FIT snappers snap snappers

PHOTOGRAPHERS who regularly cover protests now find they are routinely being photographed themselves - by the police. London Freelance Branch member and photographer Jason Parkinson told the Freelance that he and other Branch members including Marc Vallée and Dave Hoffman, "as well as three other photographers, were all photographed and documented by the FIT Team."

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The FIT Team, collecting intelligence forward

This is the Metropolitan Police Forward Intelligence Team (FIT), one or more ad-hoc groups with members drawn from various units and police stations around the capital, but always with members of the Commissioner's Office making up the nucleus. They usually have with them at least one civilian photographer - not a police officer - escorted by two police minders who stick close to them at all times. The civilian FIT team photographers have their own uniform featuring a baseball cap and the words "police photographer" emblazoned on their jacket. There are also police officers videoing, photographing and writing notes about their "targets" (some in shorthand) and the FIT have more recently been seen dictating their observations into voice recorders on demos and in the street outside public meetings held by various protest groups and campaigns.

The stated purpose of the FIT is, as the name suggests, to gather intelligence, typically on anti-capitalist, anti-war and environmental protesters and on groups of football supporters. The FIT seem particularly interested in relationships within groups and networks, and on who's conferring with whom on demos. "Targets" whose likenesses are retained by the police are given four-figure Photographic Reference Numbers. Through a Data Protection Act request made some years ago, I learned that my own Photographic Reference Number is 1481.

Recently, the FIT team seems to have also taken an interest in Press-Card-carrying journalists who cover and report on protests of any kind. Jason was at a demo against the "SOCPA" restrictions on protests (see One's a crowd) on 1 March - where all members of the press present were "catalogued" by the FIT team.

"The reason why none of us have done anything on this one incident is that this happens all the time now, especially with journalists covering protest" including at least one student member, says Jason.

We're trying hard to imagine a legitimate reason why police photographers should be photographically "cataloguing" journalists going about their lawful business, but we haven't succeeded yet.

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