Rahila Gupta

The State is Watching

14 July 2020, New Humanist

The inclusion of eco-activists in the Prevent counter-terrorism programme is only the tip of the iceberg.

Prevent, the British government’s principal counter-terrorism programme, has come under sustained criticism ever since New Labour introduced it in response to 9/11. Critics have pointed to its disproportionate focus on Muslims and the stigmatisation that follows a referral. It has come under scrutiny for its use of questionable semiotics to identify extremism and its targeting of large numbers of children under the age of 15. Then there is its strangling effect on freedom of speech and thought.

In October 2019, it was revealed that a database managed by the National Counter-Terrorism Policing Headquarters had collected the names and details of thousands of people who had passed through the programme – without their permission. This data is made available to other state agencies, even though a minuscule number of the individuals named – less than 1 per cent – has been of ongoing interest to the police.

The stated purpose of Prevent is to safeguard and support those vulnerable to radicalisation and prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. No quibble with that on the face of it. But the inclusion of Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion on their watchlist, revealed in January, turns a “protective” measure into universal surveillance. Since the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015 it has become a statutory duty for professionals to refer individuals of concern. Those charged with this duty work for institutions that come into contact with young people and children: education, social services, local authorities, health, youth services and the police.

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