The Equality and Human Rights Commission will today (Tuesday 29th January) intervene in a human rights case at the Court of Appeal involving an 87-year-old protestor who says his right to privacy was breached by the police retaining information about him on a national extremism database.
Mr John Catt, who had not committed, nor been suspected of committing, any criminal offence, had been present at a number of political protests relating to a group called Smash EDO, which campaigns against the arms industry.
When he submitted a request to find out what information the police held on him, Mr Catt found 66 database entries about him had been made on the National Domestic Extremism Database, including one about his appearance. Fifteen per cent had nothing to do with the political protests.
The Commission is intervening in the case in its capacity as an independent expert on human rights to assist the court. It will argue the case raises significant issues about the legality of police monitoring of public protests and contravenes Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. This protects the private life of people against arbitrary interference from the state.
In its submission the Commission will say the national database is not subject to democratic oversight and contains reports about people who protest peacefully and without ever being suspected of a criminal offence.
The retention by the state of sensitive personal information of the sort stored on this database interferes with the right to privacy and potentially stigmatises innocent people in the eyes of employers and other organisations.
John Wadham, General Counsel, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
‘We accept the need for there to be measures to ensure the safety of the public , but these need to be proportionate. The right to protest peacefully in public is a core human right and any measures that restrict this right should be subject to proper scrutiny.’
‘The Commission is concerned that the retention of material on this database, and the inadequate safeguards for its proper use and deletion, are an unlawful breach of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of protest. The police now need to take measures to ensure that the information they hold does not contravene the law.’