back to article Guardian in hot water over activist face flash

An exposé of dodgy police tactics came under fire today from the very people it was intended to benefit – as activists accused The Guardian of disregarding personal privacy, and then using the same arguments as the police to justify what they had done. The front page of today’s Guardian carries a reproduction of a real police …


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  1. Scott 19
    Thumb Down

    The Police

    Making it up as they go along, bet the MPs will not be happy with this as there not allowed to make up there expenses anymore.

    And worst of all if these secret police have no oversight into what they get up to then how do we know there not breaking the law?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Guardian is completely correct

    They sacrificed their anonymity by turning up at the protest, and frankly if you believe that strongly in the issue you should be prepared to stand by your actions and quit whining.

    The real issue here is that employers should not be allowed to penalise people for using their legal right to peaceful protest. I'm actually amazed it's they can get away with it.

    Perhaps the campaigners should protest that first?

  3. Kev B

    Letter H is.....

    Pretty obvious who "H" as he is a well know TV Presenter and activist. So they did'nt contact him ?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    past catches up with you

    When you've given up being an "activist", it must be galling to have your photo published afresh years later. But that's how our society works today - nothing is ever forgotten. I suspect the "facebook generation" probably realize this instinctively, in a way that the rest of us do not. The genie is well and truly out of that particular bottle, however, and there's no going back.

  5. Hungry Sean

    Argument does not hold water

    The pictures on the police cards are not necessarily pictures taken at a rally, they could just as easily be pictures obtained by police infiltrating activist groups, surveillance of homes and business, or taken at detention. What people do on their own time is their own business, but by publishing the faces and names of a handful of people in an internationally viewed publication, it seems pretty obvious that the Guardian now has made the views of those people the business of their employers, particularly for those who have jobs with public exposure. Not to mention that this information will live forever in the bowels of Google where any potential future employer will see that the applicant has been a "person of interest" to the police, regardless of conviction or arrest.

    While I support the Guardian's efforts to fight these police actions, I feel they really should have gotten release from those activists who are not concerned about being identified as members of the police list (e.g. labor union activists) and blurred the images of those who did not explicitly consent.

    Bullhorn, because the human voice is only so loud.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well the Guardian should know....

    .....about this "hidden apparatus [which] has been constructed to monitor "domestic extremists"" as its their party and (in more than a few instances) ex-columnists, now politicians (soon to become ex-politicians) which are wholly responsible for it.

    Its hugely amusing watching the Grauniad try to rewrite the last 12 years of their own history. If ever a paper deserved to die its the Guardian (and the Telegraph to be fair). Here's hoping....

  7. Phil Endecott Silver badge


    Anonymous Coward wrote:

    > peaceful protest

    I think the assumption of someone seeing an employee's face on this thing would not be that they were "exercising their right to peaceful protest", but rather that they must be at the "extreme end" of the movement - after all, if thousands go to an event but only a dozen are featured in the mugshots, how did they draw attention to themselves?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I the only one

    to see the irony of an anonymous user posting the statement:

    "and frankly if you believe that strongly in the issue you should be prepared to stand by your actions and quit whining."

  9. Ally J
    Paris Hilton

    Guardian's in the right on this one, I think

    This is no 'worse' than having your photo in the paper after you attended a demo. What the Guardian have exposed is that Plod have their own little lists of people to look for. Had the Guardian just said so, no-one would have believed them. Now we know that even Mark Thomas is on their list. It's very worrying that these documents are being produced and therefore damning anyone on them to being branded a troublemaker before the event begins.

    Of course, now Plod has to display his numbers it would be only fair play if a similar list of iffy copppers was produced.

    (Paris, for the pictures.)

  10. Chris Malme


    "They sacrificed their anonymity by turning up at the protest"

    Wrong. There is no guarantee these people were at the protest in question, only that "police intelligence" thought they might be. After all the police spotter card was printed before the arms fair took place.

    To show how accurate such police intelligence can be, at the same time he was on the spotter card, as a possible protester at the arms fair, Mark Thomas was actually legitimately *inside* the arms fair, researching a book.

    So nothing should be inferred from anyone's image being on the spotter card, with regard to this (or any other) protest.

    Addressing the main issue, the Guardian was in the wrong here. They could have easily shown the spotter card with the faces blurred, with possible exceptions of anyone that had given permission, such as (one presumes) Mark Thomas, who has commented on this issue in Guardian's own "Comment is Free" pages

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    @Phil Endecott

    "after all, if thousands go to an event but only a dozen are featured in the mugshots, how did they draw attention to themselves?"

    How many different cards are there? One? Ten? Fifty-two? A hundred? A thousand?

    We don't know; just that one card was dropped.

    Likewise we don't know the full criteria for inclusion - just that they exercised their democratic right to protest on more than one occasion; sorry carried out acts of 'domestic extremism'. Possibly caused trouble by getting wrongly arrested and accquited (the bastards)?

    It might be useful to ask the police how many different versions there are.

    BTW, interesting to note that none of them, unlike those policing demonstrations, wore masks.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The people pictured ought to be presumed innocent by us the public

    I think overall this is highly useful reporting, despite the fact that the grauniad massively failed with defending their going ahead knowing there would likely be fall-out. The thing is not that these people are somehow willingly branding themselves, as the grauniad claims, but that these are people that the police have branded "domestic extremists" on uncertain evidence, and that they are therefore are to be presumed innocent by the rest of us. If the people pictured do suffer repercussions it might even count as taking the law in your own hands, and might even be actionable.

    I can but hope that any fall-out of this for those pictured will be as public as possible.

  13. Art Kavanagh

    Guardian has a point

    I can't agree that the Guardian mishandled this. The story would have lost a lot of impact if they hadn't published the spotter card, or had published it with faces blanked out. The story made it clear that some of the people whose pictures appear are not current activists. It can be presumed in any case that mere suspicion on the part of the police would be enough to account for the inclusion of any individual's picture. This being so, it's hard to see how any employer would be justified in taking action on the basis of being brought "into disrepute".

    And Kev B, the Guardian must have contacted Mark Thomas, since the story includes a comment from him!

  14. Marvin the Martian

    Caught offguardian

    Guardian defence "These are all pictures of people who have decided to attend public demonstrations, precisely in order to make public their own political views." (plus some comments): Yes, make it public AS A GROUP, not AS AN INDIVIDUAL. It's not like they signed a letter or so, with a CC to their employer.

    Guardian defence "We believe that many of the people on that card will be pleased.." Read: ... but we couldn't be bothered to contact a representative sample of this multitude of at least 15.

    As for "your past catching up with you", AC 16h33, if you read the article it's totally arbitrary --- attend 1 (one) protest on a NIMBY issue, be harrassed forever (25 car searches) reasons the coppers even don't understand.

    Also, because the local plod scribbled "search this vehicle" next your numberplate in the database, it forces other constabularies to waste time (they don't know what they're searching for, which may easily have changed owner. [Scribble may also have been connected to the driver's name, of course, but that would be highly clever.]

  15. Seamless
    Big Brother

    Could have same impact if pixellated

    It wasn't necessary for the story's impact that the faces be unobscured. Guardian didn't write a story about people who attended public events, and the cards' existence does not establish that any of the people depicted had attended any public demonstrations, so it's not logical to claim publication was justified since people out in public view realize they will be observed. The context clearly is that the subjects were wanted by the police, which necessarily clouds their reputations. Guardian should have pixellated to protect the identities, much as they might in other contexts involving potential uncharged subjects of police interest.

  16. Graham Marsden
    Big Brother

    The expression "Domestic Terrorists"...

    ... has been brought to you by the Ministry of Truth...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Phil Endecott - No smoke without fire!!!

    ... now wheres my pitch fork!!

  18. Anonymous Coward

    heaven help you if you are just walking home

    Pictures are the least of your worries if the coppers are out to kill you like they did Tomlinson.

  19. Mark Weston

    Subverting the will of parliament?!

    "Parliament has never sanctioned a national police force: therefore this, and other police umbrella organisations, appear to be going some way towards subverting the will of parliament."

    Now that is simplistic to the point of childishness. Presumably a bank robber should be safe as soon as he crosses a county border because sharing information between police forces and co-ordinating their efforts is subverting the will of parliament? I appreciate a lot of the Reg's coverage on privacy issues, but sometimes you guys do head off into knee-jerk territory.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Well the Guardian should know.... #

    It's all become very Kafkaesque... reminds me a lot of Joseph K's arrest.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Argument does not hold water #

    Hungry Sean -

    > where any potential future employer will see that the applicant has been a "person of interest" to the police, regardless of conviction or arrest.

    I think you miss the point about accountability -

    All it takes is a phone call and you too can be added to that list...

    Then you wonder why people shun you in public. Why you don't get the job that you were sure to be a great fit for. Why your old friends suddenly don't wanna speak with you no more. Why your bank just cut your lines of credit. Why your employer just fired you. Why your passport got blocked. Why your car gets stopped and searched several times a week.

    Are you accused? What are you accused of? Who accuses you? What is your right to respond? Are you guilty?

  22. blackworx
    Thumb Down

    @AC 16:42

    That's a bit harsh. I can think of a few rags that should go before the Graun. Say what you like about it, its heart's in the right place.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how did they draw attention to themselves?

    Probably by having the sheer effrontery to have been involved in the organisation of said protests.

    Gotta watch the ring leaders so they can be taken out if required, er, I mean, detained and questioned.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Pretty obvious who H is"

    Well yes, it would be. The photos were sent to Mark Thomas, so somebody (maybe in the police, maybe not) knew who he was. The Guardian statement seems to be an accurate reflection of their coverage.

    Draw your own conclusions, the article is at

    and there is an editorial on the subject at

    What's more worrying is that there seem to be police who still don't know what Mark Thomas looks like, after however many years he's been doing what he does (which usually involves some kind of dealings with the police sooner or later).

  25. Justin Clements
    Thumb Down

    the BNP difference??

    Bet the same activists had no problems with identifying BNP members in public. Bunch of hypocrites.

  26. Paul Johnston

    @Phil Endecott

    "how did they draw attention to themselves?"

    Perhaps theirs were the photos which came out best?

    The ones of masked demonstrators wouldn't have been too useful to put on the sheet would they?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Guardian sound like patsies

    The police can't slur the protestors as trouble makers, but the Guardian can. So how does the Guardian know that the 'accidentally' dropped card, wasn't deliberate? It doesn't.

    The best solution remains, keep your heads down and your criticisms anonymous. These protests do nothing but put you at risk without benefit. Recall that there is no crime needed now before you can be put under surveillance, and if the police got postal on you, they will be there on TV blaming violent elements, i.e. **you**.

    Yet if they simply did the occasional targetted email, or phone call to journalists, they can get the influence they need with far lower risks to themselves.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Private Public Protests?

    So, next time I see a public protest, I'll have to avert my eyes to respect the privacy of the protesters?

    Paris, because it's the closest there is to a facepalm icon. Also, something about loss of privacy comes to mind...

  29. kissingthecarpet
    Big Brother

    'If ever a paper deserved to die'

    Well, Coward, maybe so, but I really think the Sun,Express & Mail should be way ahead of them in the queue for the guillotine. At least the Grauniad (& Telegraph I suppose) don't live in a world of single-syllable headlines, where no-one is criticised but "slammed" ,they don't say 'I'm going to do X' but they "vow" to do X, they don't die of an illness, they "lose a brave fight" (whats so bleedin' brave about dying? - we're all going there) etc. etc.

    Why is it that the tabloids speak such a strange subset of English, that's never spoken or written by anyone but them?

    The Grauniad may have more than its fair share of middle-class wankers, but they do try sometimes, witness the recent Trafigura story for example. If there's anything wrong with journalism in general, its that it gives the people the false impression that because injustice & abuse is being reported, "something is being done", whereas they are really acting as a 'safety valve' for the peoples anger, i.e taking it off the boil, so nothing is changed at all.

  30. Danny 2 Silver badge

    @Phil - and employers

    I agree with your comment but I'd like to point out these people probably drew attention ( oppression) onto themselves by being competent at the task they have assigned themselves. I've worked in a lot of blue-chip companies filled with far less competent, honest, ingenious and hardworking employees than many of the blacklisted or unemployable dissidents who suffer from blanket discrimination.

    Chomsky said we are all primarily selected from infancy for obedience, and it is true. Even without political opinion, the people who are first made redundant in any company aren't the incompetents, it is the people perceived as troublemakers by incompetent or competitive superiors. This bias is magnified when you boss knows your politicl opinions. It is possible for a worker to be promoted while labelling themselves as an anarchist, but you only if you have already made yourself indispensible. In this poisoned climate, with state oppression and intimidatory sites like RedWatch, it is not generally acceptable to print or even reprint other peoples idenities without express permission.

  31. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    @AC 16:08

    "if you believe that strongly in the issue you should be prepared to stand by your actions and quit whining" - Hypocrite!

    If your real name is "Anonymous", I apologise, Sir.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Phil Endecott

    So you are saying that they are guilty by assumption and there for it is ok for them to be fired?

  33. Deckchair


    The police montior potential toublemakers at a huge rally. Who'd have thunk it.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    @ Kev B - re Letter H

    It's Mark Thomas and he had an article about it on page 32 so I think they spoke to him.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Alpha Eyes down for a Full House

    Kev B said "Pretty obvious who "H" as he is a well know TV Presenter and activist. So they did'nt contact him ?"

    More ironic is that "H" was inside the said venue people were protesting outside doing legitiment research for his book "As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade"

    So is journalism a threat to the state?

  36. dunncha

    Didn't we go to war in IRAQ

    Claiming that its Governemnt didn't allow its citizens the right of peaceful protest.

    We seem to have lost the moral highground on this point and most of the reason for the War.

    'If you don't vote you can't complain'

  37. Chris 96
    Big Brother


    Yes, they 'outed' themselves by being there and they were well aware that any sheep who do not bend to the wolves' will are destined for the slaughter house.

    So please move along - there's good sheep, err people.

  38. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  39. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Agree with The Guardian

    Having your photo printed and distributed on a vast national scale is not quite the same thing as being at a protest where you could be seen by a certain number of people for a limited time. I don't get how people make that leap, personally.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    is journalism a threat to the state?

    "is journalism a threat to the state?"

    It ought to be, but rarely is. Legitimate journalism should be a potential threat to anybody (or any organisation) in a position of power or influence, especially where they appear to be unaccountable and misbehaving.

    Trafigura has been mentioned. The very same "self denying injunction" principle also applied to the Guardian's coverage earlier this year of Barclay's use of tax dodging by corporates and individuals to create a £1BN/year income stream.

    When the Barclays news came out earlier this year it was covered not just in the Guardian but in newspapers as varied as the Daily Mail [1] and the FT. The Guardian got injuncted but the restriction seems to have been lifted recently at the same time as the Trafigura one.

    Although Barclays tax stuff was widely covered in various media, it got zero coverage on the BBC's own output.

    In unrelated news, the Chairman of Barclays is a "senior independent director" on the BBC's Executive Board [2].


    "Barclays bank is alleged to be making around £1billion a year from financial schemes aimed at avoiding paying tax in the UK and abroad, it has been reported.

    The claim has been made by a whistleblower, who passed internal Barclays documents to Vince Cable, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats."


  41. Jimbo 6

    @ RegisterFail 10:32 GMT

    "they don't actually know why they're protesting, they're mostly just a bunch of students or bums with nothing better to do"

    You, sir, are either a grade A muppet, a member of The Filth, or a member of the Bonehead & Numbskull Party. Get back to reading the Daily Express and don't bother the rest of us with your horseshit opinions.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spotted a spotter

    So what exactly do the Police do if they spot someone on their spotter card?

    They can't just arrest them for no reason or probably keep track of them amongst a large crowd.

    I imagine that they just cross their face off and look for another. A novel game authoritarian bingo, to while away those boring hours supervising a boring demonstration.

  43. Shakje

    Re: is journalism a threat to the state?

    I agree with your first paragraph, the next three are facts.

  44. blackworx

    @Jimbo 6

    Well said

  45. Anonymous Coward

    Should be getting back to work now

    Um, is it just me or are the people banging on about the whole aspect of protestors 'being in public anyway' missing the ever so small point about their being a difference between being identified and:


    Apologies for the caps, it being rude and all, and it's rare I let the trolls get to me, but just for once, stop gobbing off about alledgedly unemployed people and learn to think instead of reminding us that you're having a s**t day at work but dressed up as political comment. We all are lads, we are all having a bad day at work, we don't care about yours, but somethings are more important than a crap day at an office; honestly, head out of arses please.

    I thank you.

    And no, never been on a demo, to my shame actually.

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