14:14, August 14 303 0 theguardian.com

2017-08-14 14:14:03
Universities are not spying on students

Giles Fraser contributes to the mythology about the Prevent duty in universities rather than helping to dispel it (Universities stop spying on their students? That’s a radical idea, 4 August). The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 imposes a statutory obligation on schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” (the “Prevent duty”).

Yet, apart from a few tendentious and unsubstantiated anecdotes of the kind Fraser cites, there is no evidence that universities are implementing this obligation to “spy upon students”. For one thing “spying”, as opposed to awareness and management of risk, is prohibited by the guidelines to the act. For another, universities lack the information-processing systems to facilitate it. In fact, the norm throughout the sector is for the Prevent duty to be managed by student welfare services and for the risk of being drawn into terrorism to be treated as a vulnerability akin to suicide or becoming involved in other forms of crime as either perpetrator or victim.

To claim that “Prevent doesn’t really care about Christians” because it was “set up to snoop on Muslims and universities have become [its] accomplices” is a distortion of a much more complex reality. Among many other things, this neglects the fact that in certain parts of the UK the principal problem that the Prevent programme has to deal with is Islamophobic and other forms of rightwing extremism, some inspired by the warped aspiration to defend Christendom from Islam.

Steven Greer Professor of human rights, University of Bristol Law School

Lindsey Bell Lecturer in law, School of Law, Royal Holloway

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters