Tracking Protest Surveillance

Intrusive surveillance technology is increasingly used during protests around the world. This technology is often being deployed in secret, without a clear legal basis, increasingly in an indiscriminate manner, and without the necessary safeguards and oversight mechanisms in accordance with international human rights law.

It is essential to keep track of them. We want individuals engaging in protests to know what is being deployed so they can take mitigating steps to uphold their rights to privacy, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression and to hold authorities into account.

20 Feb 2024
The UK government has proposed legislation to allow police to search the database of driver's licence photos with facial recognition software to identify criminal suspects. People applying for licences have not consented to being included in this "permanent police lineup", the victims of mistakes
01 Feb 2024
The newly appointed DGP in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has said he intends to focus on people-centric and artificial intelligence-based predictive policing to identify high-risk areas so that police can anticipate and prevent crimes. He has also named cybercrime as a priority. Uttar Pradesh
26 Jan 2024
Leaked messages show that Shirion Collective, a pro-Israel surveillance network that claims its "Maccabee" AI tool can identify and track targets, is branching out from the UK to Australia. The group, like others such as Canary Mission, claims to fight antisemitism, mostly by identifying individuals
19 Jan 2024
Police in Queensland photographed peaceful pro-Palestinian protesters in Logan in December 2023 and recorded the licence plate numbers of cars displaying Palestinian flags. When politicians and others objected, police defended the practice by saying that some threats require "significant threat and
15 Jan 2024
At recent rallies, London's Metropolitan police have ramped up use of facial recognition technology to scan pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters, claiming that some of the signs, banners, and chants heard at these protests stray into religious or racial offences. Following the protests held
05 Jan 2024
The FBI is using databases of location data and facial recognition technology to automate finding and charging participants in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol who have so far escaped identification and arrest. Few legal protections stand in the way of this type of digital surveillance. The
29 Dec 2023
Liberty has challenged the use of a statutory instrument to bring in new restrictions on protests even though the same provisions had been rejected months earlier in the House of Lords. The new law allows police to impose conditions on a protest if it causes "more than minor" hindrances or delays
17 Dec 2023
New security guidelines are designed to let the incoming government in Argentina crack down on expected protests after it devalued the country's currency by more than 50% in December 2023 as part of a plan to cut the national deficit and bring down inflation. The guidelines include a plan to
04 Dec 2023
Between October 7 and December 4 2023 the New York City Police Department used drones at least 13 times to make 239 arrests at pro-Palestine protests, and more than tripled its use of drones in the previous year. Police have handed over the drone footage as evidence in 158 cases where protesters
25 Nov 2023
Preparations for COP28, held in the UAE, where protests are rarely allowed, included concerns that environmental protesters would be surveilled and/or arrested despite plans to provide designated areas managed by the UN where peaceful assembly would be allowed. Activists wanted to denounce the UAE's
24 Nov 2023
In preparing to host COP28, the UAE, where individuals may be prosecuted for unauthorised protests, speech deemed to spark or encourage social unrest, or offending foreign states, said it would designate areas of the site where it would permit demonstrations. Campaigners remained concerned that
23 Nov 2023
The European Legal Support Centre has documented 24 incidents in which UK-based pro-Palestinian academic staff and students, especially Palestinians, and people of colour, have been reported to the police, the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, and university disciplinary committees. Overall, ELSC
03 Nov 2023
New York state governor Kathy Hochul has announced $75 million in additional funding for surveillance technology and staff to be used to target pro-Palestinian protesters and activists, describing the move as fighting anti-semitism. The news came a day after the Biden administration announced new
02 Nov 2023
Students at Columbia walked out during a number of classes, including a lecture delivered by Hillary Clinton as part of her global affairs class, to protest the university's alleged role in "shaming" pro-Palestinian protesters. The protesters demanded immediate legal support for students whose
02 Nov 2023
In November 2023, as protests over the Israel-Hamas war ramped up, the UK's Met Commissioner announced police would analyse social media and use facial recognition searches to identify and detain "troublemakers" committing hate crimes or supporting banned terror organisations. To date, 70-80
01 Nov 2023
A new report finds that Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Malawi and Zambia collectively spend over $1 billion annually on digital surveillance technologies, including mobile phone spyware, internet interception devices, and biometric identity systems, as well as social media monitoring, AI-powered facial
01 Nov 2023
Despite under-funding basic services such as health care and education, governments in Nigeria, Ghana, Morococo, Malawi, and Zambia collectively spend over $1 billion a year on digital surveillance technologies supplied by companies in the US, UK, China, the EU, and Israel. Nigeria alone spends $12
22 Oct 2023
Tensions at educational institutions across the US following the the opening of the Israel-Hama conflict in Gaza on October 7 are accompanied by student concerns, particularly among those protesting the mass killing of Palestinians, that their speech is being intensely policed. Conscious of the
06 Oct 2023
Police in Western Australia have demanded that ABC hand over all the footage of climate protesters it collected in preparing a programme ("Four Corners") about them. More than 40 civil society groups have opposed the request, saying that the demand undermines press freedom and urging the broadcaster
02 Oct 2023
Myanmar's ruling junta has begun a pilot census in 20 townships across the country, and has said that a national census needs to be completed in 2024 before new elections take place, which could be in 2025. Critics warn that the census will be used to increase surveillance of opponents, including
29 Sep 2023
During the runup to the 2023 general election, the Zimbabwean government sent drones to monitor a rally organised by the Citizens Coalition for Change. The country also uses drones to monitor motorists, control the border, and limit crime; officials in the Kavango Zambezi Transnational Park have
28 Sep 2023
A BBC investigation found more than 150 cases in which UK police abused their body-worn cameras by deleting footage, turning them off when using force, and sharing videos on WhatsApp, other social media, or in person. The cameras, which have cost at least £90 million over the last decade, were
28 Sep 2023
The three Democratic members of the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, an independent agency within the federal branch of the US government, have recommended that the FBI and other government agencies should be required to obtain the approval of a court before reviewing the
25 Sep 2023
The Taliban could repurpose a plan devised by the Americans before their 2021 departure for a four-year programme to create a large-scale camera network to surveil Afghan cities, The capital, Kabul, already has thousands of cameras. The Taliban administration has also consulted with Huawei about
21 Sep 2023
In the year after protests began in Iran in September 2022, Telegram has emerged as the social medium of choice for both the protesters and the regime they oppose. The Iranian authorities have been able to use Telegram to identify and shame protesters and broadcast false confessions, as well as
19 Sep 2023
The Israeli government is bringing forward a bill that would permit the police to place facial recognition cameras in public places, including at events such as protests, as long as a police officer is convinced that the cameras' operation does not present undue invasion of any individual's privacy
17 Sep 2023
Based on a facial recognition match, the New York City Police Department sent more than 50 officers to besiege the home of a racial justice organiser, claiming he had shouted in an officer's ear at a protest in the summer of 2020. The officers were unable to produce a warrant when asked, but
10 Aug 2023
Authorities in Germany and France are using legal powers intended for use against organised crime and extremist groups to crack down on direct action protests intended to spur public action against climate change. State authorities in Germany are preventively detaining protesters, in one case
03 Aug 2023
The ACLU, NAACP, and other civil rights and civil liberties organisations have called on the US Department of Homeland Security to investigate intelligence gathering at "Cop City", a plan to build a police and fire department training centre in a forest near Atlanta, Georgia. More than 40
02 Aug 2023
Despite mass demonstrations in 2022 supporting women's right to bare their heads, Iranian authorities are considering a draft law that proposes prison terms of five to ten years (up from ten days to two months) for women to refuse to wear the hijab, substantial fines for businesses and celebrities
31 Jul 2023
The Biden administration has recommended the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, warning that not doing so could constitute "one of the worst intelligence failures of our time". S702 allows the US government to collect the digital communications of foreigners living
26 Jul 2023
A coalition of 65 NGOs including Access Now, EFF, and Article 19, have written a letter asking the European Commission to reject the possibility that content moderation provisions in the Digital Services Act could be used to compel social media shutdowns. The letter was in response to comments by
21 Jul 2023
In response to a damning report from Jonathan Hall KC, the reviewer of the UK's terrorism legislation, the Metropolitan Police referred to the Independent Office of Police Conduct the case of radical French publisher Ernest Moret. When Moret arrived at St Pancras station in London for a book fair in
08 Jul 2023
Thousands of cameras made by Bosch are part of a surveillance network on the streets of Tehran that clerical rulers are using to track women who refuse to cover their heads in public. Amnesty International reports that women whose bare heads are detected receive text messages threatening them with
06 Jul 2023
A former executive at Bytedance, the owner of TikTok, has said in a filing relating to a wrongful dismissal lawsuit that the members of Chinese Communist Party maintained a backdoor channel to access TikTok user data belonging to Hong Kong protesters and civil rights activists in order to try to
06 Jul 2023
The UK's Northamptonshire Police used live facial recognition technology for the first time at the 2023 Formula 1 British Grand Prix in order to spot people who pose a "risk of danger to the wider public" such as wanted criminals, or people involved in serious crime or "unlawful protest"
04 Jul 2023
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the use of facial recognition technology to arrest protester Nikolay Glukhin on the Moscow metro system was "incompatible with the ideals and values of a democratic society governed by the rule of law". Glukhin's protest consisted of travelling
25 Jun 2023
Munich's public prosecutor has confirmed that since October 2022 the Bavarian authorities have been tapping communications of the Last Generation climate activist group, including phones, emails, and voicemails on suspicion that the group is forming or supporting a criminal organisation. Last
15 May 2023
Internal emails obtained under an FOI request show that between April and June 2022 the US Marshals Service received regular alerts from Dataminr, a company that monitors social media on behalf of corporate and government clients and an official partner of Twitter, advising them of the times and
10 May 2023
A heavily redacted report from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court shows that the FBI turned a tool intended for foreign surveillance under a law known as Section 702 on 278,000 US citizens between 2020 and 2021, including suspects in the January 6 insurrection and Black Lives Matter
03 May 2023
London's Metropolitan Police announced it would use facial recognition to scan the crowds attending the May 2023 coronation of King Charles III. The hundreds of thousands of people expected to line the streets was an entirely new scale of use for the technology in Britain. Critics such as Liberty
01 May 2023
In a case brought by NGOs before the 2023 May Day marches, administrative courts ruled that police may use drones to patrol the crowds and rejected the argument that the drones pose a serious attack to fundamental freedoms. However, a court in Rouen suspended parts of a decree that would have
26 Mar 2023
Facial recognition technology using chips from the US companies Nvidia and Intel and deployed in the Moscow underground has helped police detain and question thousands of people on the way to and returning from protests against the Russia-Ukraine war. Nvidia and Intel are not thought to have
26 Mar 2023
Police have closely monitored the first protest in Hong Kong since 2020, limiting attendees to 100 and requiring them to wear number tags and submit their banners for prior inspection. Police also set up a cordon to keep protesters separated from the media. The protest opposed a land reclamation
18 Feb 2023

Months after landmark protests in China pushed the authorities to end covid restrictions, more than 100 of the protesters are now in police custody. The Chinese authorities have not responded to questions about the detentions, while international rights groups have called for the protesters' release. Many of those arrested are women; reports say they have been questioned about whether they were feminists or involved in feminist activities. Observers believe the authorities intend the arrests to send a signal.

Publication: BBC

Writer: Tessa Wong and Grace Tsoi

Publication date: 2023-02-18

13 Feb 2023
Thousands of dissidents in 40 countries were imprisoned for posting or reposting social, political, or religious content on social media between June 2021 and May 2022, according to the Freedom on the Net 2022 report. The report calls China, the most repressive of the 40, "the world's worst
02 Feb 2023
Video footage shows that security agents linked to London mayor Sadiq Khan spied on the environmental activist group Green New Deal Rising and blocked members from participating in a public debate. Information about the campaigners and their plans appears to have been shared in advance between the
News & Analysis

UK's Investigatory Powers Commissioner clarifies the legal framework regulating use of IMSI catchers in the UK while maintaining "neither confirm nor deny" position about their use

The Kommersant reports that Russia's Rostec State Corporation is developing a new AI-powered anti-riot surveillance system that uses biometrics-powered cameras and can search social media networks and other publicly accessible data and intends to deploy the new system by the end of 2022. The
Following a complaint from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the country's attorney general has said the Shin Bet security agency's use of mobile phone tracking technology to monitor and threaten Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque in May 2021 was a legitimate security
The energy company Cuadrilla used Facebook to surveil anti-fracking protesters in Blackpool and forwarded the gathered intelligence to Lancashire Police, which arrested more than 450 protesters at Cuadrilla's Preston New Road site over a period of three years in a policing operation that cost more
Environmental campaigners wrote to Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon asking her to intervene to ensure the right to protest was upheld during COP26, when as many as 10,000 police officers from all over the UK were deployed per day on the streets of Glasgow. The letter said the police were
Emails obtained by EFF show that the Los Angeles Police Department contacted Amazon Ring owners specifically asking for footage of protests against racist police violence that took place across the US in the summer of 2020. LAPD signed a formal partnership with Ring and its associated "Neighbors"
Since the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, Minnesota law enforcement agencies have carried out a secretive, long-running surveillance programme targeting journalists and civil rights activists known as Operation Safety Net, a complex surveillance engine that has expanded to include collecting
After the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, the Department of Homeland Security expanded its monitoring of online activity and set up a new intelligence branch to counter domestic terrorism, including tracking platforms that have been linked to threats and “narratives known to provoke
According to internal documents obtained by the Brennan Center, the Polish “strategic communications” specialist Edge NPD, whose business is helping companies with market research, provided the Los Angeles Police Department with a free 40-day trial in which it collected nearly 2 million tweets
According to internal documents, the San Francisco Police Department illegally spied on thousands of Bay Area residents protesting in 2020 against the murder of George Floyd and racist police violence. To conduct its surveillance, the SFPD used a network of more than 300 video cameras in downtown’s
Internal documents show that local police coordinated with Enbridge, the oil company building the Line 3 pipeline through northern Minnesota, to track and crack down on indigenous opposition to the development in an initiative known as Opposition Driven Operational Threats (ODOT). Enbridge designed
Based on a draft methodology from Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry, Kommersant business daily reports that Rostec's data subsidiary, Natsionalny Tsentr Informatizatsii, is developing software that will use machine learning to detect and prevent mass unrest. The software will analyse news
Footage captured by Bloomberg shows that police are arresting anti-war protesters in Russia and scrolling through their phones. Writer: Kommersant Publication: Bloomberg TV Publication date
Ukraine and Russia are both weaponising facial recognition - but Russia is using it to hunt down anti-war protesters, holding and sometimes torturing anyone who refuses to be photographed, while Ukraine is using software donated by Clearview AI to help find Russian infiltrators at checkpoints
The Israeli minister of public security has joined police in denying claims in an article in Calcalist that the country's police force have used NSO Group's Pegasus software to spy on the phones of people who led protests against former premier Benjamin Netanyahu. Calcalist reported that the
Just as China uses technology system called "Integrated Joint Operations Platform" to control and surveil the persecuted population of Uighurs while restricting their movement and branding dissent as "terrorism", the Israeli military is using facial recognition and a massive database of personal
On December 25, 2021, Sudanese security forces shot and killed four pro-democracy protesters and wounded hundreds of others who, among tens of thousands of people, defied a security lockdown and telecommunications network shutdowns to demonstrate against military rule, AFP News reports. Security
On January 5, 2022 the Kazakhstan government shut down the internet nationwide in response to widespread civil unrest after the government's removal of a price cap led liquid natural gas prices to rise sharply. Government use of a kill switch to block internet access is rising as a way of
The Burkina Faso government cut off internet access across the country following protests demanding the resignation of president Roch Marc Christian Kabore. Insurgents have attacked military positions as well as gold-mining operations. A government statement said the outage was extended under a
Human rights lawyers allege that during protests in March 2023 police arbitrarily arrested numerous protesters with the goal of chilling protests. In similar cases during the 2018 "yellow vest" protests, only 5,000 of 11,000 people arrested were eventually prosecuted, according to the government's
At his 2021 trial, prosecutors used previously-unseen infrared footage from FBI airplane surveillance at 9,000 feet to attempt to show that 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse chased one of the two people he later claimed to have shot in self-defence. Rittenhouse travelled from his home in Illinois to