Police tried to spy on Cambridge University students, secret footage shows

The Guardian reports: Police sought to launch a secret operation to spy on the political activities of students at Cambridge University, a covertly recorded film reveals.

An officer monitoring political campaigners attempted to persuade an activist in his 20s to become an informant and feed him information about students and other protesters in return for money.

But instead the activist wore a hidden camera to record a meeting with the officer and expose the surveillance of undergraduates and others at the 800-year-old institution.

The officer, who is part of a covert unit, is filmed saying the police need informants like him to collect information about student protests as it is “impossible” to infiltrate their own officers into the university.

The Guardian is not disclosing the name of the Cambridgeshire officer and will call him Peter Smith. He asks the man who he is trying to recruit to target “student-union type stuff” and says that would be of interest because “the things they discuss can have an impact on community issues”. [Continue reading…]

Hugh Muir writes: The specifics of the Cambridge case will shock, but there is a now familiar narrative of how the secret snoopy state seeks to monitor the legitimate activity of those who might ask questions of it. This appears to be activity undertaken with little or no public consent or oversight. How much of this is going on? What are the guidelines? Are they adhered to by forces up and down the country? Is there central control? Who controls the information and how long is it kept? No doubt the Association of Chief Police Officers has rules but what do you know of the legislative framework? Who keeps the practice honest and ensures that the objective is the maintenance of law and order rather than the policing of irksome ideology? This week we learned of Green party London Assembly member Jenny Jones being monitored by Scotland Yard for attending legitimate left-leaning protest events. Are others so targeted? We don’t know. We should.

But this is also another example of the attempt by those in power to enlist citizens as agents of the state. In universities up and down the country there has been a considerable effort to cultivate assets capable of monitoring young Muslim students considered at risk of radicalisation. The government’s Prevent programme, and its deradicalisation arm Channel, has drawn on the university establishments themselves: lecturers and bureaucrats as surveillance assets. The result is predictable. Yesterday Ratna Lachman, director of the human rights group Just West Yorkshire, told a Society for Educational Studies seminar of fears that some universities have become “Islamophobic spaces” for those who now regard them as “extensions of the security arm of the state”.

The government orders landlords to report illegal immigrants; property owners as surveillance assets. GPs to check the legal status of those they might treat; medical staff as surveillance assets. As the state shrinks in size, as the prime minister says it will, it needs an army of narks to engage in surveillance and policing in a different sphere. Maybe that’s part of his big society. [Continue reading…]

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