Is the UK a police state?
Britain is not a police state but a nation with police state tendencies. In any democracy the dictates of freedom wrestle with those of security. Britons are a liberal people who want to be safe. Do they also want to live in a condition of perpetual paranoia? Simon Jenkins
People insist that we are not living in a police state but perhaps that is rather a 20th-century notion. What we are pioneering in Britain is a 21st-century version of the police state - the controlled state. Henry Porter
If the Police pick someone up it's because they probably have something to go on. It won't happen to you. You're innocent, so don't worry.
It would be absolutely ridiculous to even consider the UK could be called a Police state, wouldn't it? The UK has had a long history of tolerance and very civil policing. Its professional police force was created in 1820 and has since been copied by cities around the world. Soon afterwards were introduced the nine principles of policing. When thinking about the British police we may still come up with images of friendly bobbies.
Things have changed:
- The UK spends the largest amount in the OECD on law and order as a percentage of GDP, with nearly 40% more in real terms spent in 2006/07 than in 1997/98. This is higher than the US, double that of Sweden, France and Denmark and around 50% greater than that of Canada, Germany and Japan. The UK is ranked the 23rd most democratic country, 25th least surveilled one (worst ranking EU country) and 11th lowest perceived level of corruption.
- No fewer than 3,600 new criminal offences have been introduced by this Government since 1997. There have been 1,036 new imprisonable offences since 1997, with a big acceleration from 2003 onwards (257 from May 1997 to January 2004, 174 in 2005, 137 in 2006 and 133 in 2007). There have been 60 Home Office bills in 10 years. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 was ‘the 52nd Home Office bill and there have been 26 criminal justice bill and seven immigration bills since this Government came to power in 1997’. (From 1997 to 2006, each year has seen an average of 2,685 new laws – a 22% increase from the average over the previous 10 years.)
- The Police stop and search people without the need to show that they have reasonable suspicion an offence is being committed (under the power of the infamous Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000). Less than half a percent of those stopped and searched are arrested in connection with terrorism (even less are convicted).
- The Police search the home of arrested (not charged) people without the need for a warrant (Section 18 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984).
- The Police have powers of arrest without warrant, which make all offences, no matter how trivial, into arrestable offences (Section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, came into force on 2006-01-01).
- The Police collect and retain fingerprints, palm prints and DNA samples of all those arrested for a recordable offence, including of innocents, i.e. even when the arrestee is not charged with any offence or has been acquitted of an alleged offence. DNA profiles are kept in the National DNA Database (NDNAD) and DNA samples are stored by the laboratories which analyse them - forever.
UK leads the world in the collection of individual DNA records having collected the DNA profiles of more than 5,296,313 individuals (as of 2008-09-01). This includes DNA profiles of between 573,639 to 857,366 innocents individuals never convicted, cautioned, warned or reprimanded.
The England & Wales police forces have sampled an estimated 303,393 individuals aged 10-17 year-old, including at least 39,095 innocents (as of 2008-04-10).
In 2007, the profiles of 108 children under 10, along with 883,888 people aged between 10 and 17, 46 people more than 90 years old and a one seven-month-old baby girl were held on the NDNAD.
The yearly average number of subject profiles added to the NDNAD by the England and Wales police forces for the the financial years 2005-07 was 646,767 while the average number of profiles removed for the calendar years 2005-07 was only 221.
In 2006/07, 667,737 profiles were added on the National DNA Database (NDNAD), including that of about 160,000 young people aged 10-17; only 115 removed. By July 2006, 3,457,000 individuals were on the NDNAD.
By December 2005, 3,130,429 people had had their DNA taken from them. By March 2004, it was 2,527,728 people or 5.24% of the UK population; this compared to 0.98% in Austria, 0.83% in Switzerland, 0.50% in the USA and 0.41% in Germany.
...and fingerprints are required to hire a car at Stanstead Airport.
- The Police keep records in the Police
National Computer of arrests details of innocents, including mentions of 'non-conviction' until the subject reaches 100 years old.
- The Police have a ‘shoot to kill’ policy in cases they consider terrorism. They shot dead one person – Jean Charles de Menezes – who was not a terrorist on 2005-07-22. On 2005-10-24, this strategy had apparently been widened to include other offences such as kidnapping, stalking and domestic violence. On 2005-12-11, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said on the use of lethal force: ‘We are doing everything we can... but the probability is that there may be mistakes’. On 2006-06-02, another innocent Londoner – Mohammed Abdul Kahar – is shot in the chest by the Police in a anti-terror raid at his home at 4am (released without charge seven days later). On 2007-02-19, Cressida Dick, who was in charge of the operation that led to de Menezes being shot seven times in the head after he was mistaken for a suspected suicide bomber, is promoted to the rank of Deputy Assistant Commissioner.
- The Police Federation, according to Bob Elder, the chairman of the constables' central committee, is apparently considering shooting the public without even pretending that they may be terrorists. Asked if, in the event of a dirty bomb, he could foresee officers firing on civilians, he said: ‘It's an option the government is going to have to consider. We haven't got enough cops trained to deal with full-scale containment and it's putting everyone at risk.’
- Officers shooting people appear to do so with impunity. Since 1993, there has been 30 fatal shootings by the Police. No police officer has been successfully prosecuted for any of these fatalities caused by police marksmen.
2,533 individuals, whose names are known, have died since 1969 in the care of the Police, prisons, secure psychiatric units and immigration detention centres. The last time a Police officer was convicted following a death in custody was for assault charges in 1971 for the death of David Oluwale in 1969.
- Innocents (not even charged) can be disappeared for
14 28 days. They are usually held in stations such as Paddington Green in such poor conditions, that after a 14-day interview period even their lawyers are often ill. Will it be extended soon to 28 days? Will it be extended soon to 42 days? Section 23 of the Terrorism Act 2006 became law on 2006-03-30. Apparently, this is the longest allowed in any western European country.
- The Government is seeking to deport foreign suspects to countries where it is likely the deportees will be tortured or killed.
- Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) outlaws protests without prior police authorisation within a designated area of 1 km straight line from the central part of Parliament Square. Several individuals involved in peaceful protests have been arrested; see a diary of events related to SOCPA since it came into force on 2005-08-01. (You may want to join in a mass lone demonstration.)
Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 (SCA) makes it an offence to encourage or assist in the taking part in or organising of a demonstration not authorised under SOCPA (modified by the SCA) possibly further criminalising peaceful opposition to the government.
The police use of the kettling tactic at demonstrations effectively imprison people behaving lawfully for several hours. The police also use Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to move away photographers and journalists from protests.
- Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBO) affect people that are different including children, protesters and the mentally ill. in 1998, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw said there was a target for ‘5,000 [ASBOs to be issued] annually’ after their introduction on 1999-04-01. A total of 9,853 have been issued between 1999-04-01 and 2005-12-31. In the Serious Crime Act 2007, the Home Office introduced 'serious crime prevention orders' (SCPO) targeted at those whom police believe are likely to commit violence, i.e. including those who have not yet have committed an offence - and may never commit any. With the Mental Health Bill, ministers are also attempting to allow enforced detention of people who are mentally ill, even if they have not committed any crime.
- Control orders and even more restrictive special bail surety conditions force persons to live in what amounts to being under quarantine. The Home Office sentences acquitted persons with control orders.
- Omnipresent surveillance. Britain reportedly has an estimated 1.5 million CCTV cameras for public surveillance. (Based on a sample in Putney, a 2002 report estimated the number of public cameras to 4.2 million public cameras or one camera for every 14 people; another oft-quoted statistics from 1999 is that we are caught on camera 'an average of 300 times a day'). According to a director of photography, some of these are very good cameras, high colour with good focus.
DCI Mick Neville, head of the Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido) at New Scotland Yard commented, ‘Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It's been an utter fiasco: only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV.’
Cameras trained on cars are equipped with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and the MPS's Counter Terrorism command are given real-time access to this data (and MI5 and MI6 to London's Oyster cards transactions).
(What else? Secretly
planting RFID tags in garbage wheelie bins and putting secret cameras in tin cans, on lamp posts and even in the homes of 'friendly' residents!)
- National identity register (NIR) and identity cards. The law has passed, implementation in progress. This act is only one element of the government's data sharing initiatives.
- Phone companies have to retain traffic data for all phone services including voice, voicemail and conference and data calls, call forwarding and call transfer, SMS, EMS and MMS for one year (Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2007). This includes the telephone number from which the call was made and the dialled phone number, and the name and address of the subscriber and registered user of those telephone numbers; and the date and time of the start and end of the calls. For mobile calls this includes the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) and the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) of the phones; the cell ID at the start of the communication; and for pre-paid anonymous services, the date and time of the initial activation of the service and the cell ID from which the service was activated. In April 2009, these data retention rules were extended to cover internet use (websites visited, emails and VoIP calls). The government is also considering a massive government database holding details of every phone call, email and time spent on the internet.
- Refusing to disclose, on request, the secret cryptographic decryption key(s) - that you may have forgotten - or to provide plaintext decrypted versions of protected data you may have on your computer is punishable by up to five years in jail. There's a provision for a ‘tipping off’ offence if you mention the initial request to anyone. (Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 commenced on 2007-10-01 after seven years lain dormant and the first person jailed under these draconian UK police powers was a schizophrenic science hobbyist with no previous criminal record.) Local councils are using RIPA to target surveillance on the likes of fishermen and a family applying to a popular primary school. In 2007, councils and government departments made 12,494 applications for ‘directed surveillance’ according to the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner.
- Taking pictures, filming or even just drawing sketches of buildings is now often considered ‘hostile reconnaissance’ and risks you being stopped and searched, or even arrested. (Many persons who were intimidated in such circumstances by the Police emailed me, including one person who was arrested for ‘sketching pictures of the Southbank’ and another for taking a picture that includes a petrol station and in 2006-08 an Iraqi was charged for filming Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, eventually found not guilty, to be put under a control order. On 2007-05-14, two students are arrested after taking snapshots of Tower Bridge. Even my innocent doodles were construed by the Police as being a tube station plan.)
Filming or taking photographs of London tube stations without obtaining a permit in advance is illegal since July 2005. Ironically we are being told: ‘Detectives have issued an urgent appeal for any photographs, video footage or mobile phone images’.
- The legal definition of terrorism, specified in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (amended by the Terrorism Act 2006) is very broad. The government is discussing even more lax definitions.
- Section 58 (collection of information) of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows prosecution for simple possession of an item likely to be useful to terrorists, and carries a sentence of up to 10 years. The indelible record left by a long-forgotten internet search is an sufficient for a conviction. Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 extends section 58 further; in particular it criminalises taking or publishing a photograph of a police officer, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a terrorist.
collection of information
- Saying or wearing the wrong words may get you arrested. The Terrorism Act 2006 introduced new offences of Encouragement of terrorism and Preparation of terrorist acts. These are so broad that they likely constitute an incursion on free speech.
- Under the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 the Treasury can freeze the assets of whoever they designate. They do not have to give any hard evidence. They can do so in secrecy. And they are above the law ('An action done under this Schedule is not to be treated as a breach of any restriction imposed by statute or otherwise.')
- The Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House Site are added to the sites designated under Section 128 (offence of trespassing on designated site) of the SOCPA. From 2007-06-01, attending an event in a Committee Room or meeting your MP in Portcullis House can land in you in jail for up to 51 weeks.
- With the Counter Terrorism Act 2008, the Home Office will extend the pre-charge detention period for ‘terror suspects’ to 42 days, hold inquests in secrecy, allow post-charge questioning of ‘terror suspects’ (possibly right up to the trial date, presuming that the ‘suspects’ are guilty), create a new criminal offence of seeking ‘information which could be useful for terrorism’, impose travel restrictions for ‘suspects’, punish families of convicted terrorists by confiscating their property (bank accounts, vehicles, computers, homes, etc.), and other proposals which undermine the rights of ‘suspects’ to due legal process, impose ever greater punishment without trial and further create a climate of fear.
- The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 lets ministers alter the law - to some extent. Used to attempt to restrict what we can obtain under the Freedom of Information Act.
- The Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and the Department of Health secretly established in October 2006, the London based Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) staffed by police and psychiatrists; they have the power to detain suspects indefinitely using mental health laws.
- After arresting a member of the opposition, since cleared, the police went on a fishing expedition checking his e-mails and documents for communication over the past few years between this opposition politician and a civil liberties campaigner, although this had nothing to do with the investigation. The police passed secret police intelligence to a firm. The Home Secretary ignored a judge's decision, kidnapped bailed men and imprisoned them.
- Secret evidence that the defendent or his lawyers cannot challenge is used in British courts. Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which assesses deportation cases, often taking evidence in closed sessions. This leads to situations where defendents do not understand why they are sentenced to prison and judges cannot explain why.
- A dozen London boroughs have implemented a "risk assessment" policy for vetting live music that permits the police to ban any performance if they fail to receive personal details from the performers 14 days in advance. The demand explicitly singles out performances and musical styles favoured by the black community: garage and R&B, and MCs and DJs. Organisers must complete Form 696 with personal details of all artists, music style to be played and some information on the audience.
- Community Safety Accreditation Schemes enable chief constables to grant some police powers to employees of other organisations including private companie, such as security guards, park and dog wardens, beach patrols and shopping centre guards. Powers include power to require giving of name and address, power to photograph persons away from a police station, power to issue penalty notices (for disorder, truancy, cycling on a footpath, dog fouling, graffiti, littering, etc.), power to surrender alcohol, etc. Accredited Persons undergo training and pay a fee to their local police force.
- The Identity & Passport Service decides whether people's legal names are good enough to be able to get a passport and travel.
More is planned:
- The Secretary of State for the Home Department states that he is considering derogating from article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires declaring a state of emergency.
- The Home Office reveals it is examining a proposal to give powers to the police to stop and question people. People refusing to give their names or explain what they were doing could be charged with obstructing the police and fined up to £5,000.
- After failing to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days, Jacqui Smith introduces the Draft counter-terrorism (temporary provisions) bill 2008, yet another bill ready to extend the current limit of 28 days pre-charge detention period even further.
- The government plans the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), a universal communications surveillance apparatus to collect, process and cross reference details of emails sent, websites visited, calls made, mobile phone cell locations and more. Details of who contacts whom, when and where are to be stored in one massive central database.
- The home secretary, is to arm one in five police officers with X26 Taser stun guns. £8m will be made available to all 43 police forces in England and Wales to buy 10,000 new 50,000-volt weapons.
- In the Coroners and justice bill 2009, the government is pushing for secret inquests (again) with the holding of inquests without juries on national security grounds, overbroad criteria for the use of anonymous witnesses in criminal trials,
the near-total undermining of the Data Protection Act 1998 through allowing ministers to authorise disclosure and use of personal data to serve one of the goverment's policy objectives, and more...
One must realise that all Police powers that apply before someone is convicted, apply in the exact same way to innocents wrongfully arrested and to criminals before they are charged and convicted. In a democratic country, Police powers need to be balanced and checked so they are not abused against innocents, especially not for political reasons.
Without protection for the individuals who make up society, society itself founders. Nor is there a balance to be struck between the rights of individuals and national security: national security depends upon every individual in this country having inalienable rights. Gareth Peirce
Make up your own mind. If you find the situation has gone too far, click this link for a few suggestions as to what you can do to help reverse it.
Some other interesting lists and references:
Document first published: 2005-11-12
Document last modified: 2009-11-28