The Expert View: Prevent, data collection and children’s rights

The UK’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy involves data collection and retention that is far from public scrutiny. It is a form of surveillance that can remain with a person for life, even when that person is a child at the first time of collection. One of the most pressing concerns that was noted in the People’s Review of Prevent was related to data collection and retention – as well as the opaque nature of the processes by which an individual who has interacted with Prevent can have their data removed from different lists. Because of the fact that an individual may have their data collected even when a Prevent referral is not needed, the Prevent strategy is a vast data collecting mechanism, and this data is often used to “prove” that it “is working”. These “false positives” (around 95%), represent people wrongly targeted by counter-extremism, many of them children. Government provides annual data on the number of “cases associated with Prevent”. But it is important not to treat these data, or any trends they exhibit as a real reflection of the impact of the policy, or on the amount of data collected. This is because children and young people, their families and carers, and other individuals come under suspicion, often due to a “feeling” by someone in their environment (often impacted by Prevent’s discriminatory nature). The individual will then be “vetted” – that is, interviewed – by a counter terrorism officer, frequently involving social workers if the referred individual is a child, before a decision is made whether to make a formal referral to a local Prevent Panel. At this Panel, they will consider whether or not the case is suitable for Channel (“deradicalisation”). The only data made available to us is on formal Prevent referrals (collected for England and Wales and made available through Home Office Statistics). However, even if an individual is not referred, harms will already have been done to children and young people at the earliest stages of this process, including and preceding the initial interview. Moreover, an individual’s data records will still be kept (within schools, for example, as evidence to Ofsted inspectors of compliance with the Prevent duty) even if a referral isn’t made. This means that additionally, a child or young person’s data will be held across an unknown number of databases, including criminal databases, when they have committed no crime, nor ever intended one – and even when Prevent itself has stated that there is no concern with the individual. It is also very difficult – as demonstrated by several cases – to get an individual’s data removed from a database even if by Prevent’s own logic it was ‘misinformed’ and even where the individual is a child. This is in violation of children’s and adults’ privacy rights. In some cases, this has impacted a young person’s placement at college and university. A child or young person also does not have to consent to their data being taken or shared. This means that colleges and other institutions may share students’ data without their permission, as was reported by The Guardian. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights has raised this as a key area in which Prevent may be violating human rights, and for us it is just another reason why Prevent must be withdrawn, especially from education.

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