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UK: Rights groups call on Home Office to investigate ‘haphazard’ collection of Prevent data

A freedom of information request found police recorded data for race and religion for Prevent referrals in a minority of cases
Police have admitted to collecting only partial data on the race and ethnicity of people referred to Prevent (AFP)

Human rights groups in the UK are calling on the Home Secretary to urgently review how the police handles and records data related to the race of people referred to the controversial Prevent programme.

A freedom of information request by Rights and Security International (RSI), a human rights advocacy group, found that police in England and Wales were collecting data about people’s race and religion in a minority of cases when referring them to Prevent.

Sarah St Vincent, the executive director of the RSI, called on the Home Office to review the police’s processes and said the apparent “haphazard” method of collecting data made “the monitoring of potential discrimination impossible". 

“This letter shows that a broad range of groups acting in the name of racial justice, digital rights, and the rights of Muslims in the UK, among others, are disturbed by this apparently messy collection of data about people’s race and ready to push for change,’ said Vincent.

“The question of when and why police are gathering – or not gathering – information about a sensitive aspect of people’s identities such as race or religion is a very serious one.”

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Eleven groups, also including Amnesty International and the Muslim Council of Britain, signed the letter urging Home Secretary James Cleverly to “investigate and explain how these haphazard data handling practices arose; end those practices; and immediately make the necessary plans to review the compliance of Prevent with equality and data protection laws".

Earlier this month, the Guardian newspaper reported that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) keeps a database of Prevent referrals but did not have - or could not easily identify - data about the person’s race in 33,116 out of 51,204 referrals between 2015 and 2023.

Last year, the Home Office responded to concerns raised by the RSI about data collection practices related to Prevent referrals. It said there is a “lot of missing data” regarding the race and ethnicity of people referred to Prevent and Channel, a deradicalisation programme offered to people reported to Prevent.

The Home Office added: “Our case management data is based on the ethnicity of the individual as recorded by the case officer. It is not based on self-defined ethnicity.

Data 'may not' be accurate

“The data may, therefore, not always be accurate since it relies on the assessment by the case officer.”

The letter comes after digital rights campaigners last week warned that data collected about thousands of children referred to Prevent over the last decade could remain on databases for years and, in some cases, for the rest of their lives.

It also follows concerns raised by rights groups earlier this week about the creation of a new complaints unit for Prevent within the Home Office-backed Commission for Countering Extremism.

Amnesty told Middle East Eye that the new Standards and Compliance Unit "should not sit behind closed doors" within the Home Office, and would not address the "real harms" caused by Prevent.

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