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Thursday, 10 June 2010

UK monitors suspected radicals as part of European surveillance project

The UK is taking part in a European surveillance programme which is designed to gather personal information about suspected "radicals" from across the political spectrum.

Confidential documents reveal how an initiative to gather data on "radicalisation and recruitment" in Islamic terrorist groups has been expanded to incorporate other organisations.

Political activists who have no association with terrorism could now find themselves monitored by authorities mandated to discover information about their friends, family, neighbours, political beliefs, use of the internet and even psychological traits.
Police and security agencies have agreed to monitor "agents" who adhere to ideologies potentially involving violence. The documents define targets for the surveillance as people involved in "extreme right/left, Islamist, nationalist, anti-globalisation" groups.

Europol, a EU law enforcement agency, has been asked to produce a list of people involved in either promoting such groups, or in trying to recruit members.

The documents, obtained by Statewatch, the EU civil liberties monitoring NGO, set out a programme of "systematic data collection" ostensibly geared towards terrorism. But the inclusion of such a broad array of political interests will add to growing concerns that legitimate protest organisations are being subjected to state surveillance.

In the UK, the police have developed a centralised monitoring apparatus to spy on "domestic extremists", an umbrella term with no legal definition which, in practice, includes law-abiding environmental protesters, anti-war activists, and anti-racist campaigners.

The scheme has a central database held by the national public order intelligence unit, a secretive body funded by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). Monitoring of political activists is a task filled by the terrorism and allied matters division of Acpo.

The advice lists "environmental extremists" alongside far-right activists, dissident Irish republicans, loyalist paramilitaries, and al-Qaida inspired extremists, as among those "currently categorised as extremist [that] may include those who have committed serious crime in pursuit of an ideology or cause".

The UK government has also been criticised over Prevent, a programme aimed at stopping Muslims being lured into violent extremism. The initiative was branded a mass surveillance project after it was found it was being used to gather intelligence on innocent people who were not suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Under the new, approved, EU scheme, states have acquired a 70-question list on "agents of radicalisation" under their watch. Much of the information presumes a high-degree of intrusive monitoring, obtainable only via covert surveillance techniques, such as phone tapping.

It is assumed, for example, that law enforcement agencies will obtain information about a person's "feelings" about a group that could be "considered as the enemy". One section asks for information about "oral comments" made by targets, while others ask about religious knowledge, behaviour, and socio-economic status.
Under "relevant psychological traits", law enforcement agencies are asked to collate and share information on "psychological disorders, charismatic personality, weak personality, etc". Another question asks: "Is there a prior relationship between the agents? Schoolmates, friends, relatives, shared time in prison, etc."

This latest data-sharing agreement is the culmination of long-standing attempts to create a pan-European database of individuals whom police suspect could cause trouble at large demonstrations.

EU officials, principally led by Germany, have tried repeatedly to widen the shared data on suspected terrorists and serious criminals to include political activists, defined in documents as "troublemakers" who attend "large public gatherings".

The moves were stalled by objections from some member states, including the UK, concerned about civil liberties and data protection. But they reappeared as a firm commitment in the EU's five-year Stockholm programme.