Activist Rights

Private and Corporate Surveillance

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Private Intelligence gathering companies operate in Australia.  These companies, such as NOSIC the National Open Source Intelligence Centre (Australia) often have contracts with police, government or corporation and will extensively monitor, collate, assess and report on publically accessible information about individuals or organisations.  It is ‘open source intelligence’. For example; a private intelligence gathering company may monitor websites, social media, email lists, media releases, and any public documents relating to an activist campaign, compile it into reports and sell that information to police or companies. NOSIC proudly provides services such as ”issue monitoring”, ”tactical intelligence”, ”threat analysis” and ”trend analysis and forecasting focus on emerging patterns and trends in activism”.

In the United Kingdom in late 2003, private intelligence gathering companies were uncovered by Sunday Times investigations spying on and infiltrating activist groups. R&CA Publications was monitoring the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and other anti-militarism organisations. The agency employed undercover agents to infiltrate the pressure groups on behalf of BAE, then called British Aerospace. Files and intelligence was passed on regularly to security companies such as Group 4 and the British Government.

Governments pass info onto private sector as well – FOI documents show the Energy Security Branch of Minister Martin Ferguson’s department was proactive in ensuring the Australian Energy Market Operator, Macquarie Generation and TransGrid were warned of a ”peaceful mass action” at the Bayswater power station in NSW in 2010. (i)

On the street level – private security cameras are increasingly being used to monitor protests and footage can be passed to police if requested or criminal conduct arises. The City of Melbourne Council has an extensive network of surveillance cameras in the Melbourne CBD. These have been used to cover political protests and footage of protests has been passed on to police. Most large corporate buildings now also have security cameras that monitor doorways, foyers and entrances. There are also over 100 CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras located throughout Melbourne’s private operated Federation Square for instance which feed into a 24 hour Security Control Room.

A good general guideline for activists is:

  1. Assume that police are monitoring online communication, assume your phones and text messages are being observed, and that anything planned in an open, public meeting is known. For most open, democratically organised movements, campaigns and actions this is business as usual.
  2. If you do want to organise something that depends on surprise, simply don’t do it on the internet, on the phone or in an open meeting.  Read more about security culture – here is a good resource –   by Ruckus Society
  3. If the surveillance is harassing, intimidating or impacting on your work, record everything to look for patterns. Discuss and analysis what is going on so you have the clearest possible picture. Analysis is vital for getting your security precautions right.
  4. Seek legal advice as soon as any surveillance is detected.  Avenues such as Freedom of Information requests or civil suits may be possible.  Legal support will be a part of your support structure.
  5. Set up support structures. Tell others who you trust, other campaigners and activists and allies such as parliamentarians, priests, Imams or other community leaders and ask each for specific support.  The reason for this is not to isolate yourself but to systematically increase your profile and links with others in society. It signals to the people undertaking the surveillance that you have support and serves to deter further harassment – repression aims to marginalise you politically – it is important to assertively counter this.  
  6. Likewise – if you know of others who are experiencing some form of surveillance or harassment then offering genuine solidarity and support is vital.
  7. You or your group can then make a clear decision to expose the surveillance to the public and the media.  Provide evidence to journalists, prepare and release a public document.  Expose the surveillance as an injustice and demand redress publically and in conjunction with legal action.

(i) Spies eye green protesters by Philip Dorling at

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