New report reveals widespread data sharing and retention of Prevent referrals, including children’s data

A new report by digital campaigners, Open Rights Group, has found that the data of people who are referred to the Prevent programme is being widely shared, and that data is being retained for years even when referrals are marked ‘no further action’.

Thousands of Prevent referrals are made each year ostensibly to “support people susceptible to radicalisation”. The overwhelming majority do not meet the threshold for a Channel intervention (a multi-agency deradicalisation programme). Despite this, the data of Prevent referees is retained and shared across multiple databases, with potentially harmful outcomes.


Prevent and the Pre-Crime State: How unaccountable data sharing is harming a generation

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Key Findings

  • Referrals are stored within a national Prevent database, regardless of whether they meet the threshold to be reviewed by a Channel panel.
  • Data is being held for a minimum of six years but can be kept for up to 100 years. The rationale for this minimum retention period is to consider the possibility of “re-offending” – even though Prevent referees have not in fact committed a crime. If there is no policing purpose for retaining data, this retention could be unlawful. Individuals are not necessarily informed that their data is being stored nor whether their data has been deleted after the six-year period or further retained.
  • There appears to be a lack of oversight and parliamentary scrutiny over data sharing, processing and storage of Prevent referrals that are inappropriate for Channel interventions but which are managed by police-led partnerships. Once a case is managed by the police, national security exemptions can be applied to limit rights to rectification, access and removal. But the Intelligence and Security Committee does not deal with policing and the Independent reviewer of Terrorism Legislation does not oversee cases managed by police-led partnerships. This means that new counter terrorism capabilities are being built without Parliamentary oversight or legislative safeguards.
  • The data of some Prevent referees is being shared with airports, ports and immigration services. This could explain reports that people who have been referred to Prevent have subsequently been questioned at ports and airports under schedule 7.
  • It is very difficult for individuals to exercise their right to erasure and request data is removed because many will not know that they have been referred to Prevent. Even when they do know, the lack of transparency about data sharing makes it very difficult for individuals to find out all the different places that their data is being held.

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Harms for children

There are particular harms for children, who make up the majority of Prevent referrals. Even if they have not been previously known to social services, a Prevent referral is shared with children’s services and this information is kept for 25 years after the child’s 18th birthday. It would therefore still be available when that child is an adult and has children of their own, thus impacting any future assessment concerning their own children and any children’s services interventions.

The report includes case studies of children who have experienced harms as a result of being referred to Prevent. These include a 16-year-old who when trying to enroll at a Sixth Form College was instead questioned about incidents that had led to a Prevent referral at his secondary school more than two years prior. His place at the school was then withdrawn on the basis of “new information” that the Sixth Form College had been given by his secondary school.

About Prevent

Teachers, social workers, doctors and people working for other public authorities are required to refer individuals to Prevent if they are showing signs of radicalisation and if they meet a threshold defined by section 36 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015. If they agree, the individual can undertake an intervention under the Channel programme that assists in their deradicalisation via a multi-agency process. The overwhelming majority – on average around 90% over the last five years – of Prevent referrals do not meet these thresholds.

There have been several high profile cases where children have been referred to Prevent on spurious grounds, including a four year old child who was referred because his nursery teacher misheard ‘cucumber’ for ‘cookerbomb’.


ORG is calling on the government to:

  • Impose an immediate moratorium on Prevent referrals.
  • Introduce a blanket ban on the retention of data where thresholds under section 36 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act are not met.
  • Ultimately end the Prevent Duty to free resources to focus on evidence-based counter-terrorism strategies rather than speculative pre-crime guesswork.


“This is just another example of the blanket retention of data and unnecessary mass surveillance by the government. Not only is the Prevent policy ineffective, it is used as a vehicle to retain the data of hundreds of people every year with little purpose. Despite the lack of utility to state security, these referrals – and their storage, retention and sharing – can have disruptive and lasting impacts on individuals, including children as young as 6-years-old. The vast scope and opacity of sharing across databases and bodies means those referred under Prevent have little opportunity to exercise their data rights and have erroneous data about them removed. It’s time to scrap Prevent, to stop treating potentially vulnerable individuals as suspects to some future crime and allow people including students, safe spaces to process the world around them without fearing it will have them marked for life.”

Sophia Akram, ORG Programme Manager

“Prevent Watch has documented hundreds of cases where children have been inappropriately referred to Prevent and yet their data is stored across numerous databases. We cannot overlook how our children’s data is being handled following a Prevent referral, and we are only just starting to see the harms of this. We must advocate for children’s data rights and demand robust safeguards to them from the shadowy practices of Prevent. Open Rights Group’s report reveals the systemic abuse of data that we at Prevent Watch have documented over the last nine years and emphasises the urgent need to prioritise individual rights, particularly children’s rights, over speculative pre-crime interventions.”

Dr Layla Aitlhadj, Director and Senior caseworker at Prevent Watch

Case Studies

Sami, aged 6
Personal data about Sami, aged 6, was held in a database controlled by Counter Terrorism Police, because his father had refused to engage with the Prevent programme. It took his parents considerable time and effort to get his data removed.

Munir, aged 17
Munir’s secondary school shared his safeguarding file with information on his Prevent referral with his sixth form. When Munir got in trouble for breaching the dress code by wearing his Islamic dress outside of agreed Friday prayer times and discontinued an A level that he felt was antithetical to his views as a Muslim, the school accused him of not having inclusive values. His Prevent referral was referenced as further evidence of this, and he was sent home.

Tarik, aged 16
Tarik’s place at a sixth form college was withdrawn because of a Prevent referral made two years previously. Tarik thought he was going to enrol at the sixth form but was instead questioned about his religious views and opinions on jihad without his parents or a safeguarding officer present.

Notes to Editor:
Open Rights Group, with support from Prevent Watch and Lewis & Klein Associates, have looked at case studies, policies, and guidance supplied in the public domain and through freedom of information (FOI) requests and outlined a snapshot of how data is retained, stored, and shared under Prevent. These findings are the basis of our report.

Figures for 2022/23 show that 2,119 children under 14 were referred to Prevent, 31% of total referrals. 2,203 young people aged 15-20 were referred, 32% of total referrals.