According to a new report by the Guardian, UK counter-terrorism police across the country have been running a secret database that contains the details and personal information of thousands of civilians referred to the controversial Prevent program. Prevent, created in 2003 but amended to allow public servants to report individuals in 2015 under the UK government’s wider CONTEST strategy, aims to divert people “at risk” for terrorism before the act is committed, and has long been critisized for targeting already marginalized people in the UK.
This secret database, from the National Police Prevent Case Management (PCM), is managed by the national counter-terrorism policing headquarters and has been reportedly accessible for all police forces across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The Home Office has full access to the entire database.
Those who have been referred to Prevent are reportedly listed in this database, which is now accessible to counter-terrorism police regardless of whether or not they actually pose a threat or not. Those who have been referred to this database are not notified however, making this entire scheme highly controversial as the government has now full access to personal information without the person’s consent or knowledge.
Gracie Bradley, a Liberty policy and campaigns manager, stated in response to this database:
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…This secret database isn’t about keeping us safe. It’s about keeping tabs on and controlling people – particularly minority communities and political activists.”
Although the exact number of people on this secret database are currently unknown, Liberty found that up to 21,042 individuals have been referred to Prevent in just the past three years up until 2018 alone. From 2017 to 2018, a reported 7,318 people were referred to the Prevent program by people in the public sector, including educators, doctors, and police. 57% of those referred were aged 20 or younger.
Those who make the referrals are mostly public servants, such as teachers, doctors, as well as police, who believe an individual may have extremist tendencies towards terrorism. This, however, remains highly controversial and extremely detrimental to British Muslims, who are more often than not targeted and reported for simply being Muslim.
Harun Khan, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, stated in response:
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.”
In response to this immense database, the Met police have stated that an individual can challenge the decision of having their name referred and held in this database. However as individuals are not informed when they have been referred, it remains to be seen how they can contest the referral when no knowledge is shared about who is in the database.
As Prevent and counter-terrorism measures within the UK come under further scrutiny, it becomes even more worrying when secret databases, accessible to police forces across the UK, have full access to the information of citizens who are not even aware of being referred.