Protester’s survival kit: know your rights, police surveillance and how to stay safe

Protest guide

Ahead of a mass weekend of action against the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, please read and share this essential guide from Netpol (Network for Police Monitoring).  

Police carry out intense surveillance on protest movements, collecting even seemingly innocuous personal details in order to build up a detailed picture of the groups and individuals they are targeting. Here’s our guide to interacting with the police and staying safer on demonstrations.

Watch out for Police Liason Officers (PLOs)

The friendly police officers in light blue bibs that you see on protests are Police Liaison Officers. They are specially trained officers whose job it is to engage you in polite conversation and record any and all details that you give to them. We advise that, for your safety and the safety of people you’re with, you do not engage with them. There’s no such thing as a friendly conversation with the police – and you may be giving away more than you realise. If they try to engage you in conversation, you can reply with “No Comment” to their questions- or simply ignore them until they leave you alone.

Watch out for the evidence gathering team

Also present at protests are officers with orange tabs on their vests. These are the evidence-gathering team. You will often see them in pairs recording or photographing activists, and surveilling the crowd. Their job is to record who is at the protest and what they are doing, and their evidence is used against activists later. You are allowed to walk away or hide your face if they are filming or photographing. For more information, see Green and Black Cross’s guide to filming and photography at actions.

Wear your face mask

Unless you have a medical exemption, everyone should be wearing facemasks when out in crowds due to the risk of coronavirus. You also have the right to cover your face at a demonstration. Don’t make the evidence gathering team’s job easier- keep your mask on. The police cannot require you to remove a face covering unless it is during a Stop and Search, or there is a blanket 60AA power in place and “there is reason to believe that the item is being worn wholly or mainly for the purpose of disguising identity”. For more information, see Green and Black Cross’s resources on facemasks at demonstrations.

Keep your camera trained on the cops- and don’t livestream

If you’re taking a camera or filming at demonstrations, make sure your camera lens stays trained on the police, not on people in the crowd. The police are already monitoring the crowd and carrying out surveillance on protesters- don’t add to their evidence by posting identifiable footage online! Netpol also advises people not to livestream from demonstrations. No matter how careful you think you’re being, you’re sharing unfiltered images of the people around you with little or no control over what is being shown in the background of your film, and your footage could lead to arrests or targeting later on.

Be mindful what you share on social media

The police monitor social media sites as part of protest surveillance, and use images, video and posts to keep track of who is present. Your location is trackable from social media posts, and tagging others in posts can identify them as part of the protest. Think about what you are sharing as a status update- and how much information you are potentially sharing with police, far-right groups and potential stalkers. If you’re posting images online, we advise you to blur or cover the faces of the crowd. There are some simple apps that you can use to do this, to protect your privacy and the privacy of others. For more information, check Netpol’s guide to organising online and safer social media sharing.

Leave your phone at home, or log out of apps that track your location

Many people choose not to take their smartphones on demonstrations, especially if they think there is a risk of arrest- if arrested, the police can access your phone and all the data that you have, including emails, messaging apps, logging into your social media accounts and accessing your pictures and videos. If you are taking a phone with you, we advise that you log out of all apps that track your location data- such as google maps, Uber, and any free apps that use your location data as part of their targeted ads. See Netpol’s guide to online organising for more details.

Go with friends

We advise anyone attending a protest to let people they trust know where they are going, and when they plan to arrive home. We also advise that you arrive and leave with friends, as police or counter-demonstrators often target people on their own who are travelling to and from the protest site.

Remember the 5 key messages

No Comment. You do not need to answer police questions, so don’t.

No Personal Details. You do not have to give personal details under ANY stop and search power, so don’t. One exemption to this is if the police are issuing an on-the-spot Fixed Penalty Notice (fine) for breaching coronavirus regulations, in which case you are required to give your personal details.

Ask “Under what power?” to challenge the police to act lawfully. Some police officers rely on you not knowing the law. If you are asked to do something by a police officer, ask them what power (i.e. what law) they are using and why they are using it.

Don’t use a duty solicitor. If arrested, use a recommended solicitor with protest experience, not the duty solicitor. Duty solicitors are not experienced in protest law and often give bad advice.

No Caution. Offering you a caution is a way the police may ask you to admit guilt for an offence without having to charge you. It is an easy win for the police, as they don’t have to provide any evidence or convince a court of your guilt.

For more information, see the Green and Black Cross website.

Know your rights on a protest: no comment, no personal details, what power?, no duty solicitor, no caution

Article first published by Netpol and shared here with permission.