3 – 4 June Update

POLICING

Solicitors from Hodge Jones and Allen have written to the Metropolitan Police, on behalf of Netpol, London Black Live Matters, UK Student Climate Network and Extinction Rebellion, to express their concerns about the policing of protests under the coronavirus regulations. The letter argues that in particular, the use of Regulation 7 fails to provide adequate protection to the right to free speech and the right to protest (article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

David Mead, Professor of UK Human Rights Law at the University of East Anglia, discussed the effects of new regulations on protest in great detail in a series of blogposts, and also submitted evidence on it to the Joint Committe on Human Rights. In short, he wonders why a BBQ of six friends on the riverside would be allowed, while a similar group of political activists cannot hold a twenty-minute vigil 2m apart on the steps of a Town Hall to mark the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “That seems an indefensible distinction, one that does not properly recognise the value of free speech and peaceful assembly, nor protect it.”

On Wednesday it was reported that police turned up at the home of a Black campaigner who has shared details of a BlackLivesMatter protest on social media. Officers barged their way in and questioned the individual, was shielding and therefore unable to attend the protest, for 20 mins on details of organisers and attendees.

The latest coronavirus rules, from Monday 1 June, are wide-ranging and complicated. The Guardian published a guide on what is allowed in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Bristol CopWatch has also updated their ‘Know Your Rights during Lockdown’ leaflets to reflect the recent changes.

In Wales, the control on the border between England and Wales remains as tight as ever. Dyfed-Powys Police has turned away 1000 cars in two days.

The new regulations on travelling require the transportation services bringing people into Britain to tell travellers to go into a 14-day quarantine or risk a fine and prosecution, and inform the government of their address – and there is nother complicated list of exceptions to digest. Adam Wagner also points at the serious powers for the police to enforce this, though the Met Police have already said they won’t be getting involved (£).

LEGAL

The Good Law Project (Rook Irwin & Sweeny) wrote to Secretary of State for Health raising concerns over “unconstitutional” use of emergency powers to introduce new criminal lockdown laws without Parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

A minister just declared what the law will be, including policing activity inside our homes and forcing us to wear face masks. As Adam Wagner points out this is law-making by ministerial fiat.

SURVEILLANCE

NHS test-and-trace system ‘not fully operational until September‘. The Guardian reveals that the chief operating officer told staff programme would be imperfect at launch.

Police forces are drawing up plans to do their own contact tracing, because they don’t trust the national system to keep sensitive information safe. They are afraid sharing details could smoke out undercover officers for instance. Kent police have already told officers not to give details of work contacts to NHS Test and Trace.

What is contact tracing and what does it mean to me? Bindmans Lawyers explains. 

How Digital Contact Tracing for COVID-19 Could Worsen Inequality, Amos Toh, Human Rights Watch

COMMENT

We can’t breathe What connects the most brazen forms of state violence against black people and the struggles of BAME coronavirus patients is systemic racism. Gary Younge for The New Statesman.

Didier Bigo: Covid-19 tracking apps, or: how to deal with a pandemic most unsuccessfully. Contact tracing apps add “another political problem, that of an enlarged surveillance apparatus, without solving the underlying one: the lack of an effective public health strategy”

RESOURCES

Big Brother Watch has done another excellent report Emergency Powers and Civil Liberties, May 2020, using the Policing The Corona State blog as a resource. The Report discusses the lockdown, the emergency laws, the Coronavirus Act, contract tracing, and more.

Webinar Mon, June 8: “Good” or “Bad” the Covid 19 Tracker & Surveillance Capitalism. Should we worry about the “State” and others knowing more & more about us? Orgnised by Shout Back Discussion club, 8:00 PM.

1 – 2 June Update

POLICING

Disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority groups in London were fined for alleged breaches of lockdown, figures of the Metropolitan Police show: 48.6% were issued to Black & Asian individuals. Between March 27 and May 14, 26% of fines (253) were issued to black people, who make up 12% of the capital’s population. Asian people were given 22.6% of fines (220) though they represent 18% of Londoners. Black people were also more likely to be arrested for Covid-19 offences & crimes where C-19 breaches were suspected, BBC’s Danny Shaw wrote.

This is extremely hugh even compared to the national figures which suggest a high proportion of black and Asian being fined under the lockdown laws – see Adam Wagner’s thread for details we published earlier.

Is this disproportionality inherited from stop and search? Channel4 News Simon Israel asks. This is not a rethorical question. With the amount of cases pulled together for this diairy, we knew this level of disroportionality was extremely likely. Racial profiling by police in Britain is not a myth.

Many people at the demonstrations on Sunday expressed anger and frustration at the increased use of stop and search. The Met has increased stop and searches by 50% in a year. In April 2019 Met officers carried out 20,981 stops. This April, with lockdown fully in place, the Met carried out 30,608 stops, against 20,981 in the same month last year. The Met says one in five searches led to further action.

Coronavirus police powers must be narrowed to stop racial disproportionality; Netpol was one of the 20 signatories to the letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock coordinated by @libertyhq, @OSFJustice & @StopWatchUK.

Abena Oppong-Asare MP has also written to the Home Office to address abuse of police powers urgently.

Jovan Nepaul, the chair of Lewisham Deptford constituency Labour party, wrote to the Mayor of Lewisham and the three MP’s for the borough of Lewisham, expressing his concern about “the disproportionate policing of black people in our area” after an ambulance driver waiting for his friend in south London was stopped and searched recently.

Lawyers call for police investigation into Dominic Cummings affair to be reopened and extended – in this piece ‘The trials of Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson’ by Mike Schwarz and his new colleagues at Hodge, Jones & Allen sollicitors.

The publication of Public Health England’s findings on a disproportionate death toll among ethnic minorities has been delayed so not continue to flare up racial tensions. The fact that information that could save BAME lives was held back, because people are too angry about the futility of black lives caused a wave of outrage on social media. The belated publishing Report led to calls for a proper government response.

The government has rushed through new regulations on Sunday, before Parliament had had a chance to look at it. Alex Nice at the Institute for Goverment explains why the government should should stop avoiding parliamentary scrutiny of the laws that give effect to them.

SURVEILLANCE

Minnesota’s public safety commissioner, John Harrington, said in a press conference Sunday that police were starting to contact-trace the demonstrators they’ve arrested, to see what platforms and organisations they were linked to. He used white supremacsists as an example, but ‘antifa’ might very well be added soon, now that Trump has tweeted he wants them designated as a terrorist organisation. Contact tracing is a public health effort to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, using phone apps and interviewing people. The biggest hurdle is gaining public trust.

“Any blurring of police work with contact tracing can undermine public health”, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said on Monday. Interrogating arrested protesters about their beliefs and associations is a longstanding police practice. So is social media surveillance by police of dissident movements. We must not allow police to “COVID wash” controversial police practices.

RESOURCES

Alex Vitale asks why we think policing is the answer to so many social problems and proposes a way to change the situation. The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why. His book The End of Policing is now free to download at Verso Books.

Great video made by the Rainbow Collective of the #BlackLivesMatter protests in London, Trafalgar Sq, Sun 31 May, in solidarity with US protesters. Highlighting racism in society, justice system & the number of BAME people who have died at the hands of British police. And here is an impression by Real Media.  (Next protests: 6 Jun, 1pm, Parliament Sq; 7 Jun 2pm, US Embassy.)

30 – 31 May Update

POLICING

In defiance of restrictions on protests, this weekend saw people gather in London and Cardiff in solidarity over the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US. In London, it was reported that most of the people arrested were for breaches of regulation 7 of the coronavirus regulations. It is unclear how these individuals were detained while hundreds of others were not.

There were also arrests in London after Extinction Rebellion protesters gathered at Parliament Square on Saturday. The group insisted its members were maintaining social distancing but the Metropolitan Police confirmed the arrests were for alleged “breach of Covid-19 regulations”. Sky News reported that it was the police who were failing to keep their distance. One activist said in an interview, “if we have been sunbathing, it would have been perfectly allowed, but because I had a placard… I was arrested”.

A number of local XR groups (see this example from XR Cambridge) highlighted the different responses to people gathering in parks and on beaches with those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

The brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also arrested again during a small anti-lockdown / anti-5G protest with a very large police presence in London’s Hyde Park.

From Monday 1 June, lockdown regulations change in England and Wales. In England, people are able to spend more time outdoors and meet in groups of up to six from different households, following social distancing guidelines. In Wales, this must be in the local area with travel up to five miles allowed. Announcing this in advance has meant that, inevitably, people began to gather outdoors immediately.

A huge rave involving “hundreds” of revellers was stormed by riot police in Clapton in east London. Officers from Hampshire Police broke up several crowds of more than 100 young people in recreation grounds in Fareham.

In the north of Ireland, police officers were reportedly attacked when they tried to disperse a crowd of more than 200 assembled on Ballyholme beach in Bangor. In Wales, it was claimed Police Community Support Officers were subject to abuse from tourists from the West Midlands who were issued fines and sent home.

Meanwhile, health officials made a last-minute plea to stop the easing of the lockdown in England, saying it’s too early to do so.

LEGAL

The amended health regulations were announced on Sunday (!) and were due to be presented formally to Parliament on 1 June. The barrister Adam Wagner explains why it’s very bad that the lockdown guidance has changed before the law has been amended.

SURVEILLANCE

Proposed legislation for later this year includes a number of new pieces of legislation that will increase official secrecy and threaten whistleblowers. In the context of the current pandemic, where leaks have allowed the public to know the membership of the important SAGE group of scientific advisers and the report of a simulated influenza pandemic exercise in the National Health Service in 2016, this represents an “epidemic of secrecy”, argues Richard Norton Taylor.

In the US, officials in Minnesota have begun using contact tracing to track protestors at Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd, in an apparent attempt to prove that those arrested were from outside of the state (a claim that one mayor was forced to withdraw). This represents a significant misuse of data gathered for public health protection in order to pursue overtly criminal justice aims.

28 – 29 May Update

Dominic Cummings may have broken lockdown rules when he made a 50-mile journey to Barnard Castle, an investigation by Durham Police has concluded, adding that it would not be taking any further action. It’s worth remembering that Durham Police has issued a number of fines to others for travelling during the lockdown.

On the question of whether the regulations are “one rule for some and not for others”, the Metropolitan Police has been forced to give six of its own officers a dressing down over the coronavirus rules, after photos appeared to show them gathering in a house for a drink.

Questioned by Huffington Post UK reporter Nadine Writes over the disproportionate number of lockdown fines issued to Britain’s black and minority communities, who asked: “If Dominic Cummings were black, it is statistically more likely he would have been stopped by police while out with his family,” Health Secretary Matt Hannock said that “it’s vital that the rules, where there is mandation (sic), are policed without fear or favour and fairly and equally according to the evidence.”

As this blog has repeatedly demonstrated, the implementation of lockdown powers has seldom been applied fairly or equally and there is growing evidence of racial profiling and targeting.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) have told ministers that most lockdown issues are now a “personal and moral responsibility” rather than a policing issue, The Times (£) wrote. The government has accepted that police had “retreated” to engaging, explaining and encouraging, now the lockdown has become “unenforceable”, senior officers said.

West Yorkshire Police has told a charity to stop feeding homeless people during the lockdown in Leeds city centre. A police officer came to the home of one organiser and told her that rough sleepers are “all in accommodation and they’re being fed in hostels”, which she has argued is simply not true. Police claimed they were responding to “numerous complaints [that] were made about ‘unofficial feeds’ where social distancing was not being carried out”, although two weeks ago, police were told they have no powers to enforce social distancing in England. The campaigning homelessness charity Streets Kitchen commented that “with the right PPE and understanding of the issues, we have dropped NO outreaches, indeed vastly increased them as there are so little ‘homeless’ services left”.

The NPCC produced new statistics on lockdown fines. Up to 25 May, North Yorkshire Police (pop. 800,000) had issued almost the same number of lockdown fines as the Metropolitan Police (pop. 8 million). However, the data from between 12 and 25 May shows a significant reduction in fines since measures were eased in England, although 17,000 have been issued.

Fines by force in England to 25 May

Katrina Ffrench, Chief Executive of StopWatch, has explained in an interview why she is calling for a review of every fine that has been issued.

SURVEILLANCE

Baroness Dido Harding, part of Board of The Jockey Club, which “courageously” decided to go ahead with Cheltenham Festival in March, is now running the UK Government’s Covid19UK Track & Trace programme. She was also CEO of TalkTalk when hackers stole the personal details of 157,000 customers and was fined by the Information Commissioner for insufficient security.

The Department of Health has said that all information shared with the NHS Test and Trace service is confidential and will not be passed on to the police. However, emergency powers do provide the option to enforce self-isolation requirements with fines.

RESOURCES

In “Policing the Pandemic” (MedAct), Aiyan Maharasingam looks into the statistics showing that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by state violence, and how the pandemic is worsening pre-existing inequalities. “Enforcing social distancing through policing and criminalisation, without understanding the inequalities that shape people’s ability to self-isolate or distance, will lead to further discrimination.”

26-27 May Update

POLICING

The anger over the actions of the Prime Minister’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings has not subsided. West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, has claimed to have received intelligence that people are using Cumming’s controversial actions as an excuse for alleged breaches of lockdown regulations.

The BBC has managed to obtain details from Durham Police of the fines that it has issued, which intriguingly indicates that two other people – from different households – who travelled together from London to County Durham during lockdown were given fixed penalty notices. The force is currently considering whether to take action against Cummings over a similar journey.

The Canary has used this diary as a resource to look at what police across Britain were doing on those days when Cummings was in Durham.

Channel 4 News has challenged the claim by Education Secretary Michael Gove that Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle was “consistent” with police advice at the time.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly dismissed calls for an official inquiry into Cummings’ conduct.

Meanwhile, the National Police Chiefs Council has refused to review all the fines handed out under coronavirus laws and said anyone who believes they had been wrongly penalised “can challenge it in court”.

However, as Patrick Ormerod, a solicitor at London human rights firm Bindmans, has pointed out, there is no mechanism for everyone to challenge these fines in court unless they refuse to pay and may – or may not – subsequently, face prosecution.

Black, Asian and minority communities in England are 54% more likely to be fined under coronavirus rules than white people, according to an analysis by Liberty Investigates. Commenting in the Guardian, Netpol said, “For years there has been extensive evidence that police powers are used to disproportionately and unfairly to target black and Asian communities, so it comes as little surprise that these figures indicate racial profiling has continued and even accelerated under the lockdown”. This is why it is so vital that we hear from people who have been fined, particularly if you have been targeting because you are vulnerable or a from a black, Asian and other minority community”.

In partnership with a number of other campaigning groups and lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers, Netpol has released an urgent call-out asking anyone who been issued with a coronavirus fixed penalty fine and would be prepared to share the details to get in contact

In response to the as new data showing that ethnic minority groups are disproportionately fined, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the police should enforce lockdown measures “without fear or favour”.

In the north of Ireland, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of fines issued by police, from nearly 400 to only 30 in a month.

Three people were arrested after an illegal rave was held at a nature reserve near the centre of Leeds, police have said. Sound equipment was also seized. In Plymouth, Devon & Cornwall Police were reported to have dispersing large gatherings at two popular local beaches.

North Yorkshire Police issued another 52 fines over the bank holiday weekend. In Gwent, police are continuing to enforce border restrictions between England and Wales, issuing two people with warnings after they travelled to Gower to go surfing.

In Cumbria, sixteen Lake District campers were issued with £100 fixed penalty fines for overnight stays.

In Derbyshire, a drone operator was spoken to by police after a flight over Chesterfield’s Crooked Spire church. He said he had believed it was acceptable because the town centre was so quiet during the coronavirus crisis.

SURVEILLANCE

COVID-Tech: Surveillance is a pre-existing condition – we should not forget that for many communities, surveillance is not a COVID-19 issue – it was already there.

RESOURCES

INQUEST has put together guidance providing answers to some of the immediate questions asked by bereaved families whose relatives have died from Covid-19 & includes essential information about how to protect your rights.

In the first episode of the Big Brother Watch Podcast, Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, talks about the changes in policing in the UK with the use of the new emergency coronavirus powers with the two editors of this blot, Kevin Blowe (Netpol) and Eveline Lubbers (Undercover Research Group).

23-25 May Update

POLICING

The bank holiday weekend has been dominated by the news that Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief advisor, took at least one 270-mile round trip from London to his parents’ home in Durham while suspected of having the coronavirus, in contravention of strict rules in operation at the time that said no travel was permissible for those who were sick.

Although the details of this otherwise fairly mundane story have been picked over intensely by the media, its greater significance has been in the response from government ministers leaping to defend Cummings and, in the process, fundamentally undermining the public health message to “stay home and save lives”. One scientific advisor to the government said it has “trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19”

During the daily Downing Street briefing on Saturday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted people should adhere to the rules “to the best of your ability” but that there might be times when “not all these measures will be possible”. He added: “You have to get yourself in lockdown and do that in the best and most practical way – and I think that will be different for different people under whatever circumstances, their particular family differences, happen to dictate, that’s all that’s happened in this case.”.

Education Secretary Michael Gove went further, insisting that “caring for your wife and child is not a crime”. However, as Netpol pointed out, over the last seven weeks the state has fined thousands and unlawfully criminalised and prosecuted at least 44 people for actions that were not a crime under the government’s often confusing coronavirus regulations.

Gareth Roberts, writing in the BylineTimes, has explored the unexpected legal consequences of the government’s defence and argued that 14,000 Brits could now appeal lockdown fines, thanks to Cummings.

The barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC, who along with civil rights groups has called for a review of all coronavirus fines, has warned that the government’s stance risks “losing cooperation from the public and they may consider ‘why should I pay this fine when I think I was acting on instinct as well?” In a post on the Doughty Street Chambers blog, Brimelow has looked in details at whether Cummings acted “responsibly and regally”, as the Prime Minister had claimed on Sunday.

The immediate impact of this, according to the Telegraph, has been people travelling to beaches over the bank holiday weekend saying that if Dominic Cummings could break the rules, they can too.

Meanwhile, the acting police and crime commissioner for Durham told BBC Radio 5 Live that he has asked the force’s chief constable to “establish the facts” about Cummings’ time in the area.

Amidst the furore, what has attracted less publicity is the call by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights for an urgent review of all fix penalty notice fines and for the government to introduce some means of challenging or appealing them. A committee briefing (PDF) last week said – somewhat presciently – that “it is unacceptable that many thousands of people are being fined in circumstances where… the Regulations contain unclear and ambiguous language” and “there is evidence that the police do not fully understand their powers. A thread on Twitter by barrister Adam Wagner, an advisor to the committee, sets out its recommendations in more detail.

Elsewhere, police officers have created what is effectively a “border patrol” between England and Wales, stopping people crossing the border overbank holiday weekend.

Human right lawyer John Scott QC has been commissioned by Police Scotland to review the force’s use of emergency coronavirus laws, geographical differences in the use of police powers such as fines – and a possible link between enforcement and poverty.

SURVEILLANCE

Activists in Bristol and London are working on a mutual aid response app that aims, amongst other options, to support “logging police harassment and abuse of COVID-19 emergency powers including fines”

Face masks cover up a significant portion of what facial recognition needs to identify and detect people – essentially threatening the future of a multimillion-dollar industry unless the technology can learn to recognize people beyond the coverings.

A French court has ruled police use of drones to manage Covid-19 crisis unlawful – ruling found that the imagery and footage captured by drones flying at a low altitude was personal data to the extent that individuals filmed were identifiable, reports Privacy International. Act Up agrees, pointing at something they wrote when Derbyshire police used drones to shame people in April.

As the government continues to trial a contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight, the Guardian wonders how Australia’s Covidsafe app went from vital to almost irrelevant nearly a month after its launch, with data barely used and only one case reportedly identified from its use,
RESOURCES
Reflecting on the ground-breaking Hillsborough Inquests, 2014-2016 and the unprecedented jury findings at the inquest into the prison death of Joseph Rainey (2020), this talk focuses on bereaved families’ ‘right to know’ the full circumstances and wider context in which their loved ones died. Instructive for any future inquiry into Coronavirus. Venue: Facebook Time: 6pm. Tickets: Free

On Friday, as part of the Levellers’ “Beautiful Day Lockdown Special online festival, a panel debated policing and coronavirus laws and included Emily Apple from the Canary, Kevin Blowe from Netpol and Attiq Maalik from Liberty Law solicitors.

COVID 19 and States of Emergency: Diogo Esteves and Kim Economides have collected data from 51 countries on how access to justice has changed due to the pandemic.

We can’t police our way out of the pandemic #4, recording of this weekend’s webinar: “An ongoing dialogue space to advance ideas about the abolition of police and prisons, to address concerns about the ramp-up of authoritarianism, increased surveillance and privacy violations, updates on enforcement responses to COVID-19, to address concerns on the ground, share work being done to help strategize for action, and to put into question public health collaborations with police.” Earlier events here.

21-22 May Update

POLICING

Big Brother Watch has written a letter (PDF) to the National Police Chiefs Council to make the case for an urgent review of all 14,000 police fines issued under coronavirus emergency powers. Other signatories include Netpol, Kirsty Brimelow QC, Jules Carey from Bindmans, INQUEST, StopWatch, Fair Trials, Liberty and the Police Action Lawyers Group.

Meanwhile, Netpol has sent its letter to the National Police Chiefs Council, signed by 654 signatories and calling for the police to stop – before the lockdown ends – the labelling of political campaigners as “domestic extremist”. Government departments have already said they no longer use this categorisation.

Dyfed Powys Police’s chief constable wants the Welsh government to bring in even tougher lockdown deterrents including higher fines for a first offence. North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has condemned the increase in fines in Wales for people flouting coronavirus travel restrictions, announced by First Minister Mark Drakeford on Wednesday, as a “timid fudge”.

Most of the people wrongly charged under the Coronavirus Act were probably not legally represented, the director of public prosecutions Max Hill QC has said.

The Home Secretary is expected to outline plans for the police to enforce spot checks at peoples’ homes when returning from abroad, with £1,000 fines for failing to quarantine for 14 days

The sunny weather and high temperatures drew many, many people to the coast on Thursday, with local authorities ill-prepared and unable to deal with the crowds. Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative opposition group on Southend Borough Council, said better “people management” would allow them the space to distance. But Labour council leader Ian Gilbert said the police and council did not have the powers to stop people coming to the area. “From the moment the government guidelines allowed people to travel, sunbathe and take unlimited exercise we knew it was going to be extremely difficult to manage the situation,” he said.

Devon & Cornwall Police officers were reported to have spent their morning waking up visitors in campervans who had spent the night at the coast in Newquay.

Wiltshire Police in Swindon saw a substantial drop in the number of coronavirus-related logs created in its control room, which fell to 454 compared to the previous week’s 812. Officers issued 18 fines and recorded nine crimes linked to the lockdown in Wiltshire but made no arrests for the second week in a row.

Meanwhile, in their latest effort to explain the guidelines instead of offering their own interpretation, the National Police Chiefs’ Council refers to the government’s website: “People can spend more time outdoors in England, but restrictions still apply.” However, if you’re looking for a good explanation, you’d better have a look at what Liberty’s Know Your Rights guide.

If you’re having trouble putting all the new lockdown guidelines into practice here’s a handy song with dance moves to help you remember.

SURVEILLANCE

Can contact tracing apps ever work?  The seventh Green Post Corona Talks on the ramifications of Covid 19 contact tracing apps are debated, with researcher Seda Gürses, Laura Sophie Dornheim from Grünen Berlin and internet pioneer Marleen Stikker, from the Netherlands on 27 May: 1-2am.

Covid Contact tracing apps are a complicated mess: what you need to know, Privacy International, 19 May 2020

COMMENT

COVID-19, Consent and Coercion: New United Nations Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement in the context of the coronavirus, Abi Dymond and Neil Corney, European Journal of International Law, 22 May 2020

Under lockdown, we should be increasingly critical about Police use of tasers, Sophie Williams-Dunning, Varsity, 22 May 2020

 

18 – 20 May Update

POLICING

The Metropolitan Police has been criticised for stop and search during the lockdown, with figures showing an increase in the tactic during April. Police say additional resources have been placed into proactive patrols. Ria Chatterjee from ITV spoke to Sayce Holmes-Lewis, a youth worker who was targeted last week. He has since been raising awareness of the unjust treatment by police, aiming to educate our young people how to navigate issues such as this.

Further detail on the “postcode lottery” of coronavirus fines, with Thames Valley Police issuing the second highest number of fixed penalty notices in England: 866 penalty notices – only 40 less than the Metropolitan Police.

North Yorkshire Police have issued more fines for breaches of the Coronavirus regulations in Scarborough than any other region in the county, the latest figures show.

Although it has been made clear that the police are no longer able to try and control social distancing, officers in Somerset are still warning people for failing to do so.

In the north of Ireland, a human rights review was launched into the police response to the pandemic.

Devon & Cornwall Police were in the top four police forces for issuing coronavirus fines ( 799 between March 27 and May 11) but a scrutiny panel set up by the local Police and Crime Commissioner has said the force used its powers “legitimately, appropriately and proportionately”. The full report can be found here (PDF). We await further information whether any of the 44 cases under the Coronavirus Act that were found to have been incorrectly charged (because there was no evidence they covered potentially infectious people) were from the two counties, or what impact any potential review of fixed penalty notices may have on this positive judgment.

In London, protesters from Extinction Rebellion managed to find a way around current movement restrictions by placing more than 2000 pairs of children’s shoes in neat rows across Trafalgar Square.

LEGAL

Although Parliament has still not returned to full session because of physical distancing measures, the government is pushing ahead with the reintroduction of control orders, which would restrict the movements of suspected terrorists and could be renewed indefinitely. The new legislation in changes would “roll back the years” to the more restrictive regime that existed before control orders were abolished in 2011, according to Jonathan Hall QC, the current independent reviewer of terrorism laws. The move has been criticised by Liberty.

SURVEILLANCE

What’s the NHS-BigTech COVID-19 datastore? Where are the contracts? Big Brother Watch has put out an open letter with a coalition of digital rights advocates, to urge the NHS to answer questions about its new COVID-19 datastore built with companies like Palantir, Faculty, Amazon and Microsoft.

This might become the new normal: A surveillance society, where the NHS App, ‘enhanced’ by facial recognition tech, creates a two-tier system in which people with digital immunity passports certified “risk-free” can move more freely.

A contact tracing project that is “set to ask many thousands of people who have fallen ill to share the details of their friends and acquaintances” is in hands of an outsourcing company that cannot manage the most basic data security: Serco apologises for sharing contact tracers’ email addresses.

Another company, Sitel, is running a programme to train thousands of contact-tracers to help control the spread of coronavirus that has been described as shambolic and inadequate by recruits.

On Monday, Jenny Jones asked HMG what steps they are taking to address privacy concerns about (1) the use of the NHS COVID-19 contact tracing application, and (2) the introduction of immunity certificates. She did not receive a proper answer. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Lord Bethell, could only come up with obligate promises on transparency, referring to the open-source code used.

Your face mask selfies could be training the next facial recognition tool. Researchers are crawling the internet for photos of people wearing face masks to improve facial recognition algorithms.

In Spain, smart lampposts are being used to check for crowding on beaches in the coronavirus crisis, a development we await to see repeated in Britain over the coming months.

RESOURCES

HIV-AIDS taught us not to police a disease outbreak. Did the lesson stick? Alex McClelland shares his thoughts with GlobalNews from Canada. He also co-created Policing the Pandemic, a mapping project launched in April to track the ways in which COVID-19 orders are, or aren’t, being enforced nationwide.

The Monitoring Group’s Adam Elliot-Cooper speaks to United Borders about policing and Covid-19, in Rona Report.

15-17 May Update

All prosecutions under the new Coronavirus Act have been unlawful, a review has found. The Crown Prosecution Service revealed that all 44 charges it had so far checked had been withdrawn or overturned. Details of the CPS review available here.

A total of 14,244 fixed penalty notices were also recorded by forces in England and Wales, prior to the easing of lockdown measures in England last week. These figures were not included in the CPS review, although there is no route to appeal available to those issued with a fine unless they refuse to pay and risk prosecution.

The full breakdown up to 11 May of these fixed penalty fines, including demographic details, is available here.

The Independent has highlighted how police in some parts of the country are handing out up to 26 times more coronavirus lockdown fines than officers in others amid a “postcode lottery” of enforcement.

After London and Thames Valley, rural North Yorkshire Police issued more fines to coronavirus rulebreakers than any other force in England. It covers a population of 800,000, compared to 2.1 million for Thames Valley and over 8 million in London. So far, Lancashire Police has issued 736 fines and Dorset Police has issued 808 fines.

Police forces have started to share on social media the new guidance from the government on exercising safely outdoors (see this example from the Metropolitan Police). The National Police Chiefs Council warned that people playing football or spending time with friends in parks could still face fines for breaking coronavirus laws,

North Wales Police has made it clear it is likely to stop vehicles driving in from England, linking to the restrictions in Wales. Over the weekend, Sussex Police set up a roadblock on the A23 to stop vehicles on their way into Brighton and check if drivers are complying with coronavirus lockdown guidelines.

A 14-year-old boy was due in court on Monday accused of breaking lockdown restrictions in Paddington.
He is facing two charges, one under English law, another under Welsh law.

The Guardian followed up on the widely circulated story about racial profiling by the Metropolitan Police in lockdown searches.

Drill or Drop has highlighted how over 600 people have signed an open letter coordinated by Netpol to senior police officers calling for an end, before the lockdown is over, to the categorisation of political campaigning as “domestic extremism”

On Saturday, there were mixed results for a widely advertised (and widely condemned) series of “mass gatherings” to protest against lockdown restrictions, called by a group called UK Freedom Movement. In both Brighton and Leed, nobody turned up at all and there were no more than a dozen in Manchester.

In London, several hundred gathered at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. They were outnumbered by dozens of police officers. The climate change denial activist and 5G conspiracist Piers Corbyn, brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was one of 19 protesters arrested and a further 10 were issued with a fixed-penalty notice. A video has circulated showing what looks like an unjustifiable use of force by one of the arresting officers.

SURVEILLANCE

“You can’t have it both ways: Counter-coronavirus masks may thwart London police plans to deploy creepy facial-recognition cameras across the capital, senior managers have admitted”, The Register wrote. Two London Assembly members wrote to Metropolitan Police commissioner (pdf) Cressida Dick, asking whether the “unreliable, unregulated” technology would be withdrawn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from that, they said, the technology used relies on people’s full faces being visible – something not possible when most Britons will be wearing masks during the coming months. Scotland Yard currently “looking at any potential issues to establish how it may impact” the roll-out.

COMMENT

Our covid response should be led by doctors, not counter-terror experts, in Left Food Forward by Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the House of Lords and a former deputy mayor of London. Why not let Public Health England dictate the coronavirus response?

Advocacy group CAGE have warned that the current coronavirus pandemic is being exploited by the security industry to create a permanent police state.

Finally, a small detour to the United States today. The NYPD is now using social distancing enforcement as a new pretext for racist police tactics. The New York Times reported: Scrutiny of Social-Distance Policing as 35 of 40 Arrested Are Black. Officials expressed concern about tactics similar to unfair “stop and frisk” practices. This is nothing new, lawyers from the Brooklyn Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society wrote in response. “We see this on a daily basis in our regular work.” It would be interesting to have statistics like this for the UK.

13-14 May Update

POLICING

As the Home Office starts to share the government’s new messages, the College of Policing has issued new guidance [PDF] for officers on the latest changes to the lockdown regulations starting today in England (similar guidance for Wales [PDF] was issued on Monday). The guidelines urge officers to only enforce what is written in the law, adding that “Government guidance is not enforceable; for example, two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport, or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces”. However, both Scotland and Wales continue to enforce social distancing in businesses.

In an interview for Sky News, the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council Martin Hewitt reiterated that “it is not a policing role to enforce the 2m social distancing.” There has been widespread coverage of how the new rules mean the police’s “hands are tied” over lockdown fines, as if restricting the ability of the police to arbitrarily issue fixed penalty notices whenever they want is anything other than a positive development.

The latest stop and search figures from the Metropolitan Police show a surge in the use of these police powers during the lockdown. Across London, there were 30,608 uses of stop and search in April, compared to 23,787 in March – a rise of 22%. Two-thirds of these stops have been for drugs searches. The number of stops per 100,00 has increased from 7.2 to 9.3 for Black people (see the Met’s Stop and Search Dashboard for the full figures).

One keyworker at a secondary school, its Inclusion Manager and Safeguarding lead, has described how he was racially profiled for a drug search by the Met’s Territorial Support Group.

Seeming to confirm earlier reports that the Home Office has told police to focus attention from now on onto large gatherings (see reports from Devon & Cornwall and West Mercia), West Yorkshire Police has outlined plans to respond if planned anti-lockdown events go ahead in Leeds this weekend, as have South Yorkshire Police and Leicestershire Police.

One of the few remaining protest camps to have remained during the lockdown, by opponents of HS2, has been evicted from a site in west London. Campaigners have complained about the police’s refusal to intervene during aggressive evictions by the National Eviction Team, a company that specialises in evicting environmental protesters and squatters.

What has been described as a “Lincolnshire lockdown rebel” has been fined six times and his fines are now more than £1,920, but Lincolnshire Police are powerless to arrest him unless he fails to pay the fines. They say they are now looking at extremely questionable “alternative ways of dealing with him”, including the use of powers around public nuisance and section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 for causing alarm and distress.

LEGAL

Members of Parliament are starting to question the legality of how decisions are made by the government about the lockdown. Lord Falconer tweeted on Wednesday: “Yesterday government by executive decree passed regulations to make the changes to the lockdown. Those regulations could have been debated and voted on by the House of Commons, but the government decided they were too urgent. They weren’t. They could have been debated yesterday. Careful about democracy.”

SURVEILLANCE

Covid-19 Apps Pose Serious Human Rights Risks – Human Rights Watch has published recommendations for governments considering technology in addressing the pandemic.

Robots to patrol European resorts to enforce social distancing, The Times (£) reports. ‘As well as mobile apps to track or trace infections, European Commission proposals for tourism envisage “artificial intelligence and robotics [to] underpin public health measures”.’

Secret NHS documents seen by WIRED reveal new details about how its contact tracing app might work in the future. Potential future features include health statuses, location data, and data “donation”. Scoop by Matt Brugess. The documents, hosted in Google Drive, were inadvertently left open for anyone with a link to view. So, we are expected to trust people who can’t get the permissions right on google docs with a COVID surveillance and tracking app? Thread on why this matters.

Police State, Race and Public Health in Time of Covid – recording of a webinar organised on 12 May by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. The National Security Police State always uses crisis like this to expand oppression, to expand surveillance, accumulate new weapons, push boundaries and justify its violence. In this part we discuss race disguised as a biological category versus a political one; “immunity passports” and public health surveillance.

26 May, 7pm (BST) James Harkin speaks to Richard Norton Taylor about the development of the national security state, the pace of its surveillance apparatus. New online talk series by the Centre of Investigave Journalism.

RESOURCES

Adam Wagner tries to disentangle the ever more complex interaction between the lockdown law, the government guidance and UK regional divergence.

Coronavirus: Know Your Rights – update of the Liberty guide.
Coronavirus: What powers do the police have? – guide by the BBC’s Dominic Casciani.

Bristol Defendants Solidarity has produced a new Know Your Rights leaflet specifically for Wales (updated 11 May): pdf version | editable odt version

Video seminar next week on the human right to life and Covid-19, by Brick Court Chambers with @BindmansLLP on 19th May at 1pm chaired by @paulebowen QC 

The last entry of this blog got picked up by @COVIDStateWatch: Responses to the coronavirus pandemic demonstrate how governments increasingly view public health through the prism of national security and law enforcement.

It is the final chance to add your name to Netpol’s letter calling on police to stop – before the lockdown ends – labelling campaigning as “domestic extremism” (as government departments already have done).