The order to shut down the site was sent by Detective Inspector Will Hodgson to fitwatch’s hosts, JustHost.com, claiming that it was attempting to ‘pervert the cause of justice’ by presenting advice to those who may have been involved in last weeks occupation of Millbank, which has already led to more than fifty arrests, and campaigns by newspapers such as the Telegraph to shop students who were involved.
The US based hosting company appears to have shut down the site almost immediately, effective for 12 months, despite having only received an e-mail (to our knowledge there was no court order, and no legal action has been taken against the site’s owners).
This action has largely backfired on the police, given the blog post which prompted DI Hodgson’s e-mail has been reproduced on more than twenty websites in the few hours since fitwatch was shut down. At time of writing the action has already been condemned by mainstream news and technology media, coming as it does at the same time as David Cameron is visiting China, well known for its internet censorship, and against a site which has been highly critical of policing over the past three years.
The full letter later appeared on indymedia, and is reproduced below. A list of sites reproducing the article is available at http://fitwatch.tiltingatwindmills.org.uk/
Hi [recipient’s name deleted],
We received a request to close an account the site mentioned below is hosted on:
Request from Metropolitan Police in London Uk to remove website used
for criminal purpose – fitwatch.org.uk IP 220.127.116.11
APPLICATION FOR CLOSURE OF A UK BASED DOMAIN NAME
Fitwatch.org.uk – IP 18.104.22.168
To whom it may concern at Singlehop
In connection with our criminal investigation into registration or use
of the domain name set out in this letter, we hereby confirm that:
• The domain is being used to undertake criminal activities.
Attempting to Pervert the Course of Justice, contrary to Common Law
We hereby request Singlehop to de-host this website for a minimum
period of 12 months.
Please note that this request will be also sent to the domain name
registrar for the website.
You should provide the following contact phone number, email address
and reference number to the registrant: 0207 230 8100
REASON FOR CLOSURE
This website are committing offences of attempting to pervert the
Course of Justice under Common Law.
The website is providing explicit advice to offenders following a
major demonstration in Central London. The demonstration was marred by
violence and several subjects have already been arrested with a major
police operation underway to identify and arrest further offenders.
The person controlling these websites has posted material held to be
contrary to Common Law within the UK.
Therefore to prevent the domain names from being used in crime we
request that the domain name is suspended for a minimum period of 12
months (or until expiry of the domain name if earlier).
This common law offence is committed where a person or persons:-
(a) acts or embarks upon a course of conduct
(b) which has a tendency to, and
(c) is intended to pervert,
(d) the course of public justice.
Registrant Information for fitwatch.org.uk
Registrant : [DELETED]
All other personal details withheld
Registered on : 17-Nov-2008
Authority to close the website and IP address given by
Will Hodgeson, Acting Detective Inspector
CO11 Public Order Branch
Many Thanks in Advance
DI Paul Hoare
Police Central e-crime Unit (Computer Crime Unit)
SCD6 Economic & Specialist Crime Command,
1st floor, Indigo Block, Cobalt Square
1 South Lambeth Road,
0207 230 8100
[Senders’ name deleted]
Suspending the Fitwatch website after we gave advice to student protesters looks like an attempt by police to prevent dissent
Yesterday evening, I received a text from a friend asking if I knew the Fitwatch website had been suspended. I checked our email account and discovered it had been closed for a minimum of 12 months on the behest of the Metropolitan police for “attempting to pervert the course of justice” for a post giving advice to students worried about facing arrest following the Millbank protests last week.
Fitwatch was formed three years ago as a street-level response to intimidation and harassment from the forward intelligence teams (Fits), with tactics ranging from blocking cameras to printing numbers, names and photographs of known police officers on our blog, and offering advice to demonstrators about staying safe in protest situations.
Through our research, and criminal trials for blocking police cameras, Fitwatch has been instrumental in bringing much of the information about protester databases and the domestic extremist units into the public domain.
Our success in challenging the behaviour of Fits has obviously made us unpopular with the police, and there have been various attempts to intimidate us over the last three years.
However, the closing of our website is a new direction with worrying implications for bloggers everywhere. Fitwatch has been highly critical of policing strategies, and only a few hours before the site was taken down published a piece criticising the way the police have been seeking to capitalise on the protests to justify further repression and to avoid cuts in their budgets. This is a highly suspicious attempt at preventing dissent and it must be resisted.
Unfortunately for the police, this is already happening. The offending post has been spreading rapidly around the internet since last night, and the support we’ve received has been phenomenal. This is not the end of Fitwatch – we will carry on resisting intimidatory policing and fighting for the rights of protesters.