Countryside Alliance holds personal files on thousands

tliouk office at
Fri Nov 1 12:00:28 GMT 2002

Hunt lobby holds personal files on thousands,2763,823883,00.html
John Vidal and Stuart Millar
Friday November 1, 2002
The Guardian 

The Countryside Alliance has declared that it holds financial, 
sexual, religious and other personal intelligence on its opponents, 
using data from sources including private detectives, political 
groups, police and debt collection firms. 
According to its 27-page entry on the data protection register, the 
pro-hunt organisation, which coordinated the Liberty and Livelihood 
march of 400,000 people in London in September, also discloses 
information on its opponents to the police, the Inland Revenue, 
judges, the prison service, Customs and Excise, the Home Office and 
the armed forces. 

The alliance's vast entry in the register - one of the largest for a 
voluntary lobbying group - is believed to have been built up over 
years of being opposed by anti-hunters. The alliance, which has 
100,000 members, is believed to have a database of more than 400,000 
people who support it. 

Most organisations hold personal details on staff, membership and 
customers, but the alliance's entry reveals it holds data under 17 
different headings, ranging from administration and finance to 
fundraising and public relations. 

But it is the breadth of the data it holds for the purpose of "crime 
prevention and the prosecution of offenders" that suggests the 
alliance is maintaining records on individuals that are at least as 
comprehensive as those of the state. 

It declares that its intelligence gathered for crime prevention 
purposes is drawn from, among others, "employees, agents, private 
detective agencies, security organisations, police forces, political 
organisations, debt collection and tracing agencies, neighbours, 
friends, religious organisations and associations". 

It states that the data it holds on individuals may include "physical 
descriptions, habits, current marriage or partnerships, loans, 
mortgages, sexual life, mental health record, security details, 
student record, convictions, political opinions, lifestyle, ethnic 
origin, political opinion, religious beliefs, financial transactions, 
union membership, and infirmities". 

The subjects of these files may come from a bewildering range of 
backgrounds, according to the entry which lists 25 different 
categories of individual on whom records may be held. These include: 
competitors, complainants, witnesses, offenders and suspected 
offenders, minors, elected representatives, editors, immigrants and 
foreign nationals. 

The scale and breadth of the alliance's intelligence gathering goes 
well beyond the information held by other lobbying groups and 
political parties. 

Neither Greenpeace, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Labour and 
Conservative parties nor the National Farmers' Union hold such 
comprehensive records on individuals. The NFU entry is three pages 
long and Greenpeace's seven. 

The alliance is doing nothing illegal in holding its records. The 
Data Protection Act is concerned more with how personal data is 
handled than the nature of the data itself. 

Data protection sources yesterday cautioned against trying to read 
too much into entries on the register as organisations may err on the 
side of caution when filling in the forms. But one insider said a 27-
page entry appeared "extremely large" for a voluntary body with a 
narrow range of objectives. 

Anti-hunt groups voiced surprise at the size of the alliance 
files. "The alliance seems to treat people who oppose them like the 
quarry they hunt," said Doug Bachellor, head of the League Against 
Cruel Sports. 

Last night, the alliance defended its operation. "Our predecessor 
organisation [the British Field Sports Society] and people who hunt 
have been the subject of gross attacks, including bombings, over 20 
years. [The comprehensiveness] of the data register entry is a result 
of not unfounded security fears," a spokesman said. 

He later said the extent of the register entry was under review, but 
denied the organisation held sexual or financial data. "We hold stuff 
that has been in the public domain. Special branch have an animal 
rights index. We have no need for the information they hold." 

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