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Ongoing Police Surveillance of Protesters

Written By: - Date published: 2:34 pm, February 5th, 2016 - 50 comments
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I went to the anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) protests yesterday to take photos. When I arrived I was immediately struck by the level of Police surveillance.

Police photographers were carefully and systematically taking photos of every activist. But this wasn’t what interested me the most.

Two police officers were busy scribbling in notebooks throughout the day. I took photos of one of their notebooks and found they were busy writing out activists’ details. They wrote down names, dates of birth, contact details and what each activist was doing.

No-one disclosed their details to Police.

How do Police know who these activists are? How do they know them well enough to recognise them by sight? Where did their details come from?

I’m certain Police are still paying intelligence officers to memorise activists names and faces.

When I first became an activist in the mid 2000’s, protesters were under intense scrutiny by the Police Threat Assessment Unit (TPU). Through Court we found out plains-clothes TPU officers were attending protests and monitoring activists. They stood near us to become familiar with our voices and what we looked like and distributed our photos to companies they thought we might protest against. I was 16 at the time. (Read more: http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr38-180c.htm)

Regardless of how you feel about yesterday’s protests, we should all be deeply concerned about this sort of surveillance.

Police appear to be devoting considerable intelligence resources to cataloguing those involved in protests. This will have a chilling effect on citizens’ willingness to speak out publicly. Police have better things to do with their limited resources.

It is worth noting there were no arrests yesterday. If Police are unhappy with what activists are doing, you’d expect Police to arrest them.

The intelligence gathering I’ve seen and been subject to for the past decade hasn’t been about obtaining prosecutions.  It has been about subverting legitimate protest movements.

I saw at least three police photographers in uniform, one out of uniform and several intelligence officers yesterday. We must ask what will become of those photos? Will the Police put them in a catalogue and use them for decades to come? Why do the police need this level of information about protest movements?

I feel it’s worthless to attempt to try and use the Official Information Act (OIA) to find out what Police hold. They claim to only hold a few pages of basic information about myself. They claim not to have any of the dozens of photos or intelligence reports from Police Spy Rob Gilcrist that I know of.
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50 comments on “Ongoing Police Surveillance of Protesters”

  1. Magisterium 1

    Seems eminently sensible to me. I’d be surprised if the police WEREN’T doing this.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1

      Yes, it’s important for the cops to keep tabs on anyone who might be about to break the law. At Cabinet Club, for example.

      No, wait, I’m picking you’d be well pissed off if they did that. Nothing like a Tory for demonstrating rank hypocrisy.

      • Magisterium 1.1.1

        If you’re in a public place don’t assume you have any privacy. It’s perfectly legal to take photos of people in public places.

        Works both ways of course, so it also strikes me as eminently sensible to be taking photos of the police.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1.1

          Yes, how silly of me: Cabinet Club happens behind closed doors. The cops would need to buy a table.

        • jdarroch 1.1.1.2

          Further down I have described experiencing violence and intimidation for doing so.

          Don’t pretend this is an even sided situation with people exercising their civil rights.

        • Ben 1.1.1.3

          You say that, but this does not stop here. Don’t be naive to the fact a large number of these people will now be under 24/7 online surveillance, if they weren’t already. Yes this is speculation but it is a serious threat to peoples ability to think and speak freely. This kind of thing is how guilty act when they think they are going to be called out, I fear Mr. Key maybe be getting paranoid. But that is just my warped perception.

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    at demos and some meetings there are any number of slightly less obvious people that one assumes work for the security apparatus or plod special ops group; some chunky looking ones, others that could almost be older freelancers and some younger weaselly ones, more the SIS type

    they usually slide off or some of the burly ones look away and try and ignore you if challenged as to their identity or why they are taking photographs of marchers, but yes if you pay attention to such things it can be off putting when exercising your democratic rights to freedom of speech and association

  3. KJT 3

    If you are not breaking the law it is no business of the cops what you are doing.

    • indiana 3.1

      unless they have reasonable cause for suspicion, then they can take details to relieve themselves of any concern.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.2

      The cops aren’t there to decide who is breaking the law. It’s their job to have some idea of what’s going on in their communities. How can they tell the difference between a National Party ratfucker and a protester going about their lawful business without asking?

      Asking is one thing; hands on is quite another.

  4. doug stuart 4

    we all know who the rent a mob are.blocking motorways is breaking the law.

    [lprent: You are breaking my laws. Don’t be a lazy shithead – READ the whole post before wanking on about it. (I really don’t like dickhead trolls). ]

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1

      Like you give a fuck about the law when John Key assaults a waitress or when the police conduct an illegal search – you’ll be cheering them on. Raise the double standard.

    • jdarroch 4.2

      Then arrest those responsible – to reiterate – the police are not gathering this information to obtain arrests. My experience has been of a deliberate strategy to disrupt social justice movements – read the article which is linked to for context.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.3

      Protesting isn’t.

  5. whateva next? 5

    Having recently seen the film “Suffragettes” I noted the similarity in police treatment of people who had something to say (and it did happen), yet when we look back, what were the government thinking by not allowing women a vote????
    So, when we look back on the TPPA I am sure we, the people will feel the same, what were National Party thinking by signing away our sovereignty?
    I have always found Key to be a bit “old fashioned” in his language, and style, and politics, maybe he does yearn for a time, long, long ago….

  6. jdarroch 6

    A further thought, the Springbok tour protest of 1981 involved similar actions to yesterday – offramps blocked, marches down the motorway etc. If we are to criticize the tactics used yesterday we should also criticise and reject those historic movements which utilised civil disobedience.

    I believe there is an immense degree of hypocrisy at play, where historic social justice movement are celebrated whilst current movement are condemned.

  7. thechangeling 7

    Yeah i noticed the porkers taking our pics at the first TPPA gig in Palmy last week. Seems we’re being analised!

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      They don’t like you taking photos back of them, that’s for sure.

      • jdarroch 7.1.1

        Yeah I’ve been pulled behind a building and had pain compliance holds used on me simply for taking photos of police – also had my sister arrested when a police officer tried to pull my camera off me. The police officer lied in court and said he had been assaulted and that is why he was grabbing people – the judge believed us thankfully. Now that I think about it I have at least a dozen stories of police intimidation or violence resulting from taking photos of them.

        • Colonial Viper 7.1.1.1

          It’s like cops not wearing their ID numbers.

          When you are granted with significant powers by the Crown, you need to be both accountable and responsible.

          Otherwise its a long slippery slide towards a police state.

        • Pete 7.1.1.2

          When participating in a protest EVERYONE should have their phones filming at all times.

          • Colonial Viper 7.1.1.2.1

            Your point has merit. But people have to choose the amount of risk and exposure they want to undertake for themselves and their friends.

            Our just take a burner phone to do the recording on.

    • Big Dave 7.2

      I am sure you are one who would enjoy being analised, although I guess you really meant analysed. Why are most anti-establishment social media commentators thick?

  8. Colonial Viper 8

    How do Police know who these activists are? How do they know them well enough to recognise them by sight? Where did their details come from?

    On possibility: Automated face recognition software where photos taken are wireless transmitted to a server where automatic cross-matching of pictures of your face with your name and contact details from government and intelligence data bases occurs.

    • Magisterium 8.1

      Far more likely: one person at an event does something stupid like throwing a punch at a police officer, and gets arrested, along with the smartphone in his pocket which contains names, phone numbers, photos, social media logins, social media friends lists, and an electronic paper trail of everything this person has ever done online, every place they’ve ever gone, and every person they’ve ever talked to online.

      Summary: when going to a protest, DO NOT TAKE YOUR MAIN PHONE. Take some free Android piece of shit that you’ve never used before.

  9. Sam Buchanan 9

    The hypocrisy gets even more extreme when you have liberals who will get very agitated about supposed breaches of the law – even when they are minor at best – yet celebrate overseas movements, historic or current, who have used much greater levels of criminality in pursuit of their aims. Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela fans are often the worst examples, but Gandhi fans can be pretty silly too.

  10. Sam Buchanan 10

    Some time ago in Auckland, I found the police were having evening viewing sessions of video footage from protests, presumably in order to identify people and share the information.

    What is also startling is how wrong much police information is. A few years back I had some joker from the police force calling me to ask if demos were planned, and on one occasion, turned up at my workplace to question me. Turned out he had me down as a “leader” of a group I’d never belonged to and actually had fairly major disagreements with.

    • McFlock 10.1

      so, basically, if you apply for a government job you might have a red flag that you don’t know about, can’t know about, and it’s incorrect anyway.

  11. Anne 11

    I can confirm these types of tactics have been in use for many decades. In the process, many innocent people can find themselves caught in a web of deceit which inevitably follows them around for years afterwards. A personal story:

    In the late 1960s my father who, as a young man had been part of a secret British military mission into Russia in the 1920s, joined the Auckland-based Russian Friendship Society. He wanted to learn to read and speak Russian in advance of a trip he planned to Russia in the 1970s. With the benefit of hindsight it was an unfortunate initiative to take because it later emerged these “Friendship Societies” were used by the KGB during the Cold War years to gather intelligence. My father subsequently became a suspect and was “investigated”. They found nothing because there was nothing to find. He was a retiree who wanted one more adventurous trip before submitting to old age.

    When I joined the Labour Party in the 1970s I, too, became a suspect. There was to be evidence of surveillance activity and a few incidents in those early years were witnessed by others. A former Cabinet Minister of the time was assured by the SIS they were not responsible for the surveillance. My own conclusion is that a “Special Ops group” within the police force were the culprits. On one occasion I got a good look at the two men who were trailing me and they looked like thick-set cops dressed in suits. Later on things turned very nasty and I suspect information about both my father and me ended up in the wrong hands. I made no serious attempt to find out what information the police held about me because I knew they would tell me nothing.

  12. Tautoko Mangō Mata 12

    Outing of harassment of activists is important because it is unacceptable and also filming or photographing the police is a useful way to provide a true record of incidents.

    Here is some info from a blog by Thomas Beagle written in 2011.

    It seems clear that in New Zealand the police can’t stop you from documenting what they are doing. They have no power to stop you, seize your camera or force you to delete images or video.

    We believe that this is a good thing and is part of having a police force that is accountable to the people they serve. The police hold most of the cards when it comes to dealing with the public, and the prospect of being recorded should provide a brake on any temptation to abuse those powers.

    However one concern remains. Police training does not cover this issue and it seems that some officers feel free to make up their own powers as they go. We recommend that the NZ Police should make sure that this is included in initial and continuing training.
    Finally, we remind anyone taking photos of police at incidents to make sure that you do not get in their way or you could be arrested for obstruction.

    http://techliberty.org.nz/can-you-photograph-or-video-the-police-in-new-zealand/

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    It is also worth noting that (to my knowledge) there were no arrests yesterday – if the police are unhappy with what activists are doing they should arrest them. The intelligence gathering which I have been subject to and which I have witnessed for over a decade has not been about obtaining prosecutions it has been about subverting legitimate protest movements.

    In total I am aware of at least three police photographers who were active yesterday and I believe there were several intelligence officers present. We must ask what will become of those photos – will they be catalogued and referred to for decades to come?

    The police (and probably many in government) think that they’re job is to stop protests when, in an actual democratic society, it should be to facilitate them.

    They claim to only hold a few pages of very basic information about myself

    Information that the government and private business holds on people should be available to be viewed by that person over the internet. Of course, that would mean that government would have to have some secure way of making it available.

  14. linda 14

    there a good case to set up a web site to post photos of cops who under take surveillance fair is fair there action and identities should see the light of day

  15. Jax 15

    Given how sophisticated facial recog tion technology and surveillance programmes are these days,am less concerned about the fact our domestic agencies are doing this than this current government’s complicity with agencies of TPPA countries that are known to be paranoid authoritarian corrupt anti democratic
    and engage in the repression of many who protest,whisteblow or draw attention to their abuses of power!
    That just about covers the U.S. Australia Canada pre Trudeau Malaysia and Vietnam!
    Are we to be subjected to their agencies’ dissent stifling tactics too now this government has signed up in the first step to Take People’s Power Away?

  16. TPPA Success 16

    Because you never know who has a dildo in their handbag and when they may wish to assault someone with it.

  17. Ad 17

    …and the day the Police track all NZ company directors with the same vigilance, when those guys cause more societal damage than all our protesters, we’ll know the revolution has happened.

  18. Gabby 18

    Did you get plenty of photos of them?

  19. Gangnam Style 19

    Maybe the police should just check the electoral records & any one that votes ‘left’ should be monitored. National voters are exempt of course, nary a law breaker there! (sarc).

  20. Skinny 20

    You really have to question the tactic’s the police are using in our country. Having prior informed them of our rally (Have A Say On The TPPA) a soldier dressed cop turns up towards the end and starts asking all sorts of stupid questions and is noting answers.

    1. What political party’s had MP’s speaking? Answer: If you care to look over there that is Winston Peters next to him is Ron Marks, oh and there is Tracey Martin, and that’s David Clark and Clare Curran from Labour, the Greens Julie Anne Genter, Mojo Mathers and Denise Roche.

    2. We were aware of the event and your group so what are you doing next, are you protesting next week outside parliament?

    Answer: Haven’t given that much thought it depends what others are doing.

    What others?

    Answer: Other good Kiwi citizens excising their democratic rights.

    3. Do you know of any other groups actions planned against the TPPA?

    Answer: OK you have been given enough information your now holding us up from talking to our guests so that is it.

    4. I have not finished?

    Well I have unless you want to carry on the questions infront of the media cameras.

    What the hell is this a police state!

  21. Bob 21

    But you sound very pro establishment. Don’t question the government aye. They know what’s best for us? They wouldn’t lie to us? Seriously, you’re an adult I presume. Have a good look at yourself. Start questioning authority. Don’t take the government’s word for anything. They’ve lied before, they’ll lie again.

  22. Dorothy Bulling 22

    Would be really nice if all those who comment on posts on this and other pages used more appropriate language. I am offended by the number of swearwords used by some. If you can’t make your point without using offensive language then don’t comment at all. This forum is not a rude male dominated rough hangout.

    [lprent: Read the policy.

    We encourage robust debate and we’re tolerant of dissenting views. But this site run for reasonably rational debate between dissenting viewpoints and we intend to keep it operating that way.

    What we’re not prepared to accept are pointless personal attacks, or tone or language that has the effect of excluding others. We are intolerant of people starting or continuing flamewars where there is little discussion or debate.

    Nothing there about language. But there is about people who don’t keep this site running trying to make up rules.

    A partial list of these self-martyrdom offenses include:-

    Similarly, people should read the site policy before commenting on or even worse demanding that our policies should change. We might tolerate someone doing it once, but people asking about topics that are in this page are liable to get long educational bans because it is clear that they need time to read them closely.

    ]

    • Molly 22.1

      Dorothy. Interestingly enough, I’ve recently had this conversation with a couple of friends who stop listening when they hear swear words.

      To me, it is just degrees of different life experiences and lexicons, and although swearing may seem offensive written down – it is often not so in the spoken word.
      To interrupt someone in full-flow because of an expletive or to – is to interrupt their voices.

      My reply is that the most sinister and violent words can be spoken without swearing eg:
      “You are not allowed to see your family and friends anymore”
      “You will be required to wear a yellow star on all your clothing”
      “Who would you tell anyway? No one will believe you”

      To shut people out of conversation because of their colourful language denies them the right to speak.

      Abusive language – might include swear words, but as shown above, can also be devoid of them. The conversation has gone nowhere when abuse starts, but that can occur without swearing. There is a difference.

  23. Smilin 23

    Big Brother becomes govt policy

  24. Wayne Luxton 24

    As some one that has been active for years, and more mellow as I aged, I find it no surprise about being scrutinized by authorities. One thing I feel could act in your favour in court defense if needed would be the years of survellance already, without prior conviction. Legal minds would know if Judges could order this, because refuting past data makes it hard to show it later?
    I was followed in anti-mining days by a rental car with govt. car pool no. plates on it so they do get up to all sorts of cowboy crap. It is a legacy of the war days so I guess a peaceful movement has the best long term chance of success, harder to justify the cost of survellance. When they were trying to shut Bill Sutch down from making economic comment that didn’t suit, by calling him a spy with data you could get publicly anyway, the Wellington students put survellance on the SIS and made it inoperable. Maybe a cloud site where people could send photos to straight away would work if the right sort of technology made it hard to lose?

  25. kieron 25

    Surveillance like this is akin to to the stasi

  26. Penny Bright 26

    In my view, far more attention should be paid to relative newcomers to the political activist movement, who have no proven track record of ‘activism’ in the social justice ( or any such movement), and make a beeline for controlling positions regarding ‘the message’ – or means of getting the message out:

    ie: Facebook page admin / ‘media’ / website responsibilities.
    Especially when those concerned get to take a LOT of photos ‘from the inside’?

    Exactly WHERE are those photos going?

    Simple answer?

    Do your own ‘due diligence’.

    GOOGLE the person’s name for yourself – and see what you find…

    In my view, after what I have personally experienced from the so-called ‘left’ – I am a now a LOT more wary with whom I choose to work with and trust.

    Prefer to work on an ‘issue by issue’ basis with decent people, who have good hearts / brains / guts and an underpinning knowledge of the principles of fair play and natural justice.

    In my considered opinion, (and experience), there are a number of saboteurs / provocateurs and idiots out there – so BEWARE!

    (Sometimes – things and people are not what they seem).

    However – I would like to commend the stalwarts from our Auckland ‘It’s Our Future Group’ – who are and have been – in my view, a wonderful group to work with, and whose ongoing effective and focused action played a major role in helping to get the massive anti-TPPA turnout on Queen Street on Thursday 4 February 2016.

    Penny Bright
    2016 Auckland Mayoral candidate.

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