Hunting and anti-hunting groups locked in tit-for-tat row over data gathering

by Joseph K. Clark

Longstanding disagreements between hunting groups and anti-hunting activists have broken out into allegations of illegal data gathering from both sides.

Activists claim that two leaked internal documents created by pro-hunting groups suggest they are collecting and holding personal information on hunt saboteurs – activists that use sabotage as a form of direct action to stop illegal fox hunting – and further suggest the data is being shared with counter-terror police.

anti-hunting groups locked

The saboteurs have accused the hunting groups of illegally collecting their personal information and are now seeking to instigate multiple claims under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

However, there are allegations these documents have been obtained illegally and may be the subject of a criminal investigation. The hunt supporters involved are also concerned about how the activists might use personal information about hunt members following a series of recent data breaches. The hunting groups and hunt saboteurs deny engaging in any illegal activity.

Monthly reports on anti-hunting activists

The data collection practices of the Hunting Office (HO), a central organization delegated to run the administrative advisory. Supervisory functions of the UK’s hunting associations, and the Countryside Alliance (CA), a campaign organization with over 100,000 members that promotes rural issues, have been questioned by activists running a website called Hunting Leaks.

The website owners said that a monthly round-up of anti-hunting activity – which appears to have been shared via email with hunts across the UK – was passed on to Hunting Leaks by an undisclosed animal rights group.

The leaked document, a report on saboteur activity between 14 November and 12 December 2020, lists the names of anti-hunting groups, the terms of 30 activists (some of which are referred to multiple times), and information about their vehicles, including registration numbers.

It also includes information on the number of anti-hunting activists in attendance, details about their movements and activity on a given hunt day, and guidance for how to hunt members should approach collecting information and video footage.

For example, hunt members should not engage with saboteurs as they use heavily edited footage on social media to discredit the hunt. Any photographs or video footage should be gathered non-confrontational to put hunt supporters in any dangerous situations.

The document further states the collection of this information has directly led to a number of successful convictions against hunt opponents.

In response to questions from Computer Weekly, the CA said its practices are compliant with GDPR, adding that detailed legal advice was sought and transparent processes have been put in place.

A CA spokesperson said: “There is no justification for leaking and publishing the details of private individuals who support a lawful activity other than to intimidate them and leave them vulnerable to harassment. We hope the police will investigate this matter thoroughly and punish those responsible appropriately.”

Data protection concerns

The Telegraph reported on 22 January 2021 that three hunts – the New Forest Hounds, the Cottesmore Hunt, and the Mendip Farmers’ Hunt – have all been hit by data breaches this month, where home addresses and contact details were published online by anti-hunting groups. However, it is unclear if the violations are connected to the leaks in question.

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