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Countryside Alliance holds personal files on thousands

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    Hunt lobby holds personal files on thousands http://www.guardian.co.uk/hunt/Story/0,2763,823883,00.html John Vidal and Stuart Millar Friday November 1, 2002
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2002
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      Hunt lobby holds personal files on thousands
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/hunt/Story/0,2763,823883,00.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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