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Taking on the Surveillance Society is no picnic

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If you have a camera, are ever so slightly worried about the burgeoning surveillance society in the UK, and are prepared to brave the hostility of police and passers-by, then you too could take part in "Freedom Not Fear Day" this weekend.

FNF Day will be celebrated primarily across Europe, in a wave of actions ranging from mass demonstrations in Germany and Sweden through to more thoughtful creative activities in other countries.

It is headed by the German AK Vorrat pressure group, a loose-knit grouping of civil liberties activists, who originally got together in 2005 to fight the EU Data Retention directive.

Since then, they have widened their brief to take on security laws and surveillance. Speaking to the Reg today, FNF organiser Ricardo Cristof Remmert-Fontes said: "As far as I am aware, we will have over 23 countries taking part on Saturday – though that number may grow as we update our list.

"Although the focus for action is Europe, we are also picking up support from various groups in South America, in countries such as Peru, Argentine and Ecuador".

In the UK, the photographic event is being organised primarily by No2ID and the Open Rights Group (ORG). The main event on Saturday will consist of a community artwork – a collage based on photos of stuff that embodies the database state, and the UK’s now world-famous surveillance society.

An appeal for photos is now up on the ORG site. Anyone can contribute: if you see any image that embodies the UK’s wholesale transformation into the surveillance society/database state, you are welcome to snap it and upload it.

Becky Hogge, spokesperson for the Open Rights Group (ORG), said: "Volunteers will assemble in Parliament Square where we will put together the image.

"Individuals are welcome to come and watch, but should note that this is not intended to be a demonstration. ORG is licensed under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) to put on a very limited event in the SOCPA zone, which covers Parliament Square.

"Recognising that mass protest is increasingly becoming a risky exercise for individuals, and that even at great scale it does not always attract the attention it deserves, we have tried to harness the powers of the online world and couple them to a real-world event for maximum impact.

"Whilst we may not agree with the provisions of SOCPA, we believe the most important thing right now is that policy-makers should be aware of public concern around surveillance state issues, which we hope will be achieved through publicity and online communication".

As Reg readers will be aware, SOCPA made it an offense to demonstrate within a specified area around Parliament without advance permission from the police – and a minimum of 24 hours' notice in any case.

Meanwhile, People in Common will be taking protest a stage further, holding a picnic on Broadway and Caxton St at 1pm, outside the headquarters of the Met.

This demo will walk a much finer line than the ORG event, since it will take place on the borders of the SOCPA exclusion zone and has not sought advance permission. Individuals picnicking in Caxton St will not be in breach of that law. Anyone straying into Broadway may be.

The focus of the day will be on highlighting issues of surveillance. A spokesperson for People in Common said: "The UK population are being watched all the time and there is a massive collusion between government, security services and major corporations. The pretext is security – yet they are actually creating the conditions for greater unrest.

"We are presently in a pre-Fascist state. What we want is the ability for ordinary people to watch those in power, to know what THEY are up to and to be involved in decision-making."

On the question of SOCPA he added: "We will be picnicking and carrying blank placards. The ludicrous nature of the law is shown by the fact that if anyone writes on their placard or decides spontaneously to progress from picnic to protest, they will immediately be subject to arrest. People in Common has no plans to incite such law-breaking." ®

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