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.