Students’ Union takes stand against “chilling” anti-terror legislation which forces universities to spy on students
Cardiff University Students’ Union has called for the new Counter-Terrorism Bill to be revoked and has raised serious questions over the legality of the national act, which threatens to isolate a demographic already facing prejudice amongst growing fears of radicalisation.
The Union released a statement online on Wednesday, February 16th in which it called for the immediate termination of the Bill which critics fear will feed growing Islamaphobia across the UK and turn universities into institutions of surveillance.
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 is the brainchild of Home Secretary Theresa May and achieved royal assent on February 12th, giving the act the seal of approval to be rolled out under UK law. Under the Bill, universities will shoulder the responsibility of monitoring the activity of students suspected of radical practices, but the Union has raised questions over the incompatibility of the Bill with its commitment to students’ freedom of speech.
Whilst numerous governing powers have been devolved to the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff Bay, the issue of security and counter-terrorism remain under the domain of Parliament in Westminster.
The National Union of Students has already denounced the Bill on the grounds that it will contribute to an atmosphere ‘of suspicion and surveillance on campuses’, as well as creating a clash with universities’ long-held duty to freedom of speech.
However, the Union has only recently aired its opposition, declaring: ‘The Bill proposes a number of new measures that build upon decades of previous ‘anti-extremism’ legislation that has served to legitimise mass surveillance and erode the civil liberties of people in the UK.’
It adds: ‘Placing a vague statutory responsibility on universities to ‘prevent people being drawn into terrorism’, and giving the Government undefined powers to order that ‘extremist’ speakers be banned risks further developing a culture of suspicion and surveillance on campuses.’
University should be a space for learning rather than vigilance, according to the Union’s statement, which asserts: ‘Any expectation by the state for academic staff to be involved in monitoring their students is deeply worrying, and could have a chilling effect on relations between staff and students.
‘We fundamentally believe that our institution is a place for education, not surveillance.’
Across the UK, university academics and MPs have come forward to condemn the Act. Amongst other clauses aimed at reducing the threat of terror and radicalisation of civilians across the UK, the Act legally binds universities to identify students at risk of radicalisation and refer them to anti-extremist programmes.
At the beginning of this month over 500 professors put their names to an open letter, addressed to May, in which they cruised the Bill for being ‘both unnecessary and ill-conceived’, adding that the measures are part of a ‘Draconian [crackdown] on the rights of students and academics.’
Within the Union, voices were raised against the Bill out of fear of its impact on the University’s religious societies and activities. A representative of the University’s Islamic Society commented:
“The university’s stance on the [Counter-Terrorism Bill] is absolutely welcomed by Cardiff University Islamic society as a move to fundamentally protect the rights of our own members and many other university students alike. We are extremely pleased that the SU has taken this stance.”
A third year ENCAP student commented: “I feel like this act is nothing more than the Government’s attempt to shirk responsibility and thus blame onto other institutions that should have no involvement in the first place.”
The Union’s statement is the result of a successful motion submitted to the Student Senate by Nadine Dahan earlier this month. Dahan’s ‘Students Not Suspects’ motion urged the Union to denounce the Bill as well as support an enquiry into the legality of the proposals under the Equality Act 2010 and the Education Act No. 2 1986. The Senate voted unanimously in favour of the motion.
Fadhila Ali spoke to Gair Rhydd during that initial Senate meeting, accusing the measure of targeting “particular demographics within the University committee” and “was not compatible with the ideal of free speech.”
The Union declared it will collaborate with the NUS in opposing the Bill, proclaiming: ‘We call for the Bill to be stopped with immediate effect, and we support an enquiry into the legality of the proposals under the Equality Act 2010 and the Education Act No. 2 1986.’