There is no doubt that police
and security will be faced with demanding challenges during the Olympics and Paralympics. Nevertheless, infringements on basic civil liberties like the right
to free speech and peaceful protest are not the solution to a secure
Games. It would also be completely contrary to the spirit of the Olympics
for 2012 to become an excuse for mass surveillance and loss of liberties.
Security and police powers
With the world's eyes on London, increased security throughout the Games is anticipated.
Unfortunately, as we have seen in the past, our many, vaguely defined, police powers are liable to misuse. Under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, police can stop and search, without the need for suspicion, anyone who is in a designated area. A person in that area can be searched to see if they are in possession of weapons or dangerous instruments (being anything that has a blade or sharp point). The power to designate an area when it is ‘expedient’ to do so is very broad and has often been used in a way that discriminates against ethnic minorities.
An Olympic Dispersal Zone has been created under broad dispersal powers available to police which will allow constables to direct children and adults in groups of two or more to leave the Olympic area where the constable reasonably believes that their presence is likely to result in intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress. An order can also include a direction not to return to the area for a 24 hour period. Failing to comply with a direction to leave is a criminal offence.
In 2009 Lord Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, attempted to introduce a private members bill which would have provided the police with powers to test athletes for performance-enhancing drugs. The British Athletes Commission expressed concern about random stop and search in the Olympic Village which would “make athletes feel like criminals”. Turning the police into anti–doping referees with the power to search for otherwise lawful substances would have been an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction. Thankfully, these powers never reached the statute book.
In December 2011 the Government announced that 13 000 military personnel will be
deployed at the Olympics. Following the failure of G4S to honour their contract
to provide security personnel, even larger numbers of uniformed troops will be on the streets over the Olympic
period. Liberty hopes that militarising the Games in
this way won’t have a chilling effect on free speech.
The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act (2006)
This legislation creates institutions and powers that are specific to the 2012 Games. Among other things it provides for Regulations to curb advertising near Olympic venues and protect the commercial brand of the London Olympics. The Act is broadly framed and also allows for the banning of advertising of a "non-commercial nature, and […] announcements of notices of any kind". Section 22 of the Act allows a "constable or enforcement officer" to "enter land or premises" where they believe a prohibited advert is being shown or produced and destroy the materials. Powers of entry should be for fighting crime, not policing poster displays.
While the type of material that could be banned under the Regulations is potentially very wide, Regulation 7 provides that advertising activity which is intended to “demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of persons or bodies of persons, or to publicise a belief, cause or campaign or mark or commemorate an event” is excepted from the banning regime. If the right of peaceful dissent is to be protected at the London Games, this exception must be widely construed by police and “enforcement officers”.
The Ministry of Defence has
confirmed that the controversial Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) will be used
during the London Olympics. LRAD, which has reportedly been spotted aboard a
landing craft on the Thames, has two very
different functions. When it is in ‘loud hailer mode’, it is a useful way of
communicating clearly over long distances, however its second function is far
more sinister. When switched to ‘tone mode’ Liberty understands that the device can be used
as a sonic weapon.
Plans to use LRAD during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver
were revised after civil liberties campaigners complained that the device could
be used as a sonic gun, forcing protesters to disperse by emitting piercing,
high pitched sounds at high decibels which may cause lasting damage to hearing. Vancouver police
ultimately confirmed that they would disable LRAD’s tone function ensuring it
was used solely as a method of communication. Unfortunately our MoD has made no
such commitment. In a statement given to the BBC, a spokesperson confirmed only
that the device was ‘primarily to
be used in loud hailer mode’ – we can only assume that use of the device as a
sonic gun to curb protests or disperse crowds remains a possibility.
Liberty has consistently opposed the use of indiscriminate weapons which sweep the innocent up with the guilty, create general panic and can fan the flames of disorder. We are particularly concerned about the pain, distress and potential long-term health consequences of this device which has reportedly been used by the Israeli military against protesters and by US forces to control crowds in Iraq.
The Ministry of Defence has placed surface-to-air missiles on six sites across London, including on the roofs of two tower blocks in East London, as part of an air security plan for the Olympic Games.
Residents of Fred Wigg Tower in Tower Hamlets launched legal proceedings against the placement of High Velocity Missiles on the roof of their building, accusing the defence secretary of breaching Article 8 and Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a private life and peaceful enjoyment of their home. Sadly the High Court denied the residents’ permission for a judicial review of the MoD’s decision.
Liberty is deeply alarmed that missiles have been placed on top of homes in peacetime and without consultation. It is difficult to see how the precise siting of the missiles can be considered necessary and proportionate and it is hugely disappointing that the understandable security fears of residents have not been adequately met.
While information on police plans for CCTV use during the Olympics is scarce, it has previously been reported that a central police control room will be given the ability to remotely tap-in to any CCTV network in London and plot the information on a detailed 3D map. Given the number of cameras in operation in the Capital this could effectively allow for targeted, real-time, surveillance of individuals without any of the safeguards currently provided for when such intrusive powers are sought.
It has also been reported
that police are planning to use unmanned spy drones (as controversially
deployed in Afghanistan)
at the London Olympics.