published: June 2009
all credits: The Guardian
The Metropolitan police’s forward intelligence teams (Fits) have been around for more than a decade, and senior officers say they are a vital tool in keeping tabs on protesters. Amateur spies who oppose police surveillance are a more recent feature at demonstrations. Fit Watch can be traced back to early 2007 and a meeting for arms trade campaigners at a student union in London.
Val Swain, who first became involved in protests during the Iraq war, held up a makeshift banner bearing the message “Respect Our Privacy” to block the police camera. She said she was arrested for obstruction and assault but found not guilty at her trial.
During the following months, campaigners began taking cameras to demonstrations and recording the actions of police. This can result in some amusing stand-offs between police officers and Fit Watch campaigners pointing cameras in each other’s faces.
Activists are regularly arrested, although they say they almost always see charges against them dropped. However, some Fit Watch campaigners have been successfully prosecuted over their actions; they are appealing against their convictions.
The significance of amateur footage became apparent at the G20 demonstrations in April, when video of alleged police brutality, including the attack on the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson shortly before he died, forced police to admit that serious mistakes had been made.