5 December 2011

The Occupy movement in London is upset at measures taken by Police to monitor their demonstration.

The Independent yesterday reported an incident of demonstrators identifying a suspected police officer who had infiltrated a group who were attempting to take over a building near Piccadilly Circus. Campaign leaders have criticised the activities of plainclothes police as “underhand” and “utterly unwelcome,” calling it “a form of deception, [running] utterly counter to principles of accountable policing”.

But do undercover operations counter principles of accountability and good government?

The duty of State servants to act with integrity is so that there will be confidence in their trustworthiness and to promote trust government. In guidance about the standards of integrity and conduct for the State Services, the State Services Commissioner includes being honest as a trustworthiness standard.

The British Network for Police Monitoring however considers that… “use of plain clothes police can cause an unpleasant level of distrust among demonstrators, even those who are law-abiding. Nobody wants to go on a demonstration where you are not sure whether the person next to you could be recording what you say for the police file. That is not the sort of society we want to live in. .. This is an invasive policing tactic that has no regard for civil liberties. Those engaged in protest already feel under siege from aggressive and disproportionate policing.”

The State Services Commissioner’s guidance about the meaning of trustworthiness has specifically addressed this issue. “Honesty does not necessarily mean continuous, full disclosure. In some circumstances, full disclosure is a requirement. Other circumstances may require care. For example, the courts have recognised that organisations with responsibility to enforce legislation cannot be required to openly disclose their evidence-gathering activities. It is sometimes necessary to disguise the way these activities are carried out. But these circumstances are rare. Unless there is a lawful reason for doing so, we must not act on the premise that the end justifies the means.”