Privacy SOS

Political spying did not die with bell-bottoms: London cops monitored left-wing mayoral candidate for 11 years

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London's Metropolitan police department spied on and kept extensive documentation about the activities of two prominent Green Party politicians, new reporting shows. One of those politicians is Jenny Jones, former deputy mayor of the city of London, and the Green Party candidate for mayor in the last election. The Met police spied on Jones for 11 years—and probably haven't stopped. Jones and the other Green Party politician learned of the spying after they queried police for records held about them in the Met's "domestic extremism" database.

Why did cops spy on Jones? She's never been arrested or accused of any crime. No, most likely the police spied on her because of her advocacy and activism on issues like the environment, affordable housing, clean transportation, and yes, police tactics in confronting demonstrators and spying on dissidents.

A woman who has spent years criticizing the police for spying on peaceful dissidents was all along herself a target of the same type of red-squad monitoring.

The Guardian:

Official files show that the police kept a log of the political movements of Jenny Jones, a London assembly member and peer, over an 11-year period while she sat on the official committee scrutinising the Metropolitan police and stood to be London's mayor.

They recorded a tweet she sent about possible police tactics at a pro-cycling protest, and details of public meetings she addressed about issues including police violence and Conservative cuts in public spending.

The file on Jones, who has been a consistent critic of police misconduct and the use of undercover officers to spy on political groups, discloses how the police recorded her activities between 2001 and August 2012.

This covered a period that included her attempt to become London's mayor in May 2012.

Police recorded that "open source material" indicated that she "has tweeted that she, a Green party mayor candidate" was going to be attending a pro-cycling protest in August 2012 and was "concerned that she may be kettled by the Met".

Two entries record that she spoke at a public meeting and demonstration in May 2009 to object to the deaths of individuals in police custody and police tactics at protests, following the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Other entries record that she spoke at a conference to advance progressive policies in London in 2009, and protests against the arms trade and invasion of Iraq.

Some people today say that the FBI and local police departments don't conduct aggressive spying campaigns directed at activists, that those practices died with the likes of J. Edgar Hoover in the 1970s. Here in Boston we found that isn't true: cops are still monitoring dissidents here in the city on a hill—just like they do in the UK and in most parts of the world.

But in countries like the United States, government monitoring of dissent is actually worse now than ever before. That's because today law enforcement has substantially more power and better technology than their predecessors could have dreamed. From the PATRIOT ACT to the FBI's dragnet phone surveillance program, from license plate readers to cell phone sniffers, from fusion centers to FBI "terrorism" task force operations, police and federal law enforcement have every opportunity to spy on dissidents, largely in secret, with huge budgets, and using powerful digital technologies.

Under the guise of "fighting terrorism," almost anything goes. And it's increasingly hard to find out just what's going on behind the thick blue wall of official secrecy.

Don't forget all that the next time you hear government officials—at every level, from the federal to the local—demand more power, more resources, and more secrecy for their spying operations. Those powers and technologies are bound to be deployed spying on people who are trying to fight for a cleaner environment and more equitable resource distribution.

If you think that's a good way to spend your tax dollars, so be it. If not, speak up and say so. Doing that might get you put into some stupid database somewhere, but the silence in the face of these crimes is arguably much worse—not just for you, but for your kids and theirs.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.