixth was nearly identical.
Due to the timescale involved, it is highly likely that my emails were hacked. I cannot say for sure as I do not have proof. But I took part in environmental and anti-militarist protests. I know the National Public Order Intelligence Unit held files on me. And I know I was “suspect A” on the police spotter card that was found during an anti-arms trade protest.
But I was also working on campaigns to expose and stop intrusive police surveillance. An officer at the Metropolitan Police’s Public Order Unit told a friend of mine he was going to “go out of his way” to make sure another friend and I “got sent down for a long time”. And I was working with journalists and photographers from The Guardian to expose [paywall] some of the worst excesses of police surveillance.
It is therefore not a wild stretch of the imagination or paranoia to think my name is probably on that list.
Sick and violated
I shouldn’t feel shocked by this. I’ve always presumed my emails were read. I even have an extract from one of my emails listed on my police file.
And I also knew there were undercover cops. Yet somehow, actual knowledge is always far worse than I ever imagined. Maybe it’s because, despite all the bravado, there was a small part of my brain that hoped it was all paranoia.
But on reading the news, I felt sick and violated. I’m getting used to this feeling. This feeling of deep sickness. Of the deep realisation of intrusion. Of the violation of my privacy and the privacy of my family. I’m getting used to it. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier.
I’ve started thinking about all the emails I’ve sent. The personal ones. To friends and family. The ones about my child. And the emails with solicitors and co-defendants; information that should have legal protection.
Questions, questions and more questions
And with all the revelations about undercover police officers, all I’m left with is questions. Questions I’ll probably never get answers to, given the police have engaged in a mass shredding of documents.
One of the major questions is, why would the Met Police break the law? Why would they act illegally? With all the capacity of the surveillance state available to the police, why did they not go through legal channels? Were they monitoring people they didn’t think they’d get authorisation to surveil? Or was there additional information they could only gain through acting illegally?
But then there’s the question of purpose. It was done illegally. And that means that none of the information gathered could have been used for a prosecution. They weren’t trying to catch criminals. But it was the same with the use of undercover officers. Only rarely was their evidence ever used to aid prosecution. There was just an apparent obsession with gaining as much intelligence and data as possible.
This isn’t a question of good versus bad protesters. It doesn’t matter whether this was aimed at respectable organisations such as Greenpeace, or at journalists, or at black bloc anarchists. This is the police acting illegally. And it is a gross invasion of privacy.
Like many of those affected, I am a core participant in the Undercover Policing Inquiry. The inquiry has been dogged by delays and blocked by the police at every turn. The next hearing [pdf] is on 5 April 2017. And the police are asking for even more time to prepare anonymity applications for undercover officers.
But there is only one clear solution. The inquiry needs to release all the cover names of the officers that spied on us. And it should also release the full files held on us. We need to know the extent to which the police intruded in our lives. And officers who acted illegally must be prosecuted.
The police have spent decades subjecting people fighting for a better world to sickening levels of surveillance. Now they need to start giving us some answers.
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