Liberty uncovers secret Prevent database

By agency reporter
October 8, 2019

The human rights group Liberty has uncovered a secret government Prevent database being used to monitor and control communities.

The database, which was uncovered by Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by Liberty, is held by the police and includes the sensitive personal information of every referral ever received by Prevent – the Government’s 'anti-extremism' scheme.

It includes the vast majority of referrals which have not resulted in any de-radicalisation action – meaning potentially thousands of people have been entered into a secret Government database based purely on what they are perceived to think or believe.

Information on the database is gathered by public servants such as teachers who are compelled by Prevent to monitor and report signs of what they believe could indicate extremism.

The FOIs revealed that every police force can add people to the database, and that the Home Office has access to it. They also revealed people are not told that they are on the database or what information is held, making it near impossible to challenge.

Liberty believes that because this database is built by the police – with information held and shared without people’s knowledge or consent – it disproves the Government’s recent claim that Prevent is a safeguarding policy.

Gracie Bradley, Liberty policy and campaigns manager, said: “This secret database isn’t about keeping us safe. It’s about keeping tabs on and controlling people – particularly minority communities and political activists.

“It is utterly chilling that potentially thousands of people, including children, are on a secret Government database because of what they’re perceived to think or believe. Along with the Gangs’ Matrix and the Massive Migrant Database, this database is just the latest example of the Government’s increasingly totalitarian approach to policing.

“The current Prevent Review is the chance to give this damaging strategy the robust independent scrutiny it desperately needs – but the Government has hamstrung it before it’s even started. As a start Ministers must rethink their appointment of a reviewer who has said he is biased towards Prevent.” The reviewer appointed by the government is Lord Carlile.

A mother whose children were detained by their primary school for police questioning due to Prevent, and who cannot be named to protect the children’s identity, said: “It's been nearly four years since Prevent training led two experienced teachers to think my family were potential terrorists because my two small boys had toy guns. Their experience of this discrimination and being held in isolation as a result has stayed with us. My boys are eight and 10 now, and although they have largely moved on they retain a distrust of authorities which we hoped would fade with time.

“The possibility their names could be on an unknown record fills me with dread for my boys’ future.  A situation I thought was over is suddenly looming over us again and could affect their education, their career, their housing and more. The fact the secrecy surrounding this database makes it impossible to measure the true impact – or challenge – only adds to the fear we feel. The ramifications of the Government holding a database of this nature are not only for my boys' future – but the future of all our children.”

Harun Khan, Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain, said: “That a database is being compiled by police forces detailing every Prevent referral is deeply worrying. That it is secret is even more concerning.

“This database – over and above being a hugely authoritarian tool – will mean that the vast majority of those referred, who are found to have no terrorism link, will still be perceived as potential risks by the state, and this will disproportionately affect Muslims.

“Our questions on transparency, accountability and oversight around Prevent now become even more important. Will the Home Office and police release information on the demographic breakdown of this database and how it is used? Furthermore, have they considered the impact this will have on Muslim communities who already feel over policed and misunderstood?”

The FOIs found people do not know how long information is held, which other Government departments or outside organisations such as the NHS or local authorities can access it, or what decisions  could be affected by inclusion on the database.

It is not known if inclusion would show up on an enhanced criminal record check, or how many people are on the database. In 2017-2018 alone, there were 7318 referrals to Prevent.

In 2017-2018, more than nine out of ten Prevent referrals were not passed to Channel – the next step in the Government’s anti-extremism programme.

Two thirds (4144) of people referred to Prevent in that year were under the age of 20, and one third (2462) of referrals were made by the education sector.

* Liberty https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/

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