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). 

11-12 May Update

POLICING

One of the criticisms of the police over the last six weeks of the lockdown has been that, instead of implementing the law, they have interpreted public health regulations in the way they thought the government wanted them to. This often involved more apparent concern for public order rather than public health, resulting in arbitrary and disproportionate use of police powers.

Sunday’s announced “easing” of the regulations and the subsequent warnings that the new rules could make the policing the lockdown impossible, suggest that senior officers are no longer sure want the government wants, although the Telegraph reported that they have been told by the Home Office they will only be expected to intervene in large gatherings.

The Independent published a guide on new, tougher fines introduced by the government, while the Guardian tried to explain how England’s new coronavirus lockdown rules are supposed to work.

Elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have also been responding to the government’s amended strategy. In Wales, one has described the changes as “a total shambles”, while in Northumbria, the PCC has said that officers will struggle to enforce rules in a “halfway house between lockdown and freedom”.

The Welsh government has warned people are not allowed to drive from England into Wales for exercise as the two countries move to different lockdown rules.

In Cumbria, a force that up to the end of April had issued 107 fines, a further 100 more fixed penalty notices were handed out during the VE Day bank holiday weekend alone. Interesting for the first time a senior police officer, ACC Andrew Slattery, specifically blamed newspaper headlines for “giving the impression lockdown was over”.

The latest amendments to the Coronavirus Regulations say that reasonable excuses for going to open spaces now include for “emotional wellbeing”. This is an entirely reasonable excuse: the government has promoted daily exercise as necessary for health and there are proven mental health benefits of physical activity, but as the barrister David Allen Green has pointed out, this definitely is practically impossible to police. Richard Horton, the Orwell Prize-winning police blogger Nightjack, agreed, tweeting “there is no cop, popular stereotype or otherwise, that could police this rapidly agglomerating cluster of afterthoughts…” Which raises the question: why are they trying to, unless there is a clear public health or disease control benefit?

Dyfed-Powys Police reportedly issued 219 fines for coronavirus lockdown breaches over the bank holiday weekend.

The Guardian reported that a homeless man has been charged with ‘leaving the place you were living, namely no fixed address’ during lockdown; and that the judge has questioned the decision but the CPS are determined it will go to trial. Regulation 6(4) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 say the requirement that no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse ” does not apply to any person who is homeless”.

On Monday, the Office for National Statistics published new data that seems to indicate that, rather than those who are stuck at home and venturing out once a day for exercise (the focus of the police’s attention in implementing public health regulations), it has been people who are forced to continue low paid work during the current lockdown who have had the high rates of death involving the coronavirus, including security guards, taxi drivers, workers in construction and in jobs such as hospital porters, kitchen and catering assistants. In spite of widespread reporting – and subsequent lengthy prison sentences – for assaults on police officers involving deliberate spitting and coughing, such as this one, it is unclear from these statistics whether the police are also a higher risk or not.

SURVEILLANCE

Even before the pandemic, Britain was the only country that had integrated counter-radicalisation activities into healthcare, PreventWatch pointed out. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the government has chosen a senior Home Office counter-terrorism official, Tom Hurd, to coordinate newly established joint biosecurity centre and its new Covid Alert System, as announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday. The centre is planned to closely model the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, Britain’s anti-terrorism national security system. Speaking at the launch of the Independent Sage report last week, Prof Allyson Pollock from Newcastle University said she believed the security emphasis was misguided. “Even the term biosecurity is really worrying,” she said. “We should be thinking about surveillance for epidemics and disease control.”

Are Covid-19 contact apps data safe? – Ramsey Faragher, Naked Scientists blog

Coronavirus: How does contact tracing work and is my data safe?, BBC News

Draft Covid-19 contact tracing legislation proposes formal oversight, Computer Weekly

RESOURCES

Lockdown fines explained: how much you could be charged for breaking lockdown rules as police introduce tougher enforcement.

The lockdown regulations were finally debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday, just as the second tranche of amendments was published.

8 – 10 May Update

POLICING

There was widespread circulation and comment on video footage of residents in one street in Grappenhall, a village in Warrington, performing a ‘socially distanced conga’ to celebrate the 75th-anniversary of VE Day. The BBC reported on the street party, adding to confusion over what is permitted under the existing health regulations.

Significantly, however, the organisers tweeted that the street party was signed off by the police. If true, this is in marked contrast to the police’s attitudes towards socially distanced protest earlier in the week.

However, a protest in Manchester on Saturday by Stand Up to Racism, at the petrol station where a man was tasered by police in front of his child, was allowed to go ahead without the police intervening – presumably on the basis that doing so would have made an already tense situation worse.

A protest by anti-lockdown and 5G conspiracy campaigners in central London on Saturday was broken up and a number of arrests made.

At the start of the weekend, police chiefs were complaining that they are seen by the public as the “villains of the pandemic”, as they braced to send scores of Brits home this Bank Holiday weekend.

The Metropolitan Police Federation expressed its wishes that it had been allowed to crack down harder at the start of the lockdown. Netpol commented that “in reality, until now public support for health regulations has surprised everyone but police continue to push a false message that none of us can be trusted”.

After earlier this week talking about the need to issue more coronavirus fines, Wiltshire Police has had to withdraw 13 of them over concerns they were disproportionate or unlawful

Cumbria Police issued a record number of fines in the Bank Holiday period over alleged breaches of lockdown rules, with 42 issued on Friday alone.

The Police Federation issued a statement in response to changes to lockdown regulations outlined in a speech by Boris Johnson on Sunday, insisting the police’s work “must be based on crystal clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation”. Arguably, however, loose rules have been the source of constant concerns since the start of the lockdown, as this blog has tried to highlight.

The Police’s Federation’s chair John Apter reportedly said of the latest changes, however, that: “If the message of what is expected of the public is not clear then it will make the job of policing this legislation almost impossible.”

Brian Booth of the Police Federation’s West Yorkshire branch put it in even stronger terms: “Policing Covid 19 has become impossible after today. My colleagues cannot Engage, Explain, Encourage or Enforce such woolly rules. This is now down to the public to police itself. Please let’s avoid a second spike.”

HUMAN RIGHTS

In an alarming development, Sir Stephen Laws, former first parliamentary counsel responsible for drafting all government laws, has suggested in a paper for the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange {PDF} that Boris Johnson suspend human rights laws to prevent legal challenges to the easing of the coronavirus lockdown rules. His report urges the government to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) until the end of the crisis to avoid public safety measures approved by Parliament being overturned in the courts.  Sir Stephen argues that the complexity of the new social distancing rules meant they risked becoming mired in legal actions over human rights that would undermine the fight against the virus. In such “dangerous and unusual” times, the government could not risk the courts overturning its policy “in a restoration of the use of the law for politics by other means.”

SURVEILLANCE

A new guide by Big Brother Watch: Everything you need to know about the NHSX contact tracing app. Key information on the tech, risks and law in a handy FAQ.

 

7 May Update

POLICING

Friday is a bank holiday to mark VE Day but street parties have obviously been cancelled. The police are warning people to make sure that whatever alternative lockdown celebrations are planned, social distancing rules are maintained. Meanwhile, some forces (notably Dorset and North Yorkshire) are also reiterating the message that their counties are closed to outsiders.

An Avon & Somerset Police Community Support Officer has publicly criticised a cyclist who was injured while taking daily exercise for cycling too far and for taking up “valuable emergency service time”. The PCSO said injuries “could have been prevented by the cyclists staying at home”.

Wiltshire Police has indicated it has issued more coronavirus fines in the last week.

According to Doughty Street Chambers, there have been (at least) five confirmed cases in which people have been prosecuted and convicted for offences that either don’t exist, don’t apply to the country they were in, or simply could not apply to them. Lawyers warn that at a time when the justice system is largely operating in secret due to the lockdown restrictions, the wrongful convictions that the public is aware of have only come to light as a result of police publicising their apparent “victories” and through diligent press reporting. 

By law, the Health Secretary must review the necessity of the “lockdown” restrictions every 21 days. The second review was due on 7 May but the public has heard nothing. Big Brother Watch has criticised the government for failing in its duty to publish the review, saying “Whatever your view on ending or extending the lockdown, having liberties lifted by ministerial rule, without transparency, is a bad place for any democracy to be.”

SURVEILLANCE

Privacy International has published its analysis of the new NHS contact tracing app.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a report, “Human Rights and the Government’s Response to Covid-19: Digital Contact Tracing” (PDF), which says that the government’s plans for a contact tracing app require additional safeguards and “having a carefully considered legislative basis for this app would better engender public trust and participation”. The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said, “Assurances from Ministers about privacy are not enough. The Government has given assurances about protection of privacy so they should have no objection to those assurances being enshrined in law”.

The Open Rights Group Scotland wrote an open letter to the Scottish government asking for more info about the data protection and human rights safeguards for the Track, Trace, Isolate, Support digital tool tackling COVID-19. They also ask that data is not passed to NHSX. It was co-signed by, Amnesty and the Human Rights Consortium, academics, members of civil society and others.

Experts in human rights law, surveillance and computer science from the University of Essex have set out the actions required before a contact-tracing app can be deployed in the UK.

The European Trade Union Institute has published Covid-19 contact-tracing apps: how to prevent privacy from becoming the next victim

COMMENT

Does the pandemic require derogation from human rights treaties? Niall Coghlan summarises the state practice during this crisis, mapping the derogations to date from European, American and international human rights systems, and draws some tentative conclusions.

In Disobedience, Protest, and the Pandemic: Climate Change and Citizen Action under Conditions of Social Distancing, Graeme Hayes looks at the challenges facing social movements who engage in civil disobedience and how they may need to rethink they tactics as the pandemic creates new social norms.

From Fanon to ventilators, by Arun Kundnani. To neoliberal states, the pandemic is a racialized security threat and a market opportunity. Our fight is for the right to breathe — in every sense. (Adapted version of a presentation in Transnational Institute’s webinar States of Control, the Dark Side of Pandamic Politics.)

RESOURCES

Kirsty Brimelow QC and Pippa Woodrow at Doughty Street Chambers have written a 6-step Guide to Coronavirus Offences for the public, police and lawyers dealing with allegations and enforcement of the Health Protection Regulations and Coronavirus Act 2020. It outlines basic questions to be asked when facing a criminal charge or a fixed penalty notice under this legislation and sets out the various offences, time limits, potential defences, powers of enforcement and penalties that apply.

The learning disability charity Enable Scotland has created an image that disabled people can save on their phones setting out their rights, which their family members or carers can show if challenged by police officers when out exercising. The charity has identified such encounters with officers as “a major source of anxiety” for the people it works with. The images are available here.

COVID State Watch published a long list of activists all over the world monitoring and challenging abuses by police and misuse of emergency powers during the pandemic.

5-6 May Update

POLICING

There is another bank holiday weekend approaching and police in Wales and North Yorkshire are gearing up for further action to restrict movements. The Guardian has reported claims that the lockdown in the Lake District is ‘fraying at the edges’.

Lancashire Police have cancelled coronavirus fines handed to Shazia Zahieer and Tayyba Arif a week into the lockdown. They had driven to Preston Docks for exercise. They were represented by Patrick Ormerod from Bindmans. The firm is calling on Lancashire Police to review all fines issued under the emergency Coronavirus Regulations.

Police broke up a protest citing the COVID19 regulations at a direct action against HS2 in Euston, which following a similar intervention against supporters of Julian Assange protesting at Westminster Magistrates Court on 4 May does suggest any form of outdoor protest is currently impossible, even if like the HS2 protesters, social distancing and face masks are used to try to minimise health risks (and construction work is still permitted to continue). Frustratingly, the police also tried to use anti-social behaviour powers under section 50 of the Police Reform Act to demand HS2 protesters give their names and address, even though protest is clearly not anti-social behaviour.

The Prime Minister latest statement on erasing lockdown regulations seemed confused about the law his own government introduced, as the Daily Telegraph reported on their front page that Johnson is going to scrap the once-a-day limit on exercising and tell people they can take “unlimited” exercise either on their own or with members of their household”. In England, the law does not limit people to one exercise session a day outside their home (while in Wales it does) and exercise with members of the same household is already allowed too. 

Cumbria Police has apologised for yet another “ill-judged” tweet that said people should not buy plants or compost. As always, there is nothing in the health regulations that prevent such activities.

The Times claims (£) that the retirement of the chief of Derbyshire police is linked to criticism over implementing coronavirus regulations after his force used drones to shame walkers and attracted controversy after officers poured black dye in a lagoon to deter visitors.

Netpol has repeatedly warned that as the lockdown begins to ease, there is a risk that public fears drive demands for the police to hunt down potentially sick people and that this may target communities seen as a “risk” because of outright xenophobia, especially against the Chinese community. The evidence for this xenophobia is, unfortunately, highlighted in new data released by police forces to Sky News, which indicates the rate of hate crimes against Chinese people between January and March was nearly three times that of the previous two years.

SURVEILLANCE

Matthew Ryder QC and Edward Craven from Matrix Chambers, Gayatri Sarathy of Blackstone Chambers and solicitor Ravi Naik have been instructed by Open Society Foundation to provide a detailed legal opinion on smartphone contact tracing and other data-driven proposals that are part of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their opinion is available here.

Matrix has also produced a podcast that addresses the human rights implications of how governments are increasingly turning to technology.

The Open Rights Group has written to Matt Hancock and NHSX to demand immediate confirmation that they will conduct a full and adequate Data Protection Impact Assessment, consult with the ICO and publish the results.

Amnesty International UK has said that the public deserves answers and transparency over contact-tracing app privacy concerns,

Sky News has set out to explain how the NHS contact tracing app will work.

Apple and Google have announced a ban on the use of location data in mobile apps that utilize a new contact tracing system developed jointly by the two companies – one that is not the preferred option for the British government. It sees location data as central to identifying coronavirus hotspots and mapping viral transmission.

The Register argues that Britain finds itself almost alone in opting for such a centralised contact-tracing app, which it says probably won’t work well and may be illegal.

COMMENT

The virus is the police. Writing for Discover Society, James Trafford places the enforcement of the lockdown in the context of post-colonial policing, making a more fundamental argument – beyond the mere abuse of powers. He warns against whole-society policing that includes all kind of methods of surveillance and self-policing creating suspect communities.

RESOURCES

In this video, Adam Elliott Cooper of The Monitoring Group outlines the key legal powers that have been handed to police under Covid-19 lockdown conditions. The video also gives advice on how to stay safe if you encounter the police while outside.