Police attempt to spy on Cambridge students

A Cambridge based activist has recorded a meeting with Cambridgeshire police, in which it was proposed that he report back to them about the goings on of student political groups.

The Police were looking for information on society meetings, speaker events, campaign plans and logistics for protests, the video reveals. They also asked the activist to monitor related Facebook pages and to pass on the names of protest organisers. Organisations including the Cambridge Student Union, the group Cambridge Defend Education and political movement UK Uncut were targets of the Police’s interest.

In early October, the activist, who did not wished to be named, was rung by the Police out of nowhere. He was invited to a meeting, where the idea of becoming their informant was proposed. He was offered money, around £30, for his services.

The officer in the video explained the reasoning behind the gathering of such information, saying, “I am asking these questions is because it gives the officers an idea of how many people are going to attend {protests], where they are coming from, how many vehicles are going to turn up, so they can put measures in place to keep them off the road”. The officer then remarked on the impossibility of finding out such information without inside help.

“It’s not because we want to target people and round them all up and arrest them.” he emphasized.

A Cambridgeshire police representative stressed the legality of the officer’s proposition: “Officers use covert tactics to gather intelligence, in accordance with the law, to assist in the prevention and detection of criminal activity.”

Some Oxford students have reacted angrily to the revelation. St Anne’s medic George Gillett found the idea to present a worrying infringement of our privacy: “Oxford students should be concerned about the news of this surveillance, and the police’s vague justification of ‘national security’ as a reason to monitor students’ political activity. Unfortunately the news is characteristic of the growing disregard for an individual’s right to freedom of association”.

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The time and monetary of costs of such spying were also flagged by some as inappropriate. “I can’t believe they’re using public money to pay for spying on peaceful demonstrators! I suggest they instead use it for what it is meant for: fighting real crime, and keeping people safe,” says second year Geologist Ryan Fox.

Balliol fresher Xavier Cohen took a cynical approach to the Polices’ justifications: “Police Officers may claim that “it’s not because we want to target people”, but the evidence shows otherwise. After the political arrest of Michael Chessum – the University of London Union President – on campus last week, and the mass arrest of hundreds of peaceful student anti-fascists in Tower Hamlets this summer, it’s clear that the state is working hard to denormalise protest and contentious politics amongst student bodies.”