The government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism, the Guardian has learned.
The information the authorities are trying to find out includes political and religious views, information on mental health, sexual activity and associates, and other sensitive information, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Other documents reveal that the intelligence and information can be stored until the people concerned reach the age of 100.
Tonight Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, branded it the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties.
The intelligence is being gathered as part of the strategy Preventing Violent Extremism – Prevent for short. It was launched three years ago to stop people being lured to al-Qaida ideology and committing acts of terrorism.
The government and police have repeatedly denied that the £140m programme is a cover for spying on Muslims in Britain. But sources directly involved in running Prevent schemes say it involves gathering intelligence about the thoughts and beliefs of Muslims who are not involved in criminal activity.
Still, this aspect of the Prevent strategy is not without its supporters. See “Spying morally right, says thinktank“, which reports Ed Husain of the Quilliam Foundation as stating that “it is good and it is right” that the state should be “gathering intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences”. He dismisses opponents of this approach as “liberal do-gooders” or “Islamists”. As the article points out, “the foundation received £700,000 from the government” under Prevent. Some sources put the total figure even higher.
The article also reports: “The Conservatives are seriously considering adopting a new policy called Preventing Extremism. Among those who would be considered extreme under those plans are those who advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries; those promoting Sharia law; and those who believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military….”
Ed Husain and the Quilliam Foundation will no doubt be eager to provide assistance.