London university admits to monitoring student emails under pressure Government anti-terror programme

King’s College London is believed to be one of many universities to monitor student and staff emails as part of counter-extremist strategy Prevent

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Saturday 21 January 2017 12:05 GMT
King's College London
King's College London (Getty)

A top London university has admitted to spying on its staff and students as part of government efforts to prevent radicalisation on campus.

A notice on the King's College London (KCL) email login page warns members that emails can be “monitored and recorded” under the Government’s controversial anti-terror strategy Prevent.

Members of the KCL Students’ Union have called the measures a violation of trust, adding: “Students who have not committed any crimes are being treated as suspects”.

Commenting on the complaints, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) - responsible for overseeing the implementation of Prevent within universities - said KCL’s actions were not unusual, and suggested that other institutions were doing the same.

“This approach is consistent with the Prevent guidance,” a HEFCE spokesman said.

“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 message on the KCL website states that anyone using the system “expressly consents” to their correspondence being monitored, and advises users not to send any material deemed ”indecent, offensive, defamatory, threatening, discriminatory or extremist”, as the university has a statutory duty to report it.

Campaigners against Prevent argue the system risks creating a culture of mistrust, closing off open debate and unfairly targeting some ethnic and religious groups.

The National Union of Students has also condemned the systematic monitoring of private emails.

NUS President, Malia Bouattia said: “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.

“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.”

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 changes to text on the sign-in screen indicate our obligations under Prevent with regards to such policy,” they added.

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

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