Thought crime? Police are snooping on people for what they think, not what they do
Baroness Jones argues that the broad definition of domestic extremism is resulting in politicians, journalists, and social justice campaigners coming under pointless police surveillance.
Over eight thousand names, including mine, were on the domestic extremism database a few years ago. For more than a decade, when I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and working closely with the police on issues such as road crime and combating FGM, I was being monitored. A pointless waste of their time and our money.
It took several years of pushing but I got the Met Police to adopt a revised definition of domestic extremism which narrowed it down to terrorism and serious crime. The database shrank by several thousand, but that hasn’t completely shut the door on an era of intrusion which spread the net so widely that it included Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party councillors, journalists and a host of other people involved in environmental and social justice campaigns, who had never been found guilty of any crime. When Sian Berry, discovered she was still on the domestic extremism database she was running as the Green Party’s Mayoral candidate to be elected as the person who has oversight of the Met Police. This was after the definition had been changed and narrowed.
The Met Police explanation about why Sian was on the database was that the guidance was just guidance and not law. It was an admission that the Met Police can class whoever they want as a domestic extremist and that was confirmed by the Home Office minister in the Lords this week when Baroness Williams of Trafford said that “Questions about the police definition and their work on domestic extremism are matters for the police”
The Home Office are leaving the police to decide who to watch based on what people are thinking, rather than how people are acting. This is not acceptable in any democracy.
Leaving the police to make judgments about who is and isn’t an extremist is a bad idea and the history of the Met's Special Demonstration Squad shows that. The scandals around undercover policing currently being investigated by the Pitchford Inquiry are one consequence, possible collusion between the police and blacklisting companies could be another.
The hands-off approach of the Home Office may appear to be a healthy defence of police neutrality, but not when there are forty years of evidence of how the police have broken the rules in order to protect establishment and corporate interests.
Our police and security services constantly remind us that they are overstretched, so let’s help them out. The Home Office should instruct the police to stop snooping on people they don’t suspect of any involvement in serious crime or terrorism. That should enable them to focus on keeping us all safe.
Baroness Jones is a Green Party peer in the House of Lords