Monday, 15 June 2009

Transparency In Britain?

Whilst everyone has heard of ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) one wonders how many have heard of NETCU (National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit) or the Welsh variation of NETCU, WETCU (Welsh Extremism and Counter-Terrorism Unit or, if one must translate for the Welsh, Uned Atal Terfysgaeth ac Eithafiaeth Cymru), or even NPOIU (National Public Order and Intelligence Unit).

These three organisations are not public bodies nor formal police bodies, but are in fact private organisations and functional subsidiaries of ACPO. In fact any attempt to illicit information from NETCU is unlikely to succeed as their website states:

"The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) applies to public authorities in England and Wales. Under the FOIA organisations listed in Schedule 1 to the Act - either by name or by a description - have to provide public access to information they hold. NETCU is not a public authority as defined by Schedule 1 of the FOIA. Therefore there are currently no obligations on NETCU to disclose information under the Act. However, in the spirit of the Act, NETCU will consider all requests for information and aim to make available as much information that it properly can."

which is similar to the statement on the ACPO website.

In a report produced by Statewatch - whilst commenting on the fact that over a period of five years before the terrorist attack on “11/9”, the British government has passed a series of laws which began a creeping process of criminalisation of protest and dissent by the public and that the role of the police has shifted from facilitating the use of public spaces, in order to allow protests to take place, to actively using the law to curtail or deter protest. it is stated:

"Repressive laws, and the intimidation of the public through their application, cannot operate in public; they need covert agencies to enforce them. Try as they might, repressive states cannot operate when they have some form of independent public oversight. In order to have a truly repressive state it must operate outside of the public eye; behind a veil of secrecy that can protect its files, notes, minutes, and of course its excesses. However, a “secretive police force”, under the control of the publicly unaccountable Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), is precisely the type of role that NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU are beginning to adopt in Britain today."

Leaving aside the economic and environmental aspects on which the report dwells, it has to be asked whether private organisations should be operating in a free, open and accountable society and also how such 'secrecy' equates with 'transparency'; the latter a desire with which politicians are presently so much 'in love'.

Once again, welcome to the post-democratic age!

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