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Police given ‘green light’ to expand surveillance of protesters, campaigners warn

POLICE have given the “green light” to expand surveillance powers against political and social movements, campaigners warned today. 

Forces could be encouraged to use undercover officers, as well as live facial recognition technology, to monitor protesters as part of plans published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). 

The report, which was ordered by Home Secretary Priti Patel last year, comes straight after the announcement of new legislation to crack down on protest. 

Police monitoring group Netpol warned that the HMICFRS report “offers the justification for an expansion of surveillance” on the same campaigners targeted by the new Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill.  

The report outlines the “need to develop” covert intelligence gathering methods, saying this is “particularly relevant if the police are to improve their focus on aggravated activists.” 

It confirms that the term “domestic extremist” has been replaced by “aggravated activist,” which could apply to anyone who has a “negative impact upon community tensions” or causes “an adverse economic impact to businesses.” 

Netpol’s campaigns co-ordinator Kevin Blowe said: “Historically every campaign, from the suffragist movement to trade unions and equality campaigners, have involved actions that at the time were considered to be criminal or unlawful behaviour, but which led to the freedoms and rights we now cherish.

“The HMICFRS has given the green light to target their modern-day equivalents.”

Extinction Rebellion’s Alanna Byrne said: “Priti Patel can try and make the UK a protest-free zone, but it’s clear that the government is not going to do the right thing without protesters holding them to account. We don’t plan on stopping any time soon.”

HM Inspector of Constabulary spokesman Matt Parr said that police “too often” fail to find the balance between protecting the rights to protest and preventing disruption. 

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