Campaigners from Big Brother Watch have published its first monthly “Emergency Powers & Civil Liberties” review [PDF], which is aimed at members of Parliament. The 91-page report reveals what it calls “staggering incompetence in police use of emergency laws – including wrongful convictions” and “a postcode lottery of pandemic policing that’s inconsistent and often heavy-handed”.
Coverage by The Times [paywall] highlights the case of a teenager in England was wrongly convicted under emergency powers applicable only in Wales. Thames Valley Police have now agreed this was wrong and intend to have the conviction withdrawn, although it is alarming that the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and a District Judge all managed to interpret the law completely incorrectly.
If the stories highlighted by this blog have a common theme, it is how emergency police powers are routinely interpreted in public order rather than public health terms, with little evidence that decisions are made with health promotion or disease prevention benefits in mind.
Over the last two days, we have seen further examples of this. Despite revised national guidance saying you can drive to take exercise, Dorset Police is still interpreting measures intended to protect public health as though they are about maintaining public order – warning people not to travel to beauty spots.
The force claims its advice is that everyone should avoid driving if possible “to reduce risks and ease pressure on emergency services” but this narrow interpretation of what is “reasonable” could apply to almost anything that we as members of the public do – and for Bedfordshire Police, this includes handling books.
Police ordered a Luton woman to remove a free books stall from her garden after a complaint. She told her local newspaper, “I was quite annoyed and I made the point that there had been burglaries and a shop break-in, but police were coming after me over some books in the garden!”
For Norfolk Police, the “risk” is from a man going for a walk wearing a medieval plague doctor outfit: police want to talk to him to offer “words of advice”, even though they acknowledge that no offences have been committed.
In Hampshire, the risk allegedly came from a couple and their three-year-old feeding some ducks while on their daily walk.
Meanwhile, police and health authorities in the north of Ireland have said they are “deeply concerned” that people wanting to know what their rights actually are could encourage them to ignore official advice.
In North Yorkshire, which had promised it would maintain a tough stance despite revisions to national guidelines, managed to issue 61 fines in one weekend. This included 17 fines issued in the village of Malham alone – with 13 being written in an hour.
There are some signs that planning is already underway for the aftermath of the lockdown and as we have seen during the current period, it takes a largely negative and distrustful approach to the public.
In the West Midlands, the Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has said the force is planning for a huge increase in crime in June and July and that he had “serious concerns that thousands of young men across the region will find themselves jobless”.
In South Yorkshire Police, meanwhile, has drawn from specialist riot units and members of its serious violent crime team to set up a new pandemic ‘taskforce’.
Meanwhile, Lancashire Police is the latest force to launch an online tool so people can denounce their neighbours for alleged coronavirus lockdown infractions.
If a leak to the NewStatesman is correct then Palantir, a company that has close relationships with US intelligence agencies is ‘charging’ the NHS just £1 for its coronavirus data deal. This raises questions about what business advantage Palantir is gaining and what the terms of patient data access and use are.
In the US, tech company Clearview AI says it’s in talks with federal and state agencies to track COVID-19 using facial recognition, despite the lack of a clear scientific basis for any benefit from this surveillance technology.
The increasing visibility of Britain’s police state. ‘Alison’, one of the women who was tricked into a relationship with an undercover officer and who now works for the support group Police Spies Out of Lives looks at the need to continue campaigning in these unprecedented times.
Boris Johnson’s police state won’t solve the coronavirus crisis’, Malia Bouattia, The New Arab.
Liberty has updated its advice & information hub to include emergency police powers.