The Counterterrorism and Security Bill 2014-15 has all but completed its swift passage into law. Sponsored by Theresa May and Lord Bates of the Home Office, it promises to expand the state’s paranoid reach in predictable ways: new powers to seize passports and bar UK citizens from returning home; a requirement that internet service providers collect data on users; a provision that airlines and rail and shipping companies may have to seek permission from the Home Office to carry certain groups of people.
More novel is the bill’s requirement that schools and universities conduct surveillance on their students. Section 25.1 states that education institutions are among the ‘specified authorities’ – along with councils, prisons, hospitals and police chiefs – that must ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. The Home Office has published guidance notes on how this duty is to be fulfilled. Administrators must conduct ‘risk assessments’ to uncover ‘where and how’ their students might be drawn to extremist ideology, including ‘non-violent extremism’. All staff members should be trained in ways to ‘challenge extremist ideas’, and if they find anyone who appears ‘vulnerable to being drawn into extremism’, refer them to local anti-terrorism panels for ‘support’. It isn’t only students who will get the benefit of these panels; the bill will mean that any member of the public can be referred to them by a specified authority.
In addition, all visiting speakers must be vetted for their anti-extremist credentials at least two weeks in advance, and their lecture notes and slides scrutinised. Maybe this will help procrastinating academics to plan their lectures ahead of time. Or perhaps they will just stop speaking. Lords Macdonald and Pannick have moved an amendment to Section 25 pointing out that, in addition to the duty to fight terrorism, educational institutions ‘shall also have due regard to the maintenance of academic freedom and freedom of expression within the law’.