SIX MEMBERS of the National Union of Journalists have discovered that their lawful journalistic and union activities are being monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police.
They are now taking legal action against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary to challenge this ongoing police surveillance.
The NUJ members involved in the legal challenge include Jules Mattsson, Mark Thomas, Jason Parkinson, Jess Hurd, David Hoffman and Adrian Arbib.
All of them have worked on media reports that have exposed corporate and state misconduct and they have each also previously pursued litigation or complaints arising from police misconduct.
In many of those cases the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has been forced to pay damages, apologise and admit liability to them after their journalistic rights were curtailed by his officers at public events.
The surveillance was revealed as part of an ongoing campaign, which began in 2008, during which NUJ members have been encouraged to obtain data held about them by the authorities including the Metropolitan Police “National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit” (NDEDIU).
The supposed purpose of the unit is to monitor and police so called “domestic extremism”. In the course of the campaign, a number of NUJ members have obtained data held about them and the union fears there are many more journalists and union members being monitored.
The NUJ has instructed Bhatt Murphy Solicitors to pursue the case. The cases raise significant and wide-ranging concerns about: the impact on privacy, the chilling effect on the ability of NUJ members and journalists to do their jobs, and their ability to take part in legitimate trade union activity.
The claim challenges the surveillance and retention of data on the basis that it is unnecessary, disproportionate and not in accordance with the law. Journalists and union members have no way of knowing the circumstances in which their activities are monitored, retained, disclosed and systematically stored on secret police “domestic extremism” databases.
Jules Mattsson, national newspaper journalist, said: "Keeping files on journalists feels a draconian and ridiculous waste of time and money – an incompetent by-product of a surveillance mindset. The revelations of files on my colleagues and I, alongside the use of wiretapping laws to spy on the media, suggest a reckless disregard for press freedom by the police….
"In the disclosed information from my file there isn't even a hint that I'm suspected of any offence, nor do I have a criminal record. Instead the entries held about me contain such obvious statements as the fact I am 'always looking for a story' and 'has previously recorded police officers'.
"While some of what I've seen in my files is almost amusing up to a point, it's also sinister and upsetting. It appears that records of every time I've been a victim of crime have been transferred to the domestic extremism unit with details of my phone number and past addresses, appearance, childhood and even a family member's medical history recorded.”
Mark Thomas, journalist and comedian, said: "In my view, the police surveillance and the collation of data on journalists point to a police spying culture that is out of control and without proper oversight.
"The fact that none of the journalists are suspected of criminality but all of them cover stories of police and corporate wrong doing hints at something more sinister, that the police seem to be spying on those who seek to hold them to account.
"The inclusion of journalists on the domestic extremist data base seems to be a part of a disturbing police spying network, from the Stephen Lawrence family campaign to Hillsborough families, from undercover officers' relationships with women to the role of the police in the construction blacklist.”
David Hoffman, freelance photographer, said:
"I have worked as a full-time professional photojournalist covering social issues for almost forty years. Over the last 10 or 15 years my colleagues and I have been aware of the close attention being paid to us by police surveillance teams.
"They have not simply been recording our presence but have been deliberately intrusive, threatening and bullying, often filming us from close quarters and making comments designed to intimidate us.
“We have been followed, even when popping in to a pub to use the loo. It is hard to see a legitimate policing justification for this calculated and oppressive behaviour.
"When questioned about this at an NUJ conference Public Order Commander Bob Broadhurst denied that the police were building records on photographers and journalists but a freedom of information (FOI) disclosure earlier this month revealed more than 2,000 mentions of media workers in police databases.”