Hundreds of Muslim students have had their personal details given to the security services by their own student union.
Students at University College London have discovered that their student union officers were approached by MI5. The officers handed 900 names of Muslim students who were members of the union Islamic society.
Details of both present and past members of the Islamic Society were given to MI5.
Students were shocked to find that their own student union officers had co-operated with the security services without telling the students concerned.
Union officer were not presented with any legal requirement to comply with the MI5 request. They have now apologised to students for breaching their personal security and privacy.
London Student reports that James Hodgson, UCL Student Activities Officer, admitted that “mistakes were made” when mobile phone numbers and email addresses of Islamic Society and Medical Islamic Society members were released to Anti-Terror Police, without a legal requirement to do so.
The data was released in connection with the alleged Christmas Day bomb plot on a flight to Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was president of UCL’s Islamic Society between 2006-7. Hogdson apologized at UCL’s Emergency General Meeting on Tuesday 9th March, adding; “It is now a UCLU policy to not release data, unless it is legally binding to do so.”
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) has been applying pressure on UCL for some time to determine who passed on unwarranted personal information.
The disclosure took place at precisely the time when the Provost of UCL was defending student civil liberties in the face of calls for greater monitoring of Muslim students.
Gareth Peirce, the prominent human rights lawyer, advised the Islamic Society during the affair. She told the Independent that the police's actions were "completely inappropriate".
She said: "You wonder if he [Abdulmutallab] had been a member of a society without the name Islamic on it, then would there have been such an appetite to grab the information. It adds to the fear that the Muslim community is a suspect community. The whole concept of data protection was meant to nail down absolute privacy and here it is being breached without a legal reason being imposed on the university to comply."
Eric Metcalfe, at the Justice student human rights network, said he believed it was another example of "heavy-handed" policing aimed at countering radicalism rather than investigating alleged crime. "There is no reason why the police can't go to court and persuade a magistrate to issue a warrant with which the university would have to comply," he said. "But this seems more about heavy-handed intelligence gathering, which may not have respected the privacy rights of the students."
Zubair Idris a second-year international medical student at UCL, said: "I feel frustrated and outraged. To pass on 900 student details because they were members of UCL Islamic Society is ridiculous. The reason I joined the society was for socio-cultural reasons. I've never seen the guy [Abdulmutallab]. I wasn't here when he was at university. "
Zin Derfoufi, of FOSIS, said; “Universities should be safe for all students without feeling they’ll have their privacy infringed. They’ve got to uphold their obligations, and not release unwarranted information without consulting the students themselves.”
FOSIS are expected to release a document next week which advises students and universities on the Data Protection Act, and will clarify exactly when institutions are legally required to hand over personal information to the police.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.
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