THE BLOG

Counter Terrorism Bill Is Counter to Our Liberties

22/01/2015 11:40 GMT | Updated 23/03/2015 09:59 GMT

We're about to live in a 1984-style, Orwellian state. Well, we're already halfway there, but the latest counter-terrorism legislation being pushed through Parliament will truly certify our status as the most surveilled country in Europe.

We should be worried. We should be worried, but most importantly, we should be angry, and fighting.

The legislation, first proposed in November by Theresa May, will place a statutory obligation on universities to spy on their students. Universities are being expected to spot individuals who are 'at risk of radicalisation', and then refer them, without their knowledge or consent, to the police. The police agency CHANNEL will then monitor that individual and if they are seen to be a potential risk, offer them a support package aimed at deradicalising them.

The 'radical' can then accept or decline the package. It is unclear what happens to that persons data once they have declined, which is one of the worrying ambiguities of the bill.

There are other concerns too, but it is important to acknowledge that in a climate where there is an undeniable clash of ideologies taking place in our world, and acts of terror being committed by individuals rather than organised networks, it may seem a necessary approach to take. However, this could not be more wrong.

Legislation like this undermines the very reason why universities exist. Universities are spaces where students come to learn and challenge ideas. It is also an opportunity to be radical. Radicalism is one of the best things about being a student. We are fuelled with passion, we have more time than the working person to challenge authority and the status quo. We are part of a collective - our students Unions, which comprise thousands of students.

Yet, the guidance looks to target those who have "a desire for status", "a desire for excitement and adventure", "a desire for political or moral change" or "being at a transitional time of life". This in effect, describes the average university student. Does this mean universities should be referring us all to the police to be monitored? Does this mean we should all sit down and shut up?

The questions that subjective criteria like this raise, highlights how poorly the legislation has been drafted. But more than that, it highlights how dangerous the passing of this bill could be to our liberties. Students are here to convey their desire for political or moral change. We do so without fear of repercussion.

Introducing a statutory obligation for us to be monitored will fundamentally change our ability to be ourselves and say what we wish; it will have a chilling effect.

It will see a destruction of the relationship between students and staff, as frontline staff in student services, and Deans are expected to undertake the WRAP training - essentially a 'Spot a Terrorist 101'.

That is not all, however. To lose sight of the fact that the counter terrorism bill is a concerted attempt to target Muslims, would be irresponsible. 75 per cent of referrals to Channel have been of Muslims.

And as we have seen above, the criteria for judging who should be suspected of radicalism, is reasonably vague to facilitate the targeting of our Muslim and black communities.

We need to challenge any attempt to target Muslim students in this way. The acts of terror are simply that - acts of terror. We should not be holding every Muslim to account for acts of very, very few. Yet, Islamic societies across the country fear that this bill will do exactly that.

My final plea would be that if all those are prepared to stand up and defend freedom of expression in the case of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, they should also be prepared to stand up and defend our students freedom of expression in the case of this counter-terrorism legislation.

To fail do so would be hypocritical. It would be cowardly. And it would be giving tacit consent to an agenda that promotes state authoritarianism, limits our ability to challenge power, and targets Muslims on an unprecedented scale.

We now have to say no more to these targeted programs. This is not what our universities stand for. This is not what our students Unions stand for. But most importantly, this is not what our country should stand for.