NUS slams Warwick Uni for allegedly snooping on a climate activist student

A student was allegedly targeted with ‘very discreet security’

The National Union of Students has slammed the University of Warwick for allegedly collaborating with BP to snoop on one of its students.

In a series of tweets shared by the President of the NUS, Larissa Kennedy said: “As public institutions, unis should be helping halt the climate emergency, not being directly complicity in the surveillance of those fighting for climate justice.”

The comments were made after a report by openDemocracy claimed student Connor Woodman was targeted in 2015 with “very discreet security” after requesting access to BP’s archive, which was housed on campus.

From internal emails, the report claims that a security team was deployed to watch Connor, both in-person and on CCTV, and his social media activity was monitored.

An official at BP allegedly identified him, saying: “I recognised him from the Facebook picture we have of the anti-fossil fuel group of Warwick students.”

Warwick was allegedly complicit in Connor’s monitoring, with both the uni and BP employees sharing updates on his movements.

The report goes as far as to claim that Uni officials gave instructions for Connor to be monitored, instructing: “Low-key, no high-viz. Think [a security staff member] should sit inside the BP archive… I can see [Woodman] videoing them and asking for comment and then claiming he is being monitored and what are we hiding. Delicate and very discreet security only please.”

An anonymous email also allegedly warned that a student had been “asking lots of questions about BP”, adding: “We will be vigilant – opportunity to use your new CCTV!”

In another exchange, a BP official allegedly wrote to Warwick: “Connor Woodman (the gentleman leading the student campaign on campus) was around the [university archive] a few minutes ago and a couple of other students have also been noted…

“Not implying that this is anything but legitimate, but just wanted to keep you advised of the information…”

A Warwick employee allegedly replied: “That is very helpful… [Woodman] is certainly very active at the moment and think he should be supervised in your archive if that is at all possible.”

Connor was a climate activist working with Fossil Free Warwick, a group that successfully pressured the uni to divest from fossil fuels. He also set up the group BP Off Campus. He had not been involved in any on-campus occupations, and claims that his research aims were “completely appropriate”.

He told openDemocracy: “This is further evidence that any kind of notion of academic freedom is being increasingly eroded.

“There’s a political and moral question about whether we want universities that have an interest in dampening dissent. If we want to protect that liberal idea of academic freedom, then we need to think about massive structural reforms to our universities.”

The Uni responded to the claims, stating: “The University of Warwick has a responsibility to keep everyone on campus safe and prevent anyone coming to harm. In 2015, staff within the BP Archive, which operates independently of the University and controls access into the building, reported concerns about their safety in relation to an ongoing campaign on campus.

“In response, we carried out a risk assessment and offered advice in the same way we would do for any individual or group that raised concerns about their safety.

“We fully respect the right of students and staff to protest lawfully and do not carry out targeted surveillance on any individuals or groups.”

A spokesperson for BP also said: “BP events have seen legitimate protests over many years, but they have also been targeted by more disruptive and sometimes potentially dangerous actions. We support people’s right to demonstrate peacefully but have a responsibility for the safety and security of those at our events and it is important to understand any risks.”

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