Extent of Prevent counter-terror surveillance of Scottish society to remain secret after FoI ruling

Scottish Government refuses to come clean on Prevent funding for public bodies

THE SCOTTISH INFORMATION COMMISSIONER (IC) has decided to uphold attempts by the Scottish Government to keep secret the extent of public surveillance through the UK’s Prevent anti-terrorism strategy.

The Scottish Government has provided funding to public bodies to implement Prevent guidance, which is being rolled out across Scottish civic society, which campaigners fear endangers civil liberties and will be ineffective in protecting the public from terrorism.

Though Freedom of Information (FoIs) requests have revealed some of the charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) receiving funds for Prevent training and implementation, the majority have been kept from public view by the IC’s decision to uphold the Scottish Government’s refusal to comply with FoIs on health and safety grounds.

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), the civil rights campaign driving opposition to Prevent implementation in Scotland, has complained that the Scottish Government only made the appeal on health and safety grounds after the matter was taken to the IC.

SACC chair Richard Haley said: “The Scottish Government's last-minute addition of the health and safety issue - which they did not refer to in their initial response or in their internal review of their response - is a transparent device to avoid disclosure. It's harder to refute health and safety claims than other Freedom of Information exemptions. In this case, it has allowed the Commissioner to avoid scrutinising Ministers' claims about the relationship of the Prevent strategy to national security and crime prevention.

Almost 5000 Glasgow teachers have received prevent training in 2016

“The involvement of public-sector workers - teachers, university staff, social workers etc - in Prevent is openly accepted in official publications.

“There has never been any suggestion that these people are endangered by their work. People working for third-sector organisations may be perceived by minority communities as being more trustworthy than public-sector workers, but in fact some of them are also involved in Prevent. Scottish Government policy is evidently to conceal this fact and to use any argument that comes to hand to do so.

“The fact that the Commissioner accepted Ministers' submissions that the mental, as well as the physical health and safety of individuals was likely to be endangered speaks volumes about the work that these individuals have been drawn into by the Scottish Government and their own management.”

SACC calculates that those bodies which have received funds, including some whose funding is recorded publicly by Companies House, accounts for only around 13 per cent of the total funding earmarked for aiding in the implementation of Prevent guidance across civil society.

The information was initially sought by Dr Julia Davidson in August 2016, who has had to campaign to have any of the information made public.

In its report, the IC said: “Disclosure of the information would, the Ministers believed, put individuals and organisations working with Prevent at serious risk of reprisal, injury, harm or harassment from those who support and endorse terrorism and/ or those who have been vociferous in their condemnation of Prevent.”

The Prevent strategy requires persons in positions of authority to report on the activities of people they believe to be suspect. Critics claim that the signs of radicalisation Prevent trains people to monitor are broad and nebulous and that the encouragement to monitoring and informing is illiberal and isolates minority communities – particularly the Muslim community.

A new spotlight was shed on the uses of Prevent in charities and similar public institutions after CommonSpace revealed in 2016 that ChildLine staff were receiving Prevent training from the Home Office, raising the fears over the confidentiality and safety of the service, run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Exclusive: Childline staff receiving controversial Prevent anti-terrorism training

Many public servants have refused to comply with Prevent, due to concerns over its encouragement to monitor members of the public. Almost 5000 teachers in the Glasgow area received some form of Prevent training in 2016.

CommonSpace contacted both the Scottish Government and the IC for comment on the decision, but neither responded by the time of publication.

SACC is encouraging those who oppose Prevent to sign up to the ‘Together Against Prevent’ statement.

Picture courtesy of duncan c

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.

CommonSpace journalism is completely free from the influence of advertisers and is only possible with your continued support. Please contribute a monthly amount towards our costs. Build the Scotland you want to live in - support our new media.