Diary of a Domestic Extremist Big Brother will soon be watching you

A week after the Milbank student protest, a vast witch-hunt is already under way by the police to track down the 'culprits'. Using popular displays of outcry over the cuts as a pretext, the government is stepping up its efforts to spy on activists and the public. In his new column, Mikhail Goldman says resistance is essential.

Diary of a Domestic Extremist, Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 9:00 - 4 Comments

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By Mikhail Goldman

The massive and militant student demonstration of last week came as a refreshing surprise to many ex-students. Who would have thought the normally self-interested and conformist student body would be at the head of the fightback? It is another sign that mainstream politics, whether in the shape of the identikit big three parties or the supine ‘don’t-rock-the-boat’ NUS, is failing to recuperate dissent. The apparently endless stamina of the Brits for rolling over and enduring whatever the government foists on them finally seems to be running out.

Inevitably, it wasn’t long before the forces of reaction and authority were out in force, promoting dubious explanations for the spontaneous action (“it was a small hardcore of anarchists”) and using their papers to encourage students to snitch on each other.

Individuals, such as the now infamous ‘fire extinguisher thrower’, are being demonised and severe sentences are being talked up in the media. Aided by the fact that many participants seemed to be unprepared for the events that transpired, and so hadn’t effectively disguised their identities, a massive police operation is now under way using footage to track down suspects. In the last few days the FITwatch website, which published a guide to avoiding arrest and detection, has been shut down by the Metropolitan Police’s public order unit.

Unsurprisingly, seeing as the protest took them completely by surprise, the police are pulling out all the stops to deal with the aftermath.

The state is extremely worried about the possibility of civil disorder, as anger about the latest outrages of global capitalism grows. An Observer article last week revealed that “defence firms are working closely with UK armed forces and contemplating a “militarisation” strategy to counter the threat of civil disorder.”

This is in response to a marked increase in what the National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism, a political policing unit, refers to as “extreme leftwing activity”. The forces of law and order are looking to high technology to give them an advantage in putting down future outbursts of unrest like the Tory HQ debacle.

“[A]rmoured vehicles, body scanners and better surveillance equipment” are all on the shopping list. As popular unrest about the fallout from the latest capitalist crisis grows, we can expect increasingly extreme forms of surveillance and repression to be unleashed.

One of the policing plans that has been picked up on is the scheme to use unmanned drones to spy on people. Some, relatively unsophisticated, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already being used by police. Merseyside police used theirs to help arrest a car thief earlier this year and a similar model was deployed during protests against the BNP’s Red, White and Blue festival in 2009.

However, police are considering buying UAVs developed for military use to enhance their surveillance capabilities. These operate at an altitude of 20,000 ft and are invisible to people on the goround. A Guardian article published in January revealed that police forces were engaged in a public relations strategy to “minimise civil liberties concerns” about plans to purchase the UAVs.

By selling the scheme to the public as a way of monitoring shipping and cracking down on illegal immigration over the channel, police officials hoped to avoid people realising that this was the thin end of a wedge. Documents obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act indicated that the “monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers” by UAVs would become routine. Of course, the remit could easily change and become much wider once the technology is in place. Because the drones are invisible there is no way of knowing who and what is being spied on and when.

The surveillance of protest movements is a big deal for the various political police units that exist in the UK. Undercover police are used to infilitrate campaigns, Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) of photographers and spotters are used to collect intelligence at demos and meetings and the electronic communications of known activists are monitored. This is done under the auspices of rooting out “domestic extremists”, the mythical “violent hardcore” who the police would have us believe lurk at the back of every peaceful demo waiting to throw molotovs. But you don’t have to be marked as a “domestic extremist” to be under surveillance.

The General Affairs Council of the Council of the European recently adopted an “Instrument for compiling data and information on violent radicalisation processes” giving the go ahead for European police forces to collect and share a wide range of information on those who are considered to hold radical views. All political activists, regardless of whether they demonstrate a propensity to commit violent acts, are to be monitored. It is the holding of radical beliefs itself that renders a person suspicious.

This level of surveillance can be daunting to the new activist but there are past victories to take encouragement from. For example, once the Met’s FIT units were identified as an intimidatory and invasive presence at demonstrations and meetings, the tactic of FITwatching emerged, encourged by the FITwatch blog. Activists would use banners and placards to isolate and obstruct the FIT, frequently preventing them from gathering intelligence and even forcing them to retreat. The Met have admitted that the tactics of FITwatch severely hampered their operations. State surveillance can be defied and people still continue to win battles against the oppressive system that produces it.

Despite the Tories’ cosmetic commitment to civil liberties, behind the scenes the current government continues to promote the deep state’s surveillance activities. A change of government was a useful opportunity to ditch deeply unpopular projects such as the ID card scheme, but the decision to push ahead with monitoring all electronic communications demonstrates that the make up of the government has little impact on the development of the state security apparatus.

Just as a vote for any of the major parties is a vote for capitalism, it is also a vote for the continuation of repression and abuse in the name of security. Anything goes when it comes to rooting out the evil doers, whether they are asylum seekers trying to enter the country, people behaving in an “antisocial” manner, or those treacherous peaceful protestors. Be aware and continue to resist!

Mikhail Goldman, (a.k.a. The Domestic Extremist) currently focusses his trouble-making and incitement in the Midlands area. His favourite activities are bringing down the system and enjoying a good cup of tea.

His column appears every other Wednesday.

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4 Comments

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Mik
Nov 17, 2010 15:31

I’m pleased to report that Fitwatch are up and running again:
http://www.fitwatch.org.uk/

Veronica
Nov 17, 2010 18:33

very clearly written. brings up many useful points I can use to beat other people over the head with. let’s see if i can wake a few up. thanks.

Veronica
Nov 17, 2010 18:40

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion…. And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms…. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
- Thomas Jefferson

Andy
Nov 18, 2010 8:43

I’m glad people are seeing through the witch-hunt for what it is.

On the specific ways they’re ratcheting up repression:

The biggest emergent threat seems to me to be the possibility of reclassifying stone-throwing as attempted murder, which the German state has already managed to push in one case, and which in the British climate could see protesters given indefinite/life sentences on the speculation that some particular action might in some conjectured eventuality be lethal (conceivably including nonviolent actions, such as occupying an inaccessible spot a cop “could have been killed” trying to get to). Given how often police use “could have been killed” kinds of rhetoric (despite the infrequency with which any of them are actually killed), this could have devastating effects. At the moment they seem to be holding off, but they’ve effectively invented laws they could never have got past judicial review as new laws by this technique of slippage in other cases (conspiracy to blackmail, solicitation of murder) so watch out for this.

The Fitwatch shutdown was instantly responded to very effectively with mass reposting of the “offending” post, and Fitwatch – who’ve been harassed before – were obviously prepared for the eventuality. It seems a police chief sent a demand to the hosting company who complied, and there was no legal process involved. The demand may have been illegal as a court order is required under the law which was used, which actually refers to “encouraging terrorism”. Still, the danger of the police driving every dissident website off the web is real, if technically unlikely.

The technical capabilities of unmanned drones have been played-up beyond their real uses by the military. I’ve seen some debate over whether they can actually do anything useful at a height undetectable to the naked eye; the ones which are up to anything have so far mainly been visible. There are also limits to what they can see through and how well. They can penetrate cloud cover using infra-red, but they can’t see into woods or through walls as Hollywood often has them doing, so they’d mainly be getting top-down shots, useful for real-time tracking of actions but nearly useless for identification (they could in principle be used to link separately taken photos of a person at two locations, e.g. disguised and not disguised, if all the images could be fitted together). At this stage, they’d replace police helicopters rather than things like CCTV.

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