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A UK man who downloaded recipes on how to make explosive devices has been jailed under the controversial Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which makes it a crime to be "in possession of records of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Porter, head of the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit, said: "The materials we discovered on that pen drive were clear and viable instructions on how to make explosive devices [...] I also want to stress that this case is not about policing people's freedom to browse the Internet. The materials that were downloaded were not stumbled upon by chance - these had to be searched for and contained very dangerous information that could have led to an explosive device being built. That is why we had to take action."
posted by unSane (81 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, they shouldn't see what I downloaded from wiretap.spies.com back in the day.
posted by symbioid at 12:28 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The link isn't working for me, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the man arrested is brown and has an Arabic name?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:31 PM on January 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Of course, the non-grar headline is this part:
A further examination of the stick revealed a letter, addressed to an unknown recipient, in which the author - again anonymous but referring to himself as a 24-year-old man - seeks spiritual guidance and says he has prepared himself physically and financially for jihad.
I'd assume that without such a declaration maybe they wouldn't have jailed him.
posted by symbioid at 12:32 PM on January 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I also want to stress that this case is not about policing people's freedom to browse the Internet.

Yes it is.

contained very dangerous information that could have led to an explosive device being built.

So does my college organic chemistry textbook. One of my inorganic chemistry textbooks contained details on how to make radioisotopes. I could put two and two together.

That is why we had to take action.

Yes, I'm sure that his name is "Asim Kauser" had nothing to do with it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:33 PM on January 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, this is bad news for terrorism-themed RPG developers.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:34 PM on January 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hmm, better not tell anyone about my copy of Disguise Techniques then...
posted by restless_nomad at 12:36 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the linked Guardian article, the prosecution pointed to Kausar's declaration in a letter "I want to fight jihad for Allah" that was part of his two-year long search for information on the mujahideen. The prosection elaborated "In the letter he also asked a series of questions - whether he would be able to fight and whether his martyrdom would be accepted." This isn't some case of Anarchist's Cookbook-type curiosity.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:38 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


So apparently, he was an avowed jihadist. I'll look elsewhere for my outrage.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2012


It doesn't make the slightest difference what the guy may have been planning, or thinking about planning, or drafting possibly unsent letters about thinking about planning, or whatever. The charge they chose to bring should not even be a possible charge. Simply possessing "information likely to be useful to [doesn't matter what you put here]" is not a proper subject for criminalization.

If they have some kind of conspiracy to commit terrorism, let them prove that conspiracy. Conspiracy law is pretty scary and pretty easy to abuse, and maybe the concept should go away, but at least it requires some real act, however small.

If they have some kind of meaningful act in furtherance of terrorism, something that actually puts somebody in some real danger, or something that shows a really solid, fixed intention to do something in the real, non-fantasy world, then let them prove that.

If all they have is some guy who read up on some stuff and maybe even had some serious fantasies about it, and the only act they can prove is downloading a file, then they have no genuine crime, period.

The charge is pure thoughtcrime, and arresting people for it is purely unacceptable in any halfway decent society. There is a reason for the law to require actus reus.
posted by Hizonner at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2012 [46 favorites]


Hey, at least he didn't download child porn.
posted by Melismata at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think, without having full access to the investigation, that this is how terrorism arrests are supposed to be performed.

The man was actively looking for ways to participate in violent actions and was seen/heard/found to be doing so. Then he went and downloaded plans for a bomb and the police went into action. Seems rather cut and dry to me.

What would severely complicate matters would be if other, not so brown or ethnically named, parties were also downloading these files in the UK and were not being arrested and having their lives turned inside out. Like, I don't know, maybe members of the EDL or BNP.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes that stuff is so difficult to find and specific that 14 year old me actually had to dial TWO DIFFERENT BBSes to find the Anarchists Cookbook in 1990.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


> Well, this is bad news for terrorism-themed RPG developers.

They'll just have to write plots where the world is threatened with destruction by cake.
posted by jfuller at 12:46 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do they teach chemistry in the UK, or is that too dangerous?
posted by coolguymichael at 12:46 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does "likely to be useful" mean? Does it mean "likely to be useful to such a person if they had it?" Or does it mean "likely to be used by a specific, real person who commits or has prepared to commit an act of terrorism?' The first definition is thoughtcrime, pure and simple. The second definition is very different and requires that the defendant support an actual or planned criminal act. I think the second definition is still a bad idea, but it's closer to conspiracy than thoughtcrime.
posted by jedicus at 12:46 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


This isn't some case of Anarchist's Cookbook-type curiosity.

It's still a case of arresting someone when they haven't in fact committed a crime.

I thought SOP in these cases was to keep a close eye on the person and wait until they, you know, do something, or at the very least demonstrate intent to perform a specific criminal act -- because that gives you a chance to further investigate the person's connections and hopefully catch more than the one fish you have on the line.

And also because thoughtcrime. But mostly because jumping the gun like this means a missed opportunity to catch more than one lone bad guy.

(I might go somewhat further and say that anyone dumb enough to get caught by literally giving the evidence to the police on a thumb drive is not smart enough to successfully carry out a terrorist act.)
posted by ook at 12:51 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's still a case of arresting someone when they haven't in fact committed a crime.

I guess the police should what, wait until after he's detonated a bomb before arresting him?
posted by rodgerd at 12:52 PM on January 27, 2012


I think it might be good if people could agree on a few things before this gets out of hands, in no particular order:

1) Having a law that says "Possessing information that can, potentially, harm someone" is asinine and worthy of disdain. It just makes no sense logically except tangentially as a tool, albeit the wrong one, if law enforcement so chooses to use it to bust someone (as slackermagee notes) because another, better suited law isn't in place.

2) This arrest, based upon the links the OP posted, sounds like it may have saved peoples lives. The suspect is accused of not only having the knowledge but also the desire to commit a potentially devastating act of violence.

I'm afraid conflating those two things will only drag this discussion down, down, down and I'd really like to see clear, lucid discourse on the implications of both 1 and 2 as I listed above.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:53 PM on January 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


He was communicating with others explicitly about committing acts of terrorism. He was collecting information useful for building bombs.

If that's not conspiracy to commit a crime, what is it? Conspiracy is the crime. You don't need to commit the act.

BobbyVan has it. There's some reckless precrime type enforcement happening lately, but this ain't it. Direct your outrage elsewhere.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:54 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rogerd: I'm pretty sure conspiring to set off a bomb is a crime. Having things you could, in theory, use to set off a bomb is a recipe for overreach. The fact that he may in fact have actually been planning to make a bomb doesn't change the fact that the law being applied to him would apply equally to my possession of matches. They could light a fuse!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:55 PM on January 27, 2012


I guess the police should what, wait until after he's detonated a bomb before arresting him?

Or wait until he "does an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence" (i.e. commits the crime of attempted terrorism or whatever). Why, exactly, is terrorism so special that the existing law of attempt was insufficient? What about it requires effectively pushing the definition of attempt all the way back to merely possessing information?

BobbyVan has it. There's some reckless precrime type enforcement happening lately, but this ain't it. Direct your outrage elsewhere.

Then he should have been charged with conspiracy, not this nonsense.

The suspect is accused of not only having the knowledge but also the desire to commit a potentially devastating act of violence.

A car driver who gets angry at some jaywalkers and briefly fantasizes about intentionally mowing them down would be equally guilty under that standard. Are you sure you want to go down that road?
posted by jedicus at 12:59 PM on January 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


I guess the police should what, wait until after he's detonated a bomb before arresting him?

Probably they should arrest him for asking if he could martyr himself for Allah in the great jihad, rather than for downloading a manual for (and probably by) 14-year-old script-kiddies who once saw the word "anarchy" scrawled on the men's room wall and decided to Google it.

That way, they wouldn't have their case against him thrown out when the prosecution points out how the internet works.
posted by Mayor West at 12:59 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


stupidsexyFlanders: The police "later found a letter", which probably means they undeleted it when they did forensics on the drive. The article doesn't say there's any evidence that he actually ever sent it, or that he received any response. There's no indication that there's any proof, or even any inidcation he communicated successfully with anybody, or that he did any concrete act after the time of the communication. And you need both for conspiracy. And, again, conspiracy is a suspect concept.

RolandOfEld: You're right, he may have really been planning to do something, and it's possible that, left unarrested, he might have done it, and somebody might have died. And it's not really even realistic, or particularly satisfying to the lover of liberty, to expect the police to keep watching somebody all the time in case he does something real. So this unjust and improper arrest may have saved some lives. So?

Sometimes the cost of living in a free society is that it's not quite as safe, in some ways, as a less free society. I don't think I see anything to discuss there. It's still probably safer on the whole, and it's definitely a whole lot less unpleasant.
posted by Hizonner at 1:00 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Damn, it's happening, my comment was too late.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:01 PM on January 27, 2012


It's worth adding one more point to this discussion. Under the terms of the act (following the "Section 58" link above):
It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession.
So the "OMG Chemistry textbooks are illegal" comments are a bit wide of the mark. I still think this is problematic (especially when you have situations where juries are weighing evidence against stigmatized minorities) but it's not quite the carte blanche for official persecution that it's being painted in this thread.
posted by yoink at 1:01 PM on January 27, 2012


I guess the police should what, wait until after he's detonated a bomb before arresting him?

God, I fucking knew someone would be dense enough to say that. Word for word I could have predicted.

No. Duh. They should put the fucker under surveillance and wait until he constructs a bomb, or makes an attempt to acquire the materials to construct a bomb, or does any other preparatory act, and meanwhile they should find out who he's talking with and what his connections are and who he's getting his materials from and how far the conspiracy goes so that when they do make the arrest, which of course they would eventually, they'd maybe have more to show for it than having captured one solitary idiot (and maybe blowing even that arrest to boot.) And if it turns out he doesn't have any real connections and is just fantasizing, fine, arrest him for conspiracy, job well done.

I'm not arguing that declaring jihad and making shopping lists of weapons is just dandy defensible behavior, I'm arguing that this was a failure of due diligence on the part of the police. Based on this quote I suspect they know they screwed up and are just putting the best face on it after the fact:

"This case has never been about proving an endgame and we may never know what his intentions were, but when you have significant evidence of how to make explosive devices and pricing lists for weapons, we had to act quickly.
posted by ook at 1:10 PM on January 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


Well, this is bad news for terrorism-themed RPG developers.
jfuller: They'll just have to write plots where the world is threatened with destruction by cake.
That's a lie, and you know it!
posted by hincandenza at 1:11 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession.

Well what's reasonable? If you're a professional chemist, then chemistry textbooks are okay. But what if you're a hobbyist? Is that reasonable? What if you just like the look of the cover? What if you happen to be pretty opposed to the government? What if you happen to know somebody who has committed violent acts? What if you used to be in a terrorist group but left? At what point does it cease to be reasonable for someone to own a chemistry textbook? I suspect the answer ends up being "right about the time he or she is plotting with others to commit a crime or has taken substantial steps to commit a crime," and to that I'd say "well then you already have conspiracy or attempt, so this law is pointless."

But beyond the law's redundancy, I think it's absurd for a jury to decide what information it is or isn't "reasonable" for someone else to possess.
posted by jedicus at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession.

That's better than nothing, but it still seems very wrong: the burden of proof should not be on the defendant. Is "curiosity" a defense? If not, are curious people criminals? If so, doesn't that defense make it essentially impossible to prosecute?

I'd agree with those above - without knowing a lot about the case, it certainly seems that the crime here is "conspiring to commit a terrorist act", not "having some information that might be useful to Bad People".
posted by aaronbeekay at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2012


Hizonner:

I guess I just don't equate my freedom in a 'free' society to saying

"I'm going out to get drunk tonight, I have alcohol, a car, and the knowledge to make it move"
and
"I would like to apply for jihad training, I have prepared myself mentally, financially, and physically and have the knowledge of how to make bombs"

are the same thing.

While both could result with people getting hurt due to my actions and those hypothetical hurt people would be spared by me being incarcerated in the meantime it's just not comparable. The risk associated with the former situation (drunk driving) is the price we pay for being in a free society. The risk associated with the latter is, oh wait, we try to avoid that risk where possible via arrests. I'm ok with that.

tl;dr version: badly written law with potentially far reaching consequences, good arrest here, will sleep fine.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:13 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Transitional version of The Minority Report.

Next up, I get arrested for thinking bad things about such people.
posted by infini at 1:16 PM on January 27, 2012


Who decides what constitutes "a reasonable excuse"? I have a copy of the 1943 edition of Kill or Get Killed on my netbook because I find it interesting to know how to, well, kill people. Not that I actually want to do so. Would that be a reasonable excuse?
posted by brokkr at 1:18 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


While both could result with people getting hurt due to my actions and those hypothetical hurt people would be spared by me being incarcerated in the meantime it's just not comparable. The risk associated with the former situation (drunk driving) is the price we pay for being in a free society. The risk associated with the latter is, oh wait, we try to avoid that risk where possible via arrests. I'm ok with that.

Ah, so it's a matter of enough people potentially getting hurt, then. What if the alleged act of terrorism is sniping rather than a bombing? Or what if the bombing is carefully targeted to kill only a specific individual? Or what if it's planned to be done after calling in a bomb threat, so that property is destroyed and panic created but no one harmed directly? That seems to be on the same scale as drunk driving.

Basically you're saying "you can think whatever you want, unless you're thinking extra, super naughty thoughts." There is simply no principled way to draw the line there.

It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession.

Another bizarre thing about this defense: what if the defendant has a good excuse (e.g. is a professional chemist) but is also planning to make a bomb, though he or she has not acted on that plan in any way, including conspiring with others?
posted by jedicus at 1:20 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know a guy who knows a dude who has a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook. A lot of the stuff in there is outdated. But a lot of it is not. Or so he says. As far as I know you can still buy a copy online. Legally.

But I don't think I'll do a web search for it...
posted by Splunge at 1:21 PM on January 27, 2012


so it's a matter of enough people potentially getting hurt, then.

It's not at all. If it was someone writing a letter saying he had a baseball bat and was going to kill his wife it would be plenty. It's intent to commit a crime not the number of people in the crosshairs.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:22 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


We lose thousands of people a year to car accidents, yet we still think it's worth it to drive cars.

We lose thousands of people a year to cancer, yet we still think it's worth it to have the freedom to smoke.

We (in the US) lose thousands of people a year to gun violence and people accidentally shooting themselves, but we think it's worth it to have the right to bear arms.

We can afford to lose a few people to terrorism a year, because it's worth it to have our fucking rights.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:23 PM on January 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


This is the UK.

They 'deal' with knife crime by requiring you to be over 18 to buy a kitchen knife yet they don't require kitchen knives be kept in locked knife cabinets.

They must be seen to be doing something but they don't have to actually achieve anything.
posted by srboisvert at 1:23 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's the right conviction under the wrong law. I don't know why they chose to prosecute in this way, maybe there is a good reason. The section 58 is pretty poor.
posted by Jehan at 1:27 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know a guy who knows a dude who has a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook. A lot of the stuff in there is outdated. But a lot of it is not. Or so he says. As far as I know you can still buy a copy online. Legally.

The Anarchist's Cookbook is so laughably bad that there's a fairly plausible hypothesis stating that it was actually written by an FBI stooge for the purpose of getting radicals (it originally came out in the early 70s) to blow themselves up. Just as an example, it seriously relates the old "smoking banana peels" joke as if it were a real thing and gives a recipe to extract "bananadine".
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:30 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can anyone identify the specific files? If so, I recommend we help resolve this problem by making sure these land in as many U.K. email inboxes as possible. We could perhaps get most U.K. student email lists on board.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:32 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Buy? You can buy a copy of the Anarchist's Cookbook online? As in, people pay money for it?

I'm in the wrong line of work.
posted by koeselitz at 1:33 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who decides what constitutes "a reasonable excuse"?

A jury of your peers. Juries are often charged with deciding matters that are essentially "states of mind," and historically they have been seen more as a bulwark of liberty than as arms of the police state.

As I say, I think that often falls down when the crime in question is likely to charged against members of a stigmatized minority. I am by no means saying that this provision of the law makes it all o.k. But it's a very far cry from leaving it up to prosecutorial discretion to decide whether or not the act of possessing this material is criminal or not.

The act, by the way, is deliberately mum as to what constitutes a "reasonable excuse." The point is for a jury of your peers to decide if your interest in the material was "reasonable" or not. So if you can convince them that you were just curious then they can decide "yep, we buy that" and let you go. For example, the "curiosity" case could be bolstered by a showing that you have a habit of seeking out abstruse material and reading up on it. Perhaps you could show evidence of the years you spent building model aircraft. And then evidence of the period when you were obsessed with astronomy. And then evidence of the period when you built a car in your basement, "just because." In that context, reading up on the chemistry of explosives might seem an entirely plausible and harmless step. On the other hand, if you make the claim of "curiosity" but you seem never to have had any sci/tech interests before--and you're writing letters asking about participation in Jihad--the argument will probably be a harder one to make.
posted by yoink at 1:34 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not at all. If it was someone writing a letter saying he had a baseball bat and was going to kill his wife it would be plenty. It's intent to commit a crime not the number of people in the crosshairs.

Well, that's not what this sounds like:

"The risk associated with the former situation (drunk driving) is the price we pay for being in a free society. The risk associated with the latter is, oh wait, we try to avoid that risk where possible via arrests."

But anyway, we'll take the new definition. "Intent to commit a crime" hasn't been legally sufficient to be a crime for hundreds of years. Why should we change it? Why should we abandon the requirement of an illegal act?

But anyway, your hypothetical person could be charged under laws against making threats (e.g. California's criminal threats law).

But that's beside the point. Section 58 has nothing to do with intent to commit a crime or possession of a weapon. It criminalizes mere possession of information. So from your example we'd toss out the letter and the baseball bat and replace them with, say, an article on making cyanide. That's it, just a guy who possess an article on making cyanide "for no good reason." No threats, no chemical precursors. You're really comfortable saying that, all by itself, is a crime?
posted by jedicus at 1:37 PM on January 27, 2012


I also disagree that this is a "thoughtcrime", as his beliefs aren't the basis for the criminal act. The possession of certain information is the criminal act, so it's really a freedom of speech issue.
posted by Jehan at 1:38 PM on January 27, 2012


But anyway, we'll take the new definition. "Intent to commit a crime" hasn't been legally sufficient to be a crime for hundreds of years. Why should we change it? Why should we abandon the requirement of an illegal act?

But anyway, your hypothetical person could be charged under laws against making threats (e.g. California's criminal threats law).

It sounds like you're saying two opposing things here. A letter saying "I want to jihad/take a slugger to my wife/etc" is a threat. Maybe I'm missing something, really, maybe I am.

But that's beside the point. Section 58 has nothing to do with intent to commit a crime or possession of a weapon. It criminalizes mere possession of information. .. .. You're really comfortable saying that, all by itself, is a crime?

Did you read my previous post at all?
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:43 PM on January 27, 2012


A jury of your peers.

I wouldn't want to go in front of a jury of my peers, because the "state of mind" (in my area at least) is so completely lacking in humanity and insight and enlightenment.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:43 PM on January 27, 2012


I also disagree that this is a "thoughtcrime", as his beliefs aren't the basis for the criminal act. The possession of certain information is the criminal act, so it's really a freedom of speech issue.

Section 58 also criminalizes "collecting" such information. So even if the defendant didn't keep the illicit documents, it's enough that he or she collected it at one time. The only reason to separately criminalize collecting the information is because someone might collect it, commit it to memory, and then get rid of the records. Thus, the person is effectively punished for "learning naughty facts without a good excuse."
posted by jedicus at 1:44 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
H. L. Mencken
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:44 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's unfortunate that Kausar seems to have needed to be convicted here just to prove to himself (or to the world, or to his mother, or whatever) that he was serious about weaponized jihad. Any thoughtcrime law is dangerous; his acquiescence here will be noted as precedent.
posted by fredludd at 1:47 PM on January 27, 2012


In other words, by all means put violent Jihadis in jail, just don't take a shortcut through civil rights.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:48 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Section 58 also criminalizes "collecting" such information. So even if the defendant didn't keep the illicit documents, it's enough that he or she collected it at one time. The only reason to separately criminalize collecting the information is because someone might collect it, commit it to memory, and then get rid of the records. Thus, the person is effectively punished for "learning naughty facts without a good excuse."

But offense is committed in its collection, not in its memorization. It's still an issue of freedom of speech, "receiving and imparting information". Let's not overuse the word "thoughtcrime" just because it sounds scary, okay?
posted by Jehan at 1:49 PM on January 27, 2012


This is the kind of thing that makes me uncomfortable about Google's power. Is it impossible to imagine a future in which the government demands the right to go spelunking in Google's data mines?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 1:52 PM on January 27, 2012


yoink: "So if you can convince them that you were just curious then they can decide "yep, we buy that" and let you go."
Why must I prove that my possession of said material is innocuous? Why mustn't the prosecutor prove intent?
posted by brokkr at 1:52 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like you're saying two opposing things here. A letter saying "I want to jihad/take a slugger to my wife/etc" is a threat. Maybe I'm missing something, really, maybe I am.

You are missing something. A person who makes a threat has committed an illegal act. They have more than a criminal state of mind.

Did you read my previous post at all?

Yes, I did. You then went on to defend Section 58, despite your earlier statement. "tl;dr version: badly written law with potentially far reaching consequences, good arrest here, will sleep fine." A good arrest can never come from a fundamentally bad law. The ends do not justify the means, especially when perfectly good alternative means were available.

But offense is committed in its collection, not in its memorization.

Consider this example: a person collects illicit information without a good excuse. Then, the person deletes the records. The information is never shared, and the person never intended to do anything criminal with the information and indeed never does. Has a crime been committed? By section 58's terms, yes. I would argue that this is exactly equivalent to criminalizing the thoughts themselves.

It is almost axiomatic that illicit knowledge cannot be had without collecting it first. Criminalizing the act of collection is tantamount to criminalizing the thoughts themselves. I suppose one could say "ah, but it doesn't criminalize figuring out the illicit information by reasoning from first principles," but that's a pretty weak argument.
posted by jedicus at 1:55 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" ?!

Doesn't that include, say, a recipe for making hamburgers? Terrorists would find eating lunch useful to their plans. Maybe information on how to tie one's shoes correctly? This is quintessentially overbroad language.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 2:05 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Consider this example: a person collects illicit information without a good excuse. Then, the person deletes the records. The information is never shared, and the person never intended to do anything criminal with the information and indeed never does. Has a crime been committed? By section 58's terms, yes. I would argue that this is exactly equivalent to criminalizing the thoughts themselves.

It is almost axiomatic that illicit knowledge cannot be had without collecting it first. Criminalizing the act of collection is tantamount to criminalizing the thoughts themselves. I suppose one could say "ah, but it doesn't criminalize figuring out the illicit information by reasoning from first principles," but that's a pretty weak argument.


Your argument only makes sense by conflating "thoughts" with "knowledge", so that all things "known" are "thoughts", and knowing something illicit is thus a "thoughtcrime". But that's too expansive for the popular meaning of thoughtcrime, and the offense is also committed even if you're too forgetful to hold any of the information in your mind, or potentially even if you've never looked at it. There's nothing in section 58 to suggest that the information must have entered your mind, only your possession.
posted by Jehan at 2:09 PM on January 27, 2012


This and the 'similar photo breaks copyright law' decision this week suggest that the UK legal system is (also) going off the deep end.

Paranoia strikes deep ... into your life it will creep

posted by Twang at 2:09 PM on January 27, 2012


Why must I prove that my possession of said material is innocuous? Why mustn't the prosecutor prove intent?

Yes, I entirely agree that this is problematic. I was answering the question as to the scope of the law, not defending it.

That said, it is not novel to have a situation where the jury is asked to judge the defendant's mental and intentions. In cases of intimidation, for example, it is usually up to the jury to judge both whether or not the "victim" was actually intimidated and whether or not the accused was actually intending to intimidate. People like to think of the law in CSI terms, where every crime can be proven conclusively to have been perpetrated by X person or not to have been. In the real world juries are often called upon to make interpretive judgments about people's intentions.
posted by yoink at 2:11 PM on January 27, 2012


Ugh. "mental and intentions" was supposed to be "mental state and intentions." Sorry.
posted by yoink at 2:12 PM on January 27, 2012


This and the 'similar photo breaks copyright law' decision this week suggest that the UK legal system is (also) going off the deep end.

In fairness, that was a single judgement interpreting a law in a way that it ought not have been. Rogue lawmakers are much worse than rogue judges. The latter can be corrected, whereas the former corrupts everybody.
posted by Jehan at 2:12 PM on January 27, 2012


Do we seriously not know what books the guy got into trouble over? If not, what chemistry books might be perceived as being the most dangerous? I must confess my chemistry knowledge sucks, maybe because I cannot titrate, probably cannot competently add a sugar cube to a glass of tea, but I'd love me some Streisand effect.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:19 PM on January 27, 2012


"This case has never been about proving an endgame and we may never know what his intentions were, but when you have significant evidence of how to make explosive devices and pricing lists for weapons, we had to act quickly.

What the fuckity fuck fuck fuck?

By the end of this decade I swear I'm going to be in prison for being naturally curious in the wrong area.
posted by Talez at 2:22 PM on January 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Your argument only makes sense by conflating "thoughts" with "knowledge", so that all things "known" are "thoughts", and knowing something illicit is thus a "thoughtcrime". But that's too expansive for the popular meaning of thoughtcrime

Okay, knowledgecrime, then. Though presumably one thinks about something as one learns it, so I still feel the use of "thoughtcrime" is appropriate.

and the offense is also committed even if you're too forgetful to hold any of the information in your mind, or potentially even if you've never looked at it. There's nothing in section 58 to suggest that the information must have entered your mind, only your possession.

Forgetfulness is impossible to prove or disprove, so it would be foolish to allow "unless you forget it afterward" to be an excuse because that's what everyone would claim. It's also pretty much impossible to prove that it was learnt in the first place. By drafting the law in terms of collection they've criminalized an action they can actually prove.

As you say, it is possible to collect information without learning it, but it is not so easy to learn information without collecting it first, and in many cases that which is collected is learned. Certainly the two are closely correlated enough that criminalizing the collection of information is tantamount to criminalizing knowledge.

Finally, it's clear that knowledge is what they're ultimately after, since a book on a shelf is of no danger to anyone unless the information inside is learned and used to commit a crime. The only reason to criminalize collection of information is if you're concerned somebody will learn it.

By analogy, consider drugs. Merely possessing drugs doesn't actually hurt anybody; the alleged harm comes from use. But possession is essential to use (and is much easier to prove than use), so it gets criminalized. The fact that the laws are primarily drawn to possession rather than use is a side effect of practicalities, not an end in itself.
posted by jedicus at 2:23 PM on January 27, 2012


So apparently, he was an avowed jihadist. I'll look elsewhere for my outrage.

How does it go?

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all. - H. L. Mencken
posted by Talez at 2:27 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think we agree jedicus, but our terminology is making us talk past one another. I certainly don't disagree with anything in your last comment. I suppose my objection overall boils down to the fact that describing section 58 as "thoughtcrime" adds heat to the debate, but no light.
posted by Jehan at 2:36 PM on January 27, 2012


A person who makes a threat has committed an illegal act. They have more than a criminal state of mind.

Taking it as a given that the law which the guy was arrested under is a farce, at best, I still see plenty of evidence showing threatening/dangerous behavior worthy of attention (as well as potentially conspiracy/sedition but that's an aside). That means (maybe not to legal theorists but that's beating a dead horse with me, seriously give me the petition to change the law, I'll sign it right now) it seems well within society's best interest to check things out via holding him albeit under a different charge. That's what has effectively occurred, though under the wrong statue/reasoning. Basically, I'm not ok with how he ended up in jail but think the fact that he's there is, overall, a good thing considering the evidence at hand. Call that a "bad" arrest (theory) or "good" arrest (practical impact) as it fits your focus, I know where I stand. Seriously, they should change the law. Many bad things could happen due to it being in place and no good can come of it.

I can't help but pessimistically hope for two things to occur: 1) the repeal of such a silly statue and 2) the application of more suitable charges to the person in question.

I've put it as best I can, maybe I'm just being too generous as to seeing the issue as the application of theory vs practical-real-world usage, with a dash of cynicism thrown in for good measure. I just see this as not the best hill to die on / talking point with regards to civil liberties or 'thoughtcrime' laws a la 1984. That letter just is not going to sit well with whoever this is discussed with.

Ultimate D'oh take-away: Don't voluntarily give the police thumbdrives that contain your son's recipes on how to make explosive devices and poisons, anti-interrogation techniques... details on how to kill efficiently ... a letter [concerning jihad]... list that contained prices for an AK47 rifle, rounds of ammunition, a grenade launcher and other survival or combat material. unless you want some unpleasant attention and or have to go redownload all of it from whatever network/bittorrent tracker/IRC channel you got it from.
posted by RolandOfEld at 3:25 PM on January 27, 2012


Is it impossible to imagine a future in which the government demands the right to go spelunking in Google's data mines?

It is not only not impossible, it's not even necessary to imagine it.[2003]

Really, no imagination required.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:28 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


2006, rather. The second link is from last Fall.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:30 PM on January 27, 2012


We lose thousands of people a year to car accidents, yet we still think it's worth it to drive cars.

We lose thousands of people a year to cancer, yet we still think it's worth it to have the freedom to smoke.

We (in the US) lose thousands of people a year to gun violence and people accidentally shooting themselves, but we think it's worth it to have the right to bear arms.

We can afford to lose a few people to terrorism a year, because it's worth it to have our fucking rights.


Am I the only one here who thinks that human life is more valuable than these things?
posted by SollosQ at 6:58 PM on January 27, 2012


Man. A LOT of what I did as a kid would put me in Guantanamo now. Jesus.
posted by sanka at 8:03 PM on January 27, 2012


You aren't named Asim, sanka.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:21 PM on January 27, 2012


SollosQ: "Am I the only one here who thinks that human life is more valuable than these things?"

Would you be willing to have your innocent interest in (insert dangerous thing here) land you in jail for life, just so it's easier for the government to round up Bad Guys?
posted by dunkadunc at 9:41 PM on January 27, 2012


Those who are pointing to that "jihad" line as if it were somehow some justification for this wholly idiotic law and its highly circumstantial applicationare fools. Think: at least nine out of ten people who claim they are interested in commiting acts of terrorism are certainly blowing smoke, but once they get out of prison after having been put there for the act of merely talking about it they are going to be a lot more serious about it.
posted by JHarris at 9:46 PM on January 27, 2012


I think, without having full access to the investigation, that this is how terrorism arrests are supposed to be performed.

According to whom? "Experts?" Pah.

This is entirely working in the terrorists' favor. Every bullshit arrest is an example of authoritarian overreach, which pushes more people into their welcoming arms. The ONLY way to successfully fight terrorism is to remove the impetus to terrorize. That's why terrorism is so dangerous and frightening: anyone can do it, trying to prevent it necessarily requires overreach.
posted by JHarris at 9:58 PM on January 27, 2012


The man was actively looking for ways to participate in violent actions and was seen/heard/found to be doing so. Then he went and downloaded plans for a bomb and the police went into action. Seems rather cut and dry to me.

It makes me so MAD that I want to BLOW SOMETHING UP!!!! I'm off to find bomb making instructions on the internet.

Did I just commit a crime?
posted by hat_eater at 1:40 AM on January 28, 2012


Yes, of jumping to conclusions before reading to the end of the comment...
posted by hat_eater at 1:42 AM on January 28, 2012


(I might go somewhat further and say that anyone dumb enough to get caught by literally giving the evidence to the police on a thumb drive is not smart enough to successfully carry out a terrorist act.)

I'd go further and say anyone dumb enough to be trying to be a terrorist in the first place, is not smart enough to successfully carry out a terrorist act. That's why so few of them succeed even when completely undetected until they attempt the act.

There have been the occasional exceptions of course, but almost all terrorists* I've read about, have clearly been about as thick as two planks.
(*Terrorist is a useless catch-all term these days. I just mean people like the guy in this article - people living in a western country who try to attack that country (in order to achieve... well, I'm not sure what, but apparently they all imagine it will somehow strategically advance something they believe in). I wouldn't put Bin Laden in this category, for example.)

I don't think there is a shortage of people who, if they dedicated their lives to terrorism, would be more like "Law Abiding Citizen" than like the underpants bomber, but the smarts that world make them so effective at what they do is the same smarts that has no interest in taking such a moronic approach in the first place.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:38 AM on January 28, 2012


Anybody got any good recipes?
posted by republican at 9:33 AM on January 28, 2012


-harlequin-, yes, I tend to agree. Underwear bomber, shoe bomber, one gets the impression that most of these guys are just disaffected losers who haven't really successfully thought things through -- which is reasonable enough given that if they were able to successfully think things through, they'd come to the conclusion that blowing things up is not likely to be the best way to achieve their aims, whatever they are).

The societally dangerous ones are the smart-but-insane people, e.g. the unabomber, which seems for whatever reason to be a vanishingly rare type (I'm drawing a blank on thinking of even a single other recent example, though I'm sure there must be some), or the Bin Laden types who have no intention of risking their own lives by committing terrorist acts, but instead organize and use the disaffected losers as pawns. (There are more of these -- but many (most? all?) of them exist in contexts that might more usefully be classified as guerrilla warfare than as pure "terrorism" per se.)

Which is why it seems to me so important to find and follow the organizational links (where they exist) rather than rushing to make an arrest ASAP as was done here. Disaffected losers will always exist, they're basically background noise, and not actually that dangerous until someone starts organizing and supplying them. The organizers are the ones you really want to catch if keeping society safe is the goal.
posted by ook at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2012


yoink: "... it is not novel to have a situation where the jury is asked to judge the defendant's mental and intentions."
The problem is that I suspect my best defense, were I put before a jury of my peers in a case similar to this, would be "I don't look Arab".
ook: "The societally dangerous ones are the smart-but-insane people, e.g. the unabomber, which seems for whatever reason to be a vanishingly rare type (I'm drawing a blank on thinking of even a single other recent example, though I'm sure there must be some) ..."
E.g. German neo-nazis, a Norwegian neo-nazi. For some value of insane, in both cases.
posted by brokkr at 11:52 AM on January 29, 2012


Doktor Zed writes "From the linked Guardian article, the prosecution pointed to Kausar's declaration in a letter 'I want to fight jihad for Allah' that was part of his two-year long search for information on the mujahideen. The prosection elaborated 'In the letter he also asked a series of questions - whether he would be able to fight and whether his martyrdom would be accepted.' This isn't some case of Anarchist's Cookbook-type curiosity."

Then charge the guy with being a terrorist or some sort of wanna be and stop making the quest for KNOWLEDGE frackin' illegal. The law as presented is so broad as to make practically any instructional material illegal. If the guy planned to drive a car into a crowd they could argue possession of a driver's ed manual would be illegal.
posted by Mitheral at 7:48 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


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