Back in August London Assembly Member Jenny Jones used data protection rules to obtain her police file and then took to Twitter to express concern at the pretty sparse contents.
Although I couldn’t resist tweaking her and the Met’s noses at the time, she does seem to have a valid point.
The file contains nothing that isn’t in the public domain and largely seems to consist of Tweets, snippets from press releases and mainstream media reports confirming her attendance at public protests and events.
With Jenny’s permission here’s some of the information the Met saw fit to collect on her:
It’s difficult to see much policing value in this.
When I wrote my tongue-in-cheek piece in August, a number of people (though not Jones) suggested the humour was misplaced and that I should be outraged information was being collected about an elected politician’s lawful activities.
It’s certainly difficult to understand why the Met ever felt the need to record a Metro newspaper report about a Critical Mass rally, complete with Jenny’s comments at it.
On the other hand it’s maybe not surprising that it pays attention to protests around arms fairs and one could make an argument for compiling a list of participants in case something kicks off, but is it really necessary to keep this information long-term?
Once the event passes by peacefully why isn’t the list of names wiped? Where’s the benefit in retaining it?
How many of the thousands of innocent demonstrators and protesters who take to London’s streets each year have an entry in Scotland Yard’s database? And how many realise that protesting means the Met opens a file on you?
The Greens are concerned that the the Met may not just be compiling dossiers on people, but that they’re then adding those dossiers to the National Domestic Extremist Database, a possibility they say exists because the definition of a “domestic extremist” is so broad that anyone can have their details stored on it.
Jones used last week’s Police and Crime Committee meeting to question Deputy Met Commissioner Craig Mackey both on the data the force collects and whether her file was on the extremist database:
As the clip shows, she has the backing of colleagues from all four City Hall parties who share concerns that police officers are collating information about a politician, especially given how trivial and underwhelming the end result is.
Several tell me they’ll be asking for a copy of their own files in order to establish what information the Met holds on them.
As Deputy Mayor for Policing Stephen Greenhalgh told Jones, the purpose of gathering information is to provide intelligence in the fight against crime and those who operate “outside’ the normal democratic processes and plan “disorder and criminal acts”.
None of the committee members I’ve spoken to disagree with that aim, neither do they want to hamper Met’s ability to keep us safe.
But all have expressed the fear that the scatter-gun approach suggested by the Jones file risks the Met collecting information just for the sake of it and where there’s no defendable reason for doing so.
Whether they come at the issue from a civil liberties point of view, or a desire to squeeze every last penny of value from taxpayer money, none want the Met to collect and store a single press cutting or Tweet that they don’t genuinely need to help them in their job.