In March, Theresa May announced that Christopher Pitchford, a serving lord justice of appeal, would lead an inquiry into undercover policing. It followed a series of revelations about members of the Met’s disbanded Special Demonstration Squad, who infiltrated protest groups and in some cases had long-term sexual relationships with their targets. Just after Pitchford was appointed, a former SDS officer revealed he had spied on members of four trade unions; another officer posed as a joiner to infiltrate the builders’ union Ucatt. The most prominent trade unionist known to have been targeted by undercover police is Matt Wrack, the leader of the Fire Brigades’ Union.
In January, Inspector Steve Poppitt of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary spoke at the University of Cambridge Graduate Union to a small audience who wanted to ask the police about the covert surveillance of students. He said he was interested in improving relations between students and the police. 'It has to be a dialogue,' he said. The meeting was called in response to the revelations last November that the police had tried to infiltrate student activist groups. This week, three campaigners have described attempts by the police to recruit them as informants on fellow political activists. One said he was offered an envelope full of cash at a supermarket.
Boredom’s use as a political weapon is underappreciated. It allows liberties to be filched by stealth, on the wild frontier beyond people’s attention span. Such is the case with Real Time Information (RTI), whose full ‘roll out’ starts with the new fiscal year on 6 April (it’s already being piloted). It's been described as the biggest change to Pay As You Earn since 1944, when PAYE came in, but few people beyond payroll managers, employers and accountants have heard of it. Under RTI the tedium that shrouds any accountancy-related matter is compounded by the blandness of a clerical rejig. Instead of reporting payroll details to HMRC at the end of the tax year, as now, employers will be ‘invited’ (at two weeks’ notice) to join RTI, where the data are supplied to HMRC in ‘real time’.
The consulting firm Ernst & Young, in collaboration with the FBI, has developed software that scans office emails – as well as text messages and IM conversations on company devices – for phrases that may indicate underlings are up to no good. It has released a list of the most popular terms used by conspirators in corporate fraud, including ‘do not volunteer information’ and ‘nobody will find out’.
Last December, someone – hacktivists from the Anonymous movement take credit for it – stole the internal emails of the middling intelligence firm Stratfor. The emails eventually made their way to Julian Assange. And now WikiLeaks, just when everyone thought it might be finished, is publishing them in chunks. WikiLeaks wouldn't be WikiLeaks if everything had gone smoothly: as it was preparing to publish the latest batch of Stratfor emails last week, its website went down, with Assange blaming a series of crippling cyberattacks (a group called AntiLeaks – led by someone known as Diet Pepsi – has claimed responsibility). The emails in question detail Stratfor's dealings with TrapWire Inc, a security company in Virginia. But it didn’t need WikiLeaks to reveal TrapWire’s activities: the company boasts about them on its website.
When the protests that followed Iran's presidential election in 2009 began to fizzle out, the state-controlled media put photos of the demonstrations online, with the faces of unidentified troublemakers highlighted. Viewers were asked to help identify them and even track them down. If the Iranian authorities are to be believed, arrests were made as a result. Today, as the web is being undermined by the rapid dominance of apps for smartphones and tablets, the Iranian police would probably, as the jargon has it, ‘go multiplatform’. That, at any rate, is what their colleagues in the Metropolitan Police have just done: unveiling, ahead of the Olympics, a new app called Facewatch ID.