Surveillance of Activists

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With so much of our lives connected to devices that use the internet, surveillance is part of modern living.

Read: “From CCTV to smart home devices, a surveillance expert explains some of the ways we’re all being watched, all the time” published by the ABC for a good overview of the possibilities for day-to-day surveillance.

Assume that there is surveillance of some type going on if you are an activist. Police have always gathered information by secret means and with advanced technology it is far easier.

Some surveillance of protests is obvious. Members of the police camera unit will stand aside from the action and continually video everything that happens.

Activists should also be aware that police special branches (or the Protective Security Intelligence Group in Victoria) and ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) collect information including videos of individuals and groups, mostly from the left, trade unions, human rights campaigners and ethnic communities. Australia and Victoria have a long history of political surveillance and infiltration by police.

This is not only done at demonstrations: it includes monitoring of websites, email lists, social media, meetings, phone taps and physical surveillance outside homes or offices.

Heidi Boghosian, Director of the National Lawyers Guild in the United States has said that the two most significant trends in surveillance of activists are

“One, the use of high-technology and sophisticated military equipment [by police], and two, cooperation between law enforcement and the private business sector, especially with regard to surveillance/spying.” (i)

Police have access to technology to monitor protesters such as facial recognition, Internet data mining, and, in the United States, even drones.

Data available to police, security and other government agencies under Australian federal law (2012) includes phone and internet account information, outward and inward call details, phone and internet access location data, and details of IP addresses visited.

Access to this information is authorised by senior police officers or officials rather than by judicial warrant. Data is also accessed by state police and anti-corruption bodies, government departments and revenue offices, and many other official bodies.

The largest user of telecommunications data in 2010-11 was the Victoria Police with 65,703 authorisations. It has reported an increase of more than 50 per cent in authorisations over two years. NSW Police reported 43,416 authorisations over the same period. (ii)

Telecommunications data is also accessed by ASIO but public statistics are not available.


(i) Punishing Protest, Policing Dissent: What is the Justice System For? by Erik Hoffner |

(ii) Police spy on web, phone usage with no warrants by Phillip Dorling at

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