King’s College London has admitted to monitoring the emails of its staff and students to prevent radicalisation. Forming part of the current government’s Prevent strategy, it seeks to find evidence of suspicious communication activity, at a time of increased terrorism risk following the recent Christmas market attack in Berlin.
KCL Students’ Union members condemned the strategy, stating that “students who have not committed any crimes are being treated as suspects”. A warning on the university’s email login page states members were consenting to the monitoring and recording of their emails by using the service. King’s claims that “under the terms of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015″, also known as ‘Prevent’, it has a “duty to aid the process of preventing people being drawn into terrorism.”
The subject of monitoring student emails has been particularly contentious, with NUS President, Malia Bouattia, accusing Prevent of “turning educational institutions against their own students, perpetuating a culture of fear, restricting academic freedoms, and normalising Islamophobia”. Much of Prevent’s controversy derives from allegations that it unfairly targets the Muslim community. Bouattia has also described Prevent as an “incredibly racist policy with incredibly racist intentions.”
KCL student Suhaib Majeed was given a life sentence in April 2016 for planning an Islamic State-inspired shooting in London, and had organised a campus event with a speaker with a history of supporting Al-Qaeda extremists. The infamous ISIS member, Mohammed Emwazi, commonly known as ‘Jihadi John’, studied in the nearby University of Westminster. Friends claimed he was radicalised soon after graduation, eventually appearing in several brutal beheading videos of ISIS hostages, including British citizens, before his death in November 2015.
A KCL student, speaking to The Mancunion, has said: “While I agree with our students’ union officer who said that KCL monitoring their students’ emails was a violation of trust, I have to say that I wasn’t surprised or shocked by the news at all. I don’t want this to sound like a conspiracy theory, but I do wonder which internet platforms or networks you can use nowadays without being monitored?”
“The Prevent strategy is controversial but I believe that instead of doing what it sets out do, namely ensuring the safety of all students, it actually creates suspicions and prejudices where there shouldn’t be any. It is a sad state of affairs that the government has felt the need to bring this strategy into action.
“Without trying to sound too dramatic, it is just the reality we live in. I have not felt like there has been a large amount of protest at the university about it either. These stories come up, students are outraged for a day, post angry statuses on Facebook but by the end of the week it is practically forgotten.”
A KCL spokesman said the university was not “actively” monitoring emails, but simply notifying users that it had the obligation to do so, before adding: “King’s College London is proud of its diverse and inclusive community and any monitoring would form part of the usual security process.” The Higher Education Funding Council of England, responsible for implementing Prevent, said KCL’s actions were normal, with other institutions doing the same, calling it “consistent with the Prevent guidance”.
Writing in The Telegraph, Elliot Miller claimed that King’s email monitoring pre-dates the 2015 Prevent policy, with King’s stating it was monitoring “electronic communications at a network level” back in January 2014. He described Prevent as a “vital safeguarding mechanism”, with too many in the student movement seeking to downplay the problem of radicalisation and undermining efforts to challenge it.
Prevent will likely remain a controversial issue for years to come, with some seeing it as key to combatting terrorism, and others believing that it unfairly targets Muslims as potential terrorists.