January 19, 2017 at 10:21PM

One of the UK’s most prestigious universities has warned students and staff that their emails may be retained and monitored as part of the government’s Prevent programme to stop radicalisation on campuses.

Campaigners have raised concern after King’s College London (KCL) introduced a warning on its email login page stating that by using the system students and staff were consenting to their emails being “monitored and recorded”.

A spokesperson for KCL’s students’ union said it was a violation of trust, adding: “Students who have not committed any crimes are being treated as suspects.”

The introduction of the Prevent duty within universities remains hugely contentious, with both academic staff and students arguing that it risks creating a culture of mistrust and shutting down vital debate.

The KCL login notice states: “This system is for the use of King’s College London authorised users only. Individuals using this computer system without authority or in excess of their authority are subject to having all of their activities on this system monitored and recorded.

“King’s has a statutory duty under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, termed Prevent. The purpose of this duty is to aid the process of preventing people being drawn into terrorism. You must not create, download, store or transmit unlawful material or material that is indecent, offensive, defamatory, threatening, discriminatory or extremist. The university reserves the right to block or monitor access to such material.

“Anyone using this system expressly consents to such monitoring and is advised that if such monitoring reveals possible evidence of criminal activity or activity contrary to the Prevent statement above, system personnel may provide the evidence of such monitoring to law enforcement officials.”

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Prevent duty in universities, said KCL’s actions were not unusual, and it indicated other institutions were doing the same.

“The university make it clear to users of their systems what is and isn’t acceptable usage and how they identify cases where those rules aren’t adhered to,” a Hefce spokesman said. “This approach is consistent with the Prevent guidance. Within this guidance, providers have had the autonomy to decide what approach works for them. Some have gone down the route of filtering, some monitoring and some neither of these.”

A spokesperson for KCL, which is home to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, said the university was not “actively” monitoring emails, but was notifying users that it had the obligation and right to do so if required. The notice was updated in November.

“The changes to text on the sign-in screen indicate our obligations under Prevent with regards to such policy. We are following best practice for the sector as advised by UCISA [Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association] and defined by law, which determines what is and is not permissible use of institutional IT facilities.”

The spokesperson added: “King’s College London is proud of its diverse and inclusive community and any monitoring would form part of the usual security process.”

One KCL student told Middle East Eye, which first broke the story: “Knowing that our emails are being monitored creates a climate of fear and intimidation, especially for those involved in political activism on campus.

“Rather than keep us safe it will create more concern and paranoia for students and force many like myself who are politically active and Muslim to censor themselves.”

This week Hefce reported that universities were making good progress in implementing measures to fulfil their Prevent responsibilities. It said 84% of providers had robust policies in place, but by August 2016 almost 50 institutions were still not fully complying. Most of those hope to complete their obligations in the next few weeks.

Hefce said providers had introduced staff training, processes to deal with external speakers expressing extremist views, and clear routes for sharing and reporting concerns about individuals who might be vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

The universities minister, Jo Johnson welcomed Hefce’s report, saying: “Our higher education institutions have an important role to play in helping to prevent people being drawn into terrorism, whilst also maintaining freedom of speech on campus.

“It is encouraging that there is a broad range of actions being carried out by our universities. This shows how seriously they take their responsibilities to help keep their staff and students safe.”

The National Union of Students said it condemned any systematic monitoring of emails. “This is yet another example of how the Prevent agenda turns our educational institutions against their own students, perpetuates a culture of fear, restricts academic freedoms and normalises Islamophobia,” said the NUS president, Malia Bouattia.

“NUS is deeply concerned about the impact that systematic monitoring of messages will have on students, particularly black and Muslim students and those involved in political campaigns, activities or research.”

Her warnings were echoed by the University and College Union, which represents staff at universities. Its general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Monitoring emails demonstrates another chilling effect that the flawed Prevent agenda has on staff and students.

“Universities should desist from the type of reactions that risk creating a culture of mistrust on campus and actually shutting down debate on the very topics we should be exploring.”

from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2jUvd76