Skip to main content

Blacklisted by the state?

If 'all special branches' of the security forces were complicit in this appalling violation of human rights we need to act to ensure it never happens again. MICHAEL MEACHER takes a look at how

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has revealed that a Scotland Yard inquiry into police collusion found it "likely that all special branches were involved in providing information" that deprived workers of employment - helping to draw up blacklists.

This is dynamite. It is known that over 3,200 workers were blacklisted by up to 44 construction companies between 1993 and 2009. Many of the offending firms were household names like Balfour Beatty, McAlpine, Carillion and Costain.

The victims were consequently kept out of work, sometimes for decades.

This Parliament has already seen one huge scandal in the form of phone-hacking. Phone-hacking is a very serious intrustion into privacy and breach of human rights, but it does not compare with being deprived of your job for years or even decades on end.

It is already known from statements made by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) last year to the parliamentary Scottish grand committee that some of the information found in files on blacklisted workers "could only have come from the police or security service sources."

The firm belief of the IPCC, based on discussions with the Metropolitan Police, that all special branches were engaged in these illegal and highly damaging activities exposes - if it is confirmed - a monumental scandal.

This is for the moment disputed by a senior investigating officer recently appointed to Operation Herne, the inquiry currently being undertaken into the activities of undercover police officers.

He says he has seen "no conclusive evidence" that Scotland Yard exchanged information with the blacklisting companies.

This is not however a very compelling denial of its involvement, especially since the Blacklist Support Group has now had it confirmed that a secret meeting took place in November 2008 between the Consulting Association, which ran the blacklist, and officers from the police national extremism tactical co-ordination unit, which runs undercover policing.

This new and damning information comes from freedom of information requests to the ICO which replied that it was holding notes from this meeting - which invites the question: why it didn't reveal this information years before, indeed in 2009, rather than wait to have it extracted?

It also raises the further question as to why the ICO has so far declined to inform all the 3,213 workers involved that they were subject to blacklisting since the great majority are probably still unaware of this.

The 44 construction companies now face a High Court battle over their alleged involvement in blacklisting, and significantly eight of them have now decided to compensate some of these 3,213 workers which suggests they believe the evidence being revealed is now sufficient to prove their guilt.

If that is so, certain conclusions follow.

All the 3,213 workers involved should now be informed. They should receive compensation calculated by number of years they were deprived of work multiplied by their annual wage during those years, plus a sizeable penal award for the extreme wrongdoing done them.

And those responsible for the blacklisting should be prosecuted and, if found guilty, sent to prison for a significant term.

 

Blacklisting raises many questions about the way security services use information they have gathered on us, an issue made more poignant by the revelations earlier this year about the scale of state snooping in this country among others.

The role of Parliament is to hold the executive - government - to account and the role of the media is to prevent the abuse of power and to provide a mechanism of accountability where that fails.

Are they at present fulfilling these roles?

Neither is. And both have failed at the critical point, where today the development of extraordinarily powerful new communication technologies have far exceeded the capability of current instruments to apply effective oversight.

The nursery story hitherto has been that for MI5 or MI6 to target an individual or group they had to get a warrant from the Home Secretary. The truth is, and has been for some time already, that the National Security Agency in the US via its Prism programme and GCHQ over here via the Tempora programme have mutually acquired the capability to hoover up untold vast quantities of personal data from the undersea cables that carry internet data in and out of Britain on a colossal scale, and without any check or accountability at all.

Is this legal?

MI5 very dubiously claims justification under section 8 paragraph 4 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000, which refers to "external warrants."

This permits GCHQ to carry out sweeping and indiscriminate trawling through external data if a minister signs a certificate together with the warrant.

This scintilla of constraint has been easily broken by certificates issued under a number of themes which effectively allow the whole range of GCHQ's intelligence work to proceed in any area unchecked.

Does this matter?

It does. Tempora already allows GCHQ the capacity to collect more than 21 petabytes (a petabyte is one quadrillion bytes, or over a million gigabytes) of data per day.

To put that in context, it's the equivalent of sending all the data in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours.

Already two years ago there were 550 British and US analysts ploughing through this Tempora database. The balance between safeguarding personal safety and tracking down terrorism and serious crime has been drastically breached.

The security agencies are out of control and operating via outdated laws without any genuine public mandate.

The counter-argument used by the agencies and the government is that the revelation of these unlicensed powers by the Snowden files compromises national security.

On the contrary - it is highly unlikely that terrorists or international criminals have learnt anything from the Snowden, Guardian and New York Times revelations that they didn't know already.

What is much more to the point is that protestations about national security are being used to try to shut down the fact that these powers universally breaching personal privacy were adopted long before there was any attempt to legalise their use.

Section 8.4 of Ripa was never intended to cover practices like the Prism and Tempora projects, which explains why Theresa May was so anxious to use the Communications Bill 12 years later to try to give some retrospective cover for these illicit activities.

We urgently need a debate in Parliament on these matters.

 

Michael Meacher is Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton. Read his blog at www.michaelmeacher.info.

OWNED BY OUR READERS

We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 7,798
We need:£ 10,201
9 Days remaining
Donate today