Officers response to queen's visit investigation

Photo of Ahad Mahmood, Mohamed Salhi, Jessica Oshodin, Shaurya Vig, Hannan Badar and Robert Liow Student officer team 2018/19

As your elected Officer Team of 2018/19, we would like to inform you that King's College London (KCL) has completed its investigation and into the restriction of campus access to certain students for the Queen's visit on 19 Mar 2019 and published the report.

We are disgusted and disappointed by the actions taken by staff members at KCL which led to this incident. In the aftermath of the initial incident, students raised concerns that there was a list which had been created through surveillance, and the report confirms this by revealing that the University cross-referenced CCTV footage and access gate information to create a list of students and one staff member who were involved in a protest against an unrelated event.

We are furthermore deeply concerned by the revelation that the University can effectively track the locations of students via access gate records. We are students, not prisoners who must be tracked around campus. We call on the University to immediately and irrevocably delete all access gate logs and to stop tracking them if possible or implement procedures to delete them as soon as possible after they are created, if this is not possible.

We are also outraged by the revelation that the University proactively communicated a shortened version of the list of students and staff to the Metropolitan Police without following proper processes, therefore breaching data protection rules and destroying the trust between students and the university. Email correspondence revealed in the report shows that members of specific societies were being targeted, and that students' social media accounts were being monitored by the university for "intel". This is absolutely unacceptable and should cease immediately - staff members should not be surveilling students' social media, and should not accept or request information from other students who are doing so.

We welcome the report's finding that the use of the list, which was created as part of a disciplinary process, to block access cards was a breach of GDPR and King's Data Protection Policy. We hope lessons are learnt from this by the University on the need to follow data protection rules, and that the college accepts the appropriate sanctions for this and other data protection breaches from the relevant authorities with grace rather than appealing the findings.

We remain firm in our unequivocal condemnation of surveillance by the college, in any form and for any reason, no matter what the purported justification is: this is a place of learning, not a police state.

Additionally, as mentioned in this report, the University has also published guidance on protest, which was created with no consultation or input from KCLSU in any way. We demand that this guidance be scrapped, effective immediately, to be replaced by a set of guidelines which will be co-created between the University and KCLSU.

Our approach to co-creating this guidance will be informed by the principle that effective protest is meant to be uncomfortable and disruptive. We reject a punitive, restrictive approach to protest guidance - we call on the college to work with us and create a set of allowances within which it undertakes not to subject students to disciplinary sanctions, rather than persisting to create hard boundaries beyond which it declares its intention to punish students.

The report, in closing, lists several recommendations, which the college claims to have accepted in full despite some of these "acceptances" requiring the collaboration of KCLSU -which we have not consented to. It is also important to note that there seems to be confusion about the democratic structure of KCLSU in the recommendation section which implies our processes do not have the ‘best governance’ structure, we wholly refute this. As the democratically-elected representatives of the student body, we would like the opportunity to sit down with the college SMT and review these recommendations with the college SMT.

There are some in particular which we would like to respond to now:

The report calls for us to work with the college "to consider how to repair the damage caused by these events" in a "spirit of healing". We reject this entirely. There is no room for a "spirit of healing" given the severe violations of our students' rights and the scale of surveillance that this report has uncovered. We demand consequences - we are glad that the Head of Security has already left the university, but any other staff member found to have misled or lied to students in the aftermath of the Queen's visit incident should be dealt with severely and potentially removed from their post.

We also demand that the affected individuals are compensated for their victimisation by the college, and that there should be no disciplinary action taken in response to any student's or staff member's behaviour in response to the blockage of cards, whether or not these students had their card blocked, for any reason whatsoever.

The report recommends that FESAG, the joint KCL-KCLSU group responsible for overseeing strategic, policy and operational concerns around high-risk events, should not have an operational role in day-to-day event management. We reject this entirely.

The recommendation in the report is that FESAG should not be involved in such a role "except where their advice is specifically sought by the SVP Operations"; in our opinion, this reduces accountability, and risks a repeat of this sort of incident in the future without even the chance of oversight.

Instead, we recommend that FESAG should continue to be made aware of the operational plans for high-risk events, as well as special security measures which go beyond the ordinary procedures applicable to high-risk event management. FESAG, as a committee involving both high-level student and college representation, should be given a time-limited right to veto operational plans and special security measures where this is not absolutely prohibited by law, and should have no less than 1 working day's time to exercise this veto in any circumstance.

We support a review of the Policy for Room Bookings with External Speakers, and the recommendation that "it should be made explicit that all events must, as a minimum, be open to all King's and KCLSU students". We do not necessarily agree with the example given of imposing conditions on who is appropriate to chair high-risk events, which suggests that the chair should be "an academic with an appropriate specialism".

We unequivocally oppose a restriction on the number of high-risk events that can be held at KCL. While it may have been suggested for consideration with the best of intentions, it is an unacceptable restriction on freedom of speech and association, and we urge the college to reject it.