Surveillancing “Mistakes”, PREVENT and the Muslim Minority

With the Snowden documents pointing to a culture of pervasion with regards to the invasion of privacy, a recent report has further shed some light on the regulation of these invasions.

According to the Independent, there was a “shockingly high” number of incidents of privacy of individuals being breached by the MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. Out of the 318 warrants examined, 33 were “mistakes” which had led to unacceptable breach of privacy.  In other words, one in ten people surveilled are done so incorrectly.  The “mistakes” are claimed to be not intentional, however this is coming from an investigation by the Intelligence Services Commissioner against the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and whose accountability to parliament is “non-existent”. This Act has been comprehensively criticised for being ineffectual and definitely not human-rights compliant. As Eric Metcalf states,

“As Justice’s new report shows, Ripa doesn’t restrain surveillance so much as actively license it. Indeed, it is nowadays hard to find a public body in the UK that doesn’t have access to surveillance powers of some kind. This would be less problematic if only Ripa contained sufficient safeguards against unnecessary surveillance. In truth, the great majority of surveillance under Ripa is essentially self-authorised by the public body itself, as the sorry case of Poole borough council shows. Of just under 3m surveillance decisions taken under Ripa since October 2000, less than 5,000 of these were approved by a judge. You might not think that the best check against unnecessary surveillance by a public official was a more senior official in the same department, but that is the way that Ripa works for the most part. There are oversight commissioners, but they appear to rely heavily on “dip-sampling”, and it seems highly doubtful that they examine more than a small fraction of the authorisations that are actually made.”

Human Rights are what protect the citizens against state abuses, because it provides a reasonable solution to the problem of “who polices the government”.  However those rights seemed to have been side-lined by the security services.

The Need to Prevent PREVENT

The surveillance culture exists within PREVENT also. With the focus shifting from engineering Islam to criminalising Islam with the current PREVENT strategy, PREVENT officers deal with “ideological” indicators. They are alerted to by public body employees, be they doctors, teachers or governors of a school. PREVENT creates a surveillance culture which skirts the aforementioned RIPA and makes it potentially even more dangerous than the security service activities.

Whereas security services are trained and (somewhat weakly) regulated, those implementing the extra-judicial PREVENT are common people, with little expertise in counter-terrorism, employing incredibly broad criteria to spot a terrorist in the making.  The culture of unregulated surveillance destroys community relationships, fosters a suspicious, fear-inducing climate and inhibits free speech: will a Muslim student in college who increases his religiosity, be able to freely criticise government policies, or refute common stereotypes in the media about Islam and Muslims, without coming on the PREVENT radar of an overzealous teacher, thereby risking his career?

PREVENT police are known to use questionable methods and act beyond their remit. Prying into disconnected issues, making their presence felt to activists, dissuading Muslim venues from encouraging demonstrations, and harassing families (see Concluding Remarks, here) are but a few examples.

The Nazi-eque PREVENT policy needs to be scrapped.

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