If the government can collect everything that happens on them, and listen to everyone’s phone calls, do they have the authority to target innocent people? What about targeting “the right people at the right time”? Would it really be OK to use this kind of technology to track a person and target it at a protest, or a school, or an elderly relative?
To answer these questions we’ve examined all the surveillance stories ever published by the Guardian, and made a list of every story that could be categorized as “protest”. Of these, we’ve also picked out all articles on how the police or security services used surveillance technologies, including facial recognition and the surveillance of citizens at the behest of the intelligence services. (The Guardian did not write or publish these articles.)
We’ve also made our list of other questions about surveillance technology. We’re asking what type of technology or other powers did intelligence agencies use to target protest and if this type of capability is available elsewhere in the world.
Our findings are disturbing. In 2015, we found 10 stories, but it’s unlikely there were more that we didn’t find, because stories on the police using surveillance technology often go unreported. In the UK, there was no public outcry when the Metropolitan Police used facial recognition to monitor activists, nor was there a corresponding outcry when the British Security Intelligence Service did the same to activists.
The police and intelligence services are far from lacking in this type of invasive technology. As noted below, they routinely use it for political persecution, to target dissenters in Muslim communities, and to target opponents of capitalism in general. The only difference is that we know what they did.
Who used surveillance technology in 2015?
A screenshot from the Guardian’s collection of surveillance stories that we published that year, showing the different devices, services, and agencies to which they could access
Why did we only find 10 stories?
The main reason is that the Guardian was very cautious in identifying the sources of the stories that we could get our hands on. We made sure to only give the most basic information so that nobody could be unfairly misled. Even more importantly, I think we thought it was important not to make too big a deal out of these stories in the same way that the British Government often makes out its stories about how much it collects, listens and controls when people speak out.
How many of the surveillance stories were false?
The Guardian’s collection is now about 100 stories, and we were only able to include
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