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Bulky Jacket Syndrome
September 22, 2005 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Innocent in London. An account from someone who was stopped, searched and arrested by the Police in a London Tube station. [via del.icio.us/philgyford]
posted by gsb (105 comments total)

 
Utterly depressing. What I find most unpleasant about the account is the way the police tried to fabricate some of the events in order to make him look more guilty; that he was playing with "wires" (computer cables, which they found in his bag but he didn't remove) and that he didn't get on a train when he passed.
posted by bwerdmuller at 3:20 AM on September 22, 2005


That was affecting in a way I didn't expect. The pointless little things which mean nothing, like having a map of Heathrow and a radio scanner in your bedroom, suddenly become causes of concern. Looking at the stairs as you descend rather than the nearby police officers is suspicious. Pulling paper from a pocket and reading is suspicious.
The writer did a nice job of appearing to recount clinically whilst clearly seething.

Will there be a public announcement when it's legitimate to claim asylum from Britain, citing the gradual and determined erosion of civil and human rights?

Please write to your Member of Parliament. Please write to a local newspaper. Please talk about it with your friends. If you would, please refuse.

This is important. It may be an unwitting retreat from terror and into the darkness, it may be purposeful, but it is unwise and dangerous. At least for the populace.

/seriousmomentoftheday
posted by NinjaPirate at 3:43 AM on September 22, 2005


You know, someone pointed out to me a few years ago that England was two weeks away from becoming a police state.... that with all the cameras and surveillance, it could be converted practically overnight. He (this may also have been a blog post or something) also pointed out that the English have no real fear of their government; there's no social memory of abuse.

Looks like he was right. It happened when the Tube was bombed. Folks, you are now in a police state.

It's even scarier that it's happening here (the US) too... when we DO have a social memory of abuse.
posted by Malor at 3:55 AM on September 22, 2005


I too was struck by how seemingly innocent items that I have on me or at my flat could now be potentially construed as "items of terror". The fact that I am reading links about terror suspects might be twisted in some less than innocent perspective.

That is just chilling. I almost feel that enduring terrorist acts is preferable to losing all this freedom.
posted by qwip at 3:59 AM on September 22, 2005


I'm appalled and saddened but, alas, not surprised at this.
posted by Nick Jordan at 4:00 AM on September 22, 2005


So if they take away my computer, and I am unable to work for the entire time, will I be compensated?
posted by markesh at 4:05 AM on September 22, 2005


Of course not. Go work at Starbucks, workshy terrorist scum.

I think the civil liberties movement needs some really good PR. It's not good enough to have a bunch of Internet enthusiasts talking on their weblogs about how we're all losing our freedoms; these stories need to get out, they need to be presented in a way the public can relate to, and we need to make people realise it could happen to anyone. People have fought for centuries for the freedoms we now enjoy, and it's appalling to realise how quickly that can be torn down.
posted by bwerdmuller at 4:12 AM on September 22, 2005


Mission accomplished.
posted by clevershark at 4:21 AM on September 22, 2005


the English have no real fear of their government; there's no social memory of abuse.

What about the Miner's strike?
posted by the cuban at 4:24 AM on September 22, 2005


So if they take away my computer, and I am unable to work for the entire time, will I be compensated?

No
posted by DrDoberman at 4:27 AM on September 22, 2005


So ... what is the intent here? Are we down to "preserving lives at all costs"? Because if that is the way they intend to preserve my life, they can go fuck themselves.
posted by magullo at 4:28 AM on September 22, 2005


bwerdmuller: What I find most unpleasant about the account is the way the police tried to fabricate some of the events in order to make him look more guilty;"

I've had 2 run-ins with the UK police (although my experience is with Strathclyde Police rather than the Met) and on both occasions the detaining officer tried to sneakily slip in details which, although minor, made me look in the wrong. I reckon they do it in the hope that you'll be so flapped about being collared that you won't notice and just agree to/sign anything they put in front of you.

So, no surprise from this correspondent.
posted by bouncebounce at 4:32 AM on September 22, 2005


The whole thing is pretty bad, and I found the DNA swabs very disturbing. I wonder if all 'suspects' go through this?
posted by gsb at 4:34 AM on September 22, 2005


Oh and that guy can consider his DNA to be on record for a long, long time.

Just a thought: can one copyright their own DNA sequence and then refuse to licence it for storage?
posted by bouncebounce at 4:35 AM on September 22, 2005


Sorry, but boo fucking hoo to this fellow. We're a few months after a major terrorist attack on London, he's not in Guantanimo or some other dark place of indefinite detention and he has the wherewithal to easily access a lawyer (at which point his problems are effectively over). His lost civil liberties amount to some time in jail and a search of his home. Period.

Two things are going on here. First (and easiest to dismiss) is that he, for whatever reason, fit several profiles for a potential terrorist. He's acting strangely on the subway, has a lot of electronic and computer equipment, and works at a place that has already aroused the suspicion of the police. Until each of these question marks could be ticked off, he's placed in custody. This is what effective anti-terrorism looks like. We don't know if he has dark skin or not. If he doesn't, more power to the London Police. It indicates they're not relying on simplistic racial profiling in their attempts to prevent more attacks.

The second, more complicated issue, concens where a civil society draws the line between liberty and safety. This is, for a lot of countries (esp. the US and UK) in a state of considerable flux. The halting steps of the London police easily reflect confusion on there part about where this line is to be drawn.

Personally, I can tell you that competent police who know what their job is and where the limits to their authority fall can be a tremendous comfort. I'm living in Israel now, where the line has long been drawn harder to the side of security than Americans and Britons are accustomed to. My bag is searched many times, every day. When I enter the University and at almost every cafe, store or restaurant that I visit. Three times in the three months that I've been here I've been stopped by the police, physically searched, questioned and had my ID taken. Each time, I was, however briefly, doing something that matched a potential suspicious profile. (The worst was when I was wandering aimlessly behind the Prime Minister's residence at 3AM...right...what was I thinking?!) Each time, once I failed to match the profile, my ID was returned and I was quickly dismissed.

How does this make me feel? The first time a cop had his hands in my pockets, I was briefly pissed. As I considered the gravity of the security situation here and my own relative insignificance, making a fuss seemed scarcely worth the trouble. That may sound Orwellian to somebody in the states (and in fact, I'm surprised to see myself writing it like that...), but I'd much rather let the cop be about his business than distract him from his job.

Things become very clear when you're reminded that there are people less than 50 miles away who would like to kill you and everyone like you.

The US and UK may decide to draw the line closer on the side of personal liberty. If so, they'd better set about killing or detaining the people who'd like to kill Britons and Americans as quickly as possible. Or changing the circumstances that make those people want to kill Britons and Americans (War in Iraq, anybody?) Under the present circumstances, however, I find it pretty hard to muster sympathy for this fellow. Some poor, innocent 18 year old Arab kid who's looking at spending the rest of his youth in a trailer in the Caribbean? That's a different story altogether.
posted by felix betachat at 4:45 AM on September 22, 2005


Betachat:
"competent police...cane be a tremendous comfort."
The problem is the incompetent ones.
posted by notsnot at 4:54 AM on September 22, 2005


Felix, in case you hadn't noticed, this guy was going about his lawful business when he was stopped, interrogated, arrested, his house raided and his property taken into custody -- and all charges were dropped.

This was based on random profiling.

Where's the intelligence-led policing? Where's the alleged MI5 map of subversive cells they're watching? What's the probability that collaring random passers-by in the hope that they might be a terrorist is actually going to achieve anything useful? There are a couple of million people on the tube in any 24 hour period. Of those, a handful are suicidal; several thousand replicate the profile of that geek (hell, I never go outside my flat with less than two microprocessors and 20Gb of storage on my person -- if carrying electronics is grounds for suspicion of terrorism then I'm obviously a one-man walking AQ cell); an average of eight per year -- in a bad year -- may actually be terrorists.

You need to read Bruce Schneier on profiling. You probably ought to also read his Beyond Fear, on the difference between useless show security measures and the real thing.

Then get back to us when you've figured out how much your civil rights are worth to you, measured in bogus feel-good panic measures that don't actually catch terrorists but play well in the press.
posted by cstross at 4:58 AM on September 22, 2005


His lost civil liberties amount to some time in jail and a search of his home. Period.

What do you mean period? Besides what cstross points out, did you RTFA to the end?

The Police eventually decided to take No Further Action (NFA): ‘a decision not to proceed with a prosecution’. In a democratic country such as the UK, one would be forgiven for naively thinking that this is the end of the matter. Under the current laws the Police are not only entitled to keep my fingerprints and DNA samples, but apparently, according to my solicitor, they are also entitled to hold on to what they gathered during their investigation: notepads of the arresting officers, photographs, interviewing tapes and any other documents they collected and entered in the Police National Computer (PNC). (Also, at the time of this writing, I still have no letter stating that I'm effectively off the hook and I still haven't been given any of my possessions back.)
posted by magullo at 5:04 AM on September 22, 2005


The problem, felix betachat, is that the police can and will use the evidence they gather in 'terrorism' searches to charge you with more ordinary crimes, like drug possession.

qwip, I'm glad you're figuring this out. The United States, land of the free, has become a nation of cowards. We'd rather be safe than free, even if the safety is illusion.

Freedom is so much more important than simple safety, and unless we as a nation wake up and realize this very soon, the chains will be too thick to remove.
posted by Malor at 5:07 AM on September 22, 2005


This has happened to me in the States. There are 56 people in Texas with variants of my first and last name; one of them is wanted for felony assault.
I smile, roll with the questions, provide IDs and answers, and although inconvenient it is still some vague source of amusement.
At times, freedom is not free.
posted by buzzman at 5:10 AM on September 22, 2005


First off, sorry for the double post...bad connection here, I think.

Second, incompetent police are a different issue, I think. Cops in the US and UK are still getting accustomed to having anti-terrorism added to their list of duties. It's to be expected, I think, that over-zealous interrogation and detention will be part of the learning curve. Why scream police-state when simple task confusion is an explanation more readily at hand?

Again, remember, not three months ago bombs were exploding all over London. Do you not think that nearly every British cop has this on his or her mind every minute of every day? Don't you want those cops to be doing literally everything they can to prevent this? Aren't you a bit nervous of the cops who aren't thinking about this?

Thirdly, cstross, my civil liberties matter to me a lot. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in that order. I will consistently vote for politicians who can prevent terrorist attacks through skillful foreign policy and effective intervention abroad. Until we get such a politician in the US, I reckon Americans should accustom themselves to these sorts of second-tier defenses. Sucks, to be sure. But so does dying in a bus bombing.

I'd put it this way: the quickest way to preserve your civil liberties is to elect effective and competent leaders. Why that's not being done in the US and UK is the real issue here. Not how some IT geek with a sense of personal entitlement got his hackles up over police who are trying to do their job.
posted by felix betachat at 5:15 AM on September 22, 2005


Finally, these issues over data retention, ongoing profiling, and misuse of evidence are very serious. But they should be treated in the legislature with effective laws. In the near term, I'd like a show of hands of people living in major metropolitan areas who'd like to have the cops just ignore people who raise their suspicions. Short of ignoring them, what would the civil libertarians in the crown have them do?
posted by felix betachat at 5:18 AM on September 22, 2005


he, for whatever reason, fit several profiles for a potential terrorist. He's acting strangely on the subway

Strangely how? Care to point out the strange behavior in the story?

has a lot of electronic and computer equipment

The police didn't know about this until after they detained him, so clearly this is not part of the profile that led to his detention. Nor did they know about this before the decision to arrest him was made.

and works at a place that has already aroused the suspicion of the police.

See above. You're going to have to do better than this to credibly excuse the police action in this instance.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:18 AM on September 22, 2005


crown=crowd
posted by felix betachat at 5:18 AM on September 22, 2005


I think I'd be much less concerned if they had stopped him, looked in his bag, and let him go once they realised it was just a laptop. There's clearly a point (when they get up out of the station, and he thinks they're about to let him go) where the cops could have just dropped it, not compromised security in any way.
posted by handee at 5:27 AM on September 22, 2005


Strangely how? Care to point out the strange behavior in the story?
I am told that I am being stopped and searched because they found my behaviour suspicious (from direct observation and then from watching me on the CCTV system):

I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates, i.e. I was ‘avoiding them’
two other men entered the station at about the same time as me
I am wearing a jacket ‘too warm for the season’
I am carrying a bulky rucksack
I kept my rucksack with me at all times (I had it on my back)
I looked at people coming on the platform
I played with my mobile phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.
This is what the guy was told. Accounting for the alarmism and sense of entitlement which provoked the post in the first place, it was apparently enough to provoke the cops to action.

schoolgirl report: if it's a problem of criteria, that's fixable. For the cops to do their job effectively, they should have a clear sense of what constitutes suspicious behavior. In the immediate wake of a terror incident, I'm inclined to cut them a little slack. Over time, this sort of profiling should get more targeted. The cops should have a list of criteria and a clear sense of how to get somebody off the list as quickly as possible.

Here's an example. I carry a big backpack all the time. When I get on a bus here in Jerusalem, I'm always stopped by the guards who randomly ride the buses. They look me in the eye, smile and ask how I'm doing. I look right back, smile and say, "very well, thanks." They do it because they're looking for my emotional state and readiness to engage. I respond as I do because I don't want to distract them or be inconvenienced. That's an example of effective profiling. If I ever respond sullenly or dodge their question, I should expect to receive more attention. Not because the cops dislike me, or they're on a power trip, but because I haven't done a good enough job of demonstrating to them that I'm not a threat.

The story here is of a society that hasn't figured out how to negotiate these sorts of situations nearly as effectively. Given time (and effective leadership), I should hope they'll learn how. I hope it doesn't take more bombings to teach them the lessons they need to learn.
posted by felix betachat at 5:31 AM on September 22, 2005


Cops in the US and UK are still getting accustomed to having anti-terrorism added to their list of duties -- I call bullshit on this: cops in the UK have had anti-terrorist duties for more than thirty years, or had you forgotten the IRA bombing campaigns of yore? (I assure you I haven't -- and I was living in London during the early 90s, back when there was last an active service unit blowing things up around town). The Met has lately acquired draconian new powers that go far beyond anything deemed necessary to deal with an on-going insurgency campaign that claimed 3000 British lives over the preceding decades. You'll pardon me, I hope, for wondering why they need these additional powers now, when they didn't need them to deal with earlier terrorist threats.

I will consistently vote for politicians who can prevent terrorist attacks through skillful foreign policy and effective intervention abroad. This has a nice ring to it, but you might want to bear in mind that skillful foreign policy and intervention abroad is what got us into this mess in the first place. (Or does the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence not ring any bells with you? Have you examined the origins of the modern Middle East and the political disputes in that region that are now overflowing into our own back yard?) A very strong case exists that western intervention overseas is the root cause of anti-western terrorism, and it's not a left-wing stalking horse (unless you consider the Cato Institute to be a left wing entity, in which case we're clearly from different time-lines).

To sum up: the terrorism problem is largely a consequence of our own foreign policies. While the measures being adopted at home to "enhance security" do nothing of the kind -- they're show measures, that look good but don't achieve anything of any significance other than the erosion of our civil rights.
posted by cstross at 5:31 AM on September 22, 2005


buzzman: At times, freedom is not free.

Is there a hefty fucking fee?

Sorry.
posted by chrismear at 5:34 AM on September 22, 2005


Cops in the US and UK are still getting accustomed to having anti-terrorism added to their list of duties.

So I guess those IRA attacks in London several years ago didn't leave the Police accustomed to anti-terrorism duties.

I was driving round London once, back in 1992, and I went round Picadilly circus twice because I was a bit lost. Anyway, the cops stopped me, looked through my ID, paid close attention to my friend from Northern Ireland, then let us go.

Look, I would not compare getting killed by a bomb to being arrested for so-called 'suspicious' activities, but "the loss of personal liberty for the 'X number' of innocent people protects the lives of innocent people" must have limits. To any reasonable person that may sound strange, but the trend basically forgives mistakes in Police work. And I thought mistakes lead to deaths. It's not very efficient, is it?

Your situation in Jerusalem is interesting, inasmuch you want to imprint your happiness with the security situation there on to Londoners.
posted by gsb at 5:36 AM on September 22, 2005


oops, 'Piccadilly'
posted by gsb at 5:37 AM on September 22, 2005


Addendum to Felix: I posted before noting, from your own follow-up, that you lived in Jerusalem. Obviously, that changes the context somewhat: I thought you were probably American. (So I'll assume you do know quite a bit about Middle Eastern history and politics ...)

Bluntly, though, the current terrorist threat to the UK is an imported one. (And it didn't need to be imported.) I'm more than a bit pissed off at being told by my government, "oops, we seem to have attracted the ire of Al Qaida, now we're going to have to take your civil rights away in order to protect you."
posted by cstross at 5:38 AM on September 22, 2005


Here in Canada, we have a fellow by the name of Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian being held on security certificate since 2001 for suspicion of spying/terrorist planning -- largely because he was carrying a map of Tunney's Pasture, indicating a collection of numbered government buildings. Of course, that's a tourist map available to anyone, and the buildings are in fact numbered because the place is a maze. No charges; none needed.
posted by dreamsign at 5:39 AM on September 22, 2005


felix, you're happy with your situation because, after being detained and searched, you were released without charged because you didn't "fit the profile".
That's very nice for you, especially considering the very tenuous security situation there.

This man was detained and searched and, when he didn't fit the profile or provide further cause for concern, he's arrested for suspicious behaviour and public nuisance and held for seven and a half hours before being released without all of his possessions, during which time his flat was searched and further items removed.

The two situations are dissimilar.
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:47 AM on September 22, 2005


felix, so you don't have a problem with constantly living your life under surveillance, and having to 'demonstrate that you are not a threat'? You don't see any problem with perpetually proving yourself innocent at checkpoints?

I've come to the conclusion that no matter WHAT a government does, no matter how awful it becomes, some people will argue passionately that it's only right and just that it do so.

If restricting police from being able to stop, question, and detail anyone they wish for whatever reason they wish means that more people will die, then that is what freedom costs.

For a long time in this country, we could send our soldiers off to do the fighting, instead of having to do it ourselves. Not anymore. Now we're all soldiers, and we can all be killed at any time. If we want to keep our freedoms, then we will have to be a little less safe.

There's no way that terrorists could ever destroy this country, or our fundamental freedoms. Abraham Lincoln said:
All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
Felix Betachat's attitude is a big, big step toward that suicide.
posted by Malor at 5:47 AM on September 22, 2005


Argh.... "stop, question, and detain" Dammit.
posted by Malor at 5:48 AM on September 22, 2005


I'm more than a bit pissed off at being told by my government, "oops, we seem to have attracted the ire of Al Qaida, now we're going to have to take your civil rights away in order to protect you.

cstross: That's precisely my point, thanks. This is a foreign policy problem with domestic ramifications. Outrage should be focused on the missteps there rather than the clumsiness of the domestic police.

You obviously know more about the situation with police authority in London than I do. How have their powers changed from the '80s? What are the attitudes of Londoners? Will there be a legislative or electoral backlash, do you think?

From my part, until June, I lived in Chicago where the police presence was...um...laconic. I rode the El regularly and only a few times saw anything remotely resembling surveillance or anti-terrorism. Even in the weeks after 9/11. That worried me a lot. That's why, I think, I'm inclined to take a more sanguine view of expanded police authority when expressed efficiently in a situation of clear danger.
posted by felix betachat at 5:54 AM on September 22, 2005


I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates, i.e. I was ‘avoiding them’
two other men entered the station at about the same time as me
I am wearing a jacket ‘too warm for the season’
I am carrying a bulky rucksack
I kept my rucksack with me at all times (I had it on my back)
I looked at people coming on the platform
I played with my mobile phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.


Felix, do you find any of those activities objectively strange or suspicious? Can you not imagine there are hundreds of people doing the exact same things every day on the Tube? If this is the profile, it's completely useless. If he'd cheerfully greeted the police on his way in, removed his rucksack, and made a point not to look at anyone, I expect the police would have found him equally as "suspicious."

Your Jerusalem police, on the other hand, have it exactly right. The profile consists of very specific items: is the person wearing a backpack? Is he someplace out of the ordinary under the circumstances? If so, they speak to that person as you describe. The police in this case seem to want citizens to preemptively remove themselves from suspicion by coming up and having a nice chat.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:56 AM on September 22, 2005


felix betachat writes "Sorry, but boo fucking hoo to this fellow."

Hope it happens to you some day. If it does I have a feeling we'll hear about it here... probably from you.
posted by clevershark at 5:59 AM on September 22, 2005


schoolgirl report: Exactly. So can we agree that this is a problem of ineffective or inefficient use of police powers rather than "erosion of civil liberties"?

Or, put another way, will you agree with me that, with an effective set of criteria in place, the cops should have the right to detain and question anybody they deem to be a present threat?
posted by felix betachat at 6:00 AM on September 22, 2005


This man was detained and searched and, when he didn't fit the profile or provide further cause for concern, he's arrested for suspicious behaviour and public nuisance and held for seven and a half hours before being released without all of his possessions, during which time his flat was searched and further items removed.

Ninjapirate: we have no way of knowing if he "didn't fit the profile", since all we have is his self-representation, written in a tone that's a little too breathless and outraged for my taste.

clevershark: thanks.
posted by felix betachat at 6:06 AM on September 22, 2005


Ah, acting strangely by wearing a jacket in 16 degrees, carrying a rucksack and checking a mobile phone while waiting for the train, like, millions of people do every day. I especially love how not looking at policemen is a suspicious activity. Wtf?

No such incidents with women yet, right? guess females don't fit the suspect profile, at least until Chechen-style attacks go global. I'm sure terrorists are taking note of all these clues on how go to about undisturbed.

Now I'm the kind of person who has no objection to police searches as such, but if they're going to actually detain people and take their possessions after verifying they are not carrying any explosives and without having any intelligence whatsoever on them, it's a whole other story. How much of this approach has ever been useful? Intelligence works by gathering information on people in order to identify them as suspect, not the other way round. But because we cannot hear about that, they have to show to the public they are doing something, especially after an attack has already happened. As if before, nothing was being done?

Don't miss this too:

Met chief admits errors over tube shooting

Sir Ian Blair told the BBC's Hardtalk programme that more could have been done to set the record straight, but he denied misleading Mr de Menezes' family.
"I don't think we actively withdrew the misinformation that was about," he said. "We allowed, or we didn't contradict sufficiently, the stuff about Mr Menezes vaulting the barrier. I don't think we did enough." But he added: "We told the family from the very beginning there was no coat and no leaping over the barriers."


That's so nice to hear, now why couldn't they also tell the press from the very beginning? I guess misleading the public is ok?

I love this non-apology style, where they sort of admit things went wrong but it's a royal "we" and no one is identified as responsible and no one resigns.
posted by funambulist at 6:09 AM on September 22, 2005


felix betachat writes "clevershark: thanks."

Well I'm sure I show as much "compassion" towards you as you have shown yourself.

You've been stopped a few times and asked for ID (by your own account). That's not exactly being taken to jail, having your residence done over by the authorities, having a charge put against you, and getting personal effects confiscated, now, is it?
posted by clevershark at 6:09 AM on September 22, 2005


So can we agree that this is a problem of ineffective or inefficient use of police powers rather than "erosion of civil liberties"?

I'm no screaming left-winger, so I understand what you're getting at. But I fail to see how ineffective/inefficient use of police powers cannot by itself lead to an "erosion of civil liberties," though I might not put it that strongly.

Or, put another way, will you agree with me that, with an effective set of criteria in place, the cops should have the right to detain and question anybody they deem to be a present threat?

Yes, absolutely. But that's simply not what's going on here. From what I gather, you seem to acknowledge that the police here are not acting under an effective set of criteria. My arguments are about this particular instance, not profiling in general. So while I do think we're in agreement generally, I think you should concede that here we're looking at a fundamental problem with the way the British police are going about this profiling business. It's the criteria that are at issue, not the policy.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:23 AM on September 22, 2005


some IT geek with a sense of personal entitlement

*bangs head against wall*

I for one thank god there are people who actually expect police actions to be coherent, sensible and accountable, from minor to major (fatal) incidents, especially because the police have a serious job to do.

They do it because they're looking for my emotional state and readiness to engage.

Yeah now Israeli anti-terrorism is based on the capacity for mindreading based on an exchange of pleasantries. It's not like they actually do major intelligence work to prevent attacks, nah.

Your example is irrelevant anyway, this is not just searching and stopping people based on whatever element raises the police attention. Like handee said above, there is a point where it went from that to arrest for no reason at all, after they were already about to let him go. I'm not concerned so much about this guy's experience, which was - as he himself acknowledges - comparatively very light, but about the criteria at work here. That switch from the moment they apologise and give him back his stuff and are releasing him with no charges, to the moment some other officer comes in and says no, that won't do, let's take all the stuff back and arrest this guy. What is the reason for that? what is efficient about it?
I don't see how anyone worried about terrorist attacks should be glad decisions can be made so randomly.
posted by funambulist at 6:30 AM on September 22, 2005


felix, I have no problem with you giving up your rights "in the name of security." I have a problem when you volunteer to give up my rights.
I think we should have protestors who purposefully wear coats in the subway and carry rucksacks. Of course, they are risking their lives.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:30 AM on September 22, 2005


This is a great post, mainly because the linked article was written so soberly and without apparent embellishment. It's a model for anyone whoever posts at IndyMedia to follow, instead of the usual vague, unreliable, sarcastic, indignant rhetoric posted by people who are arrested at protests.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:35 AM on September 22, 2005


Nobody ever seems to do the calculus in these situations. Look, when someone loses their life, you can calculate the number of hours of lifetime they had left. It's on the order of 400,000 for a young man.

Now calculate the hours of life lost by spending an extra 5 minutes getting on the subway every day, an extra 30 minutes getting on the plane, an extra day spent in police custody - and multiply it by the number of people affected - plus the hours lost by the police themselves.

The NYC subway carries 5 million people per day, every day. If you delay each of them five minutes, it's like losing one life, every day, to terrorism - not even counting the police hours spent. It would be more efficient to simply select one subway rider at random, and shoot them dead each day.

Air travel is about 2 million per day in the U.S. Got to get to the airport 30 minutes earlier to make sure you get through screening; that's about 2.5 lives lost per day, not counting the time of the screeners themselves.

A couple of previous commenters have it right: the police will fabricate myriad small details to make the situation look as guilty as possible. The guy didn't fit any reasonable profile - after all, if you *didn't* keep your backpack with you, *that* would be deemed suspicious, so clearly keeping it with you *cannot* be part of a profile. Wearing a raincoat in London is suspicious? Hah!

There's a movie called "Black October" available on DVD, about separatist terrorists in Quebec trying to secede from Canada in 1970. The Prime Minister puts troops on the streets on Montreal, and a Canada Radio reporter asks him questions about it. The reporter says things like, "I don't like troops on the streets" and "if this is the cost of freedom, it's too much". Notice the use of "I"; the reporter is pissed and reacting and questioning. The reporter asks Trudeau how far he will go to stop the separatists; he responds, famously, "Just watch me."

Ah! Found the interview. Notice that the reporter is personally pissed, and not afraid to show it.

Today it would be "some people say..." or other mealy-mouthed shit, or perhaps "Mr. President, some liberals are objecting to your noble policies...". Not one reporter in the years since 2001 has put questions like that to Blair or Bush.
posted by jellicle at 6:46 AM on September 22, 2005


From what I gather, you seem to acknowledge that the police here are not acting under an effective set of criteria. My arguments are about this particular instance, not profiling in general. So while I do think we're in agreement generally, I think you should concede that here we're looking at a fundamental problem with the way the British police are going about this profiling business. It's the criteria that are at issue, not the policy.

Readily conceded. But I draw the line here:
This gradual erosion of our fundamental liberties should be of concern to us all.

If it's an issue of institutional inefficiency or a systemic inability to address a threat effectively, that's one thing. There are mechanisms in place for fixing these sorts of problems (courts and legislatures) and, last I checked, they're still working.

Crying "erosion of civil liberties" is another thing, to my mind. Something far more grave. Just because the cops stopped somebody and subjected them to an intrusive and unpleasant search does not mean we're on track to living in a police state. It means somebody was inconvenienced. As I said upthread, I take things like indefinite detention and racial profiling a lot more seriously than this guy's story.

And, finally, to clarify: I'm very concerned about civil liberties. But I also think that most major metropolitan areas are one coordinated bombing campaign away from an episode of martial law and that another 9/11 would be totally catastrophic from a civil libertarian's point of view.

I guess I advocate drawing the line a little closer on the side of security than liberty and drawing it hard. Then demanding that the police exercise their responsibilities with care and respect. The alternative is a torrent of gasping: "I was oppressed" stories like this that encourage a hard-line on the side of liberty which holds up until the next attack.

I wonder if it even occurred to this guy to ask if his expression of personal privilege helped or hurt the police in their job to prevent another attack.
posted by felix betachat at 6:49 AM on September 22, 2005


I wonder if it even occurred to the police to state whether their unwarranted suspension of his civil liberty helped or hurt their job to prevent another attack.
posted by NinjaPirate at 6:56 AM on September 22, 2005


(Sorry felix, but as a one-man-defence, you're the only one with a head above the parapet. We don't hate you.)
posted by NinjaPirate at 6:58 AM on September 22, 2005


(Don't sweat it NP...remember, I've got legions of stormtroopers just behind the gate.)
posted by felix betachat at 7:02 AM on September 22, 2005


If you delay each of them five minutes, it's like losing one life, every day, to terrorism - not even counting the police hours spent.

Lost life is the same as the aggregate of time spent waiting somewhere?

I think this kind of profiling is ridiculous, too, but come on.
posted by dreamsign at 7:02 AM on September 22, 2005


Felix -- so what you are saying to the rest of us poor schmucks is: "Welcome to Jerusalem, where all the liberty is gone and all the police are above average" -- is that it?

Well, excuse me for saying that that is just so much bull shit. I'd rather be dead than live in your world. Just kill me now.
posted by mooncrow at 7:06 AM on September 22, 2005


felix, where is this particular person showing outrage in his account of the facts? There are details that lead me to believe that he would be annoyed (need to get a lawyer, the worried girlfriend, the seizure of his personal property) but until the last few paragraphs, he doesn't draw any conclusions based on his opinion that I have noticed.

Why are you claiming he has some sense of entitlement beyond a reasonable norm? Presumably the police checked out what was on his laptop and the seized computer. Why are they holding on to his property and interfering with not only his own posessions but his livelihood?

Additionally, charges were not dropped. I'm not particularly conversant with British law, but "no further action" sounds to me like they are not pursuing any sort of prosecution at this time, but if this individual has any brush with the law in the future, the whole incident will rear its ugly head. Imagine every time you're searched in Israel it goes into a big file of "guys wearing suspicious backpacks." Now, some day you get caught jaywalking (or some other mild offense that would be equivalent in Israel). All of the sudden you're brought into the police station and there's a file stating you wore a suspicious backpack ten times in the last three months.
posted by mikeh at 7:11 AM on September 22, 2005


I might also say that drawing a comparison between Israel, where there are very often terrorist events despite the high security, and the US and UK where there have been a handful of events over the last five years despite low to moderate security, seem wrong or depressingly premature.
posted by mikeh at 7:15 AM on September 22, 2005


I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates, i.e. I was ‘avoiding them’
two other men entered the station at about the same time as me
I am wearing a jacket ‘too warm for the season’
I am carrying a bulky rucksack
I kept my rucksack with me at all times (I had it on my back)
I looked at people coming on the platform
I played with my mobile phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.


What could he possibly have done differently??
Ok, lets take a look at this:

So, if he DOESN'T look at the police, he's avoiding them. If he HAD checked them out, they'd have thought he was engaged in some sort of surveillance.

And, two other people entered the station at about the same time as he. God forbid more than one person rides the subway at once.

The "too warm for the season" claim has already been discussed.

Also, in every train station, airport, bus station, and even in taxi cabs, they remind you to keep your baggage with you at all times. How many times have you been in a train station or an airport and the announcement over the PA says something to the effect of, "Keep your belongings with you, otherwise they'll be confiscated." So what now? Keeping your backpack on in a place where they'll confiscate it if it's 'abandoned' now gets you detained? Can you imagine what would have happened if he took it off, left it by a bench and wandered around the platform? That's such a Catch 22.

And who doesn't look at other people arriving at the platform? There's not much else to do while waiting for a train other than...

...Playing with your cell phone or reading whatever papers or other material you happen to have with you. I know that I check the clock on my phone constantly when I'm waiting for a train, just to make sure that I'm still on time and, if I had any reception on the platform, I'm sure that I'd also even *gasp* use the other features on my phone.

Please excuse my snarky tone, but I'm just completely taken aback by the apparent total lack of any real operating criteria or semblance of any legal probable cause displayed by the police in this situation. There's no possible way that this method could be even remotely efficient or effective. It's the difference between using a particular bait to catch a specific fish and casting a net the size of the ocean.
posted by Jon-o at 7:19 AM on September 22, 2005


For reference, here's an account of what happens when the London police do a quick check like felix has mentioned that only takes a few minutes. Once again, there's a record kept of the individual's name and address. Why? That's the part that's troubling me.
posted by mikeh at 7:29 AM on September 22, 2005


Good thing this guy didn't have a bong lying around the house. I bet that would've justified leaving him in the can for a few days.
sidenote: If this happened to me I would absolutely apeshit. And I live in NYC, so it's a possibility.
posted by Edible Energy at 7:32 AM on September 22, 2005


felix betachat has convinced me that I am at war with people who are hellbent on supporting a police state. Thanks.. that's exactly what I need... a goddamn jihad.

It's nice that you thought your reaction to police questioning in any way helped or hurt your situation. It probably makes you feel like you have a modicum of control over your life. Good for you. Me? I like the actual control granted by real freedom.

There are many, many ways to stop bombings in subways. For instance, jellicle's idea of simply shooting one random person out of every thousand people that go on the subway each day would effectively, and quickly, reduce any deaths from subway bombings. Why? Because nobody would fucking ride the subway.

It isn't about effectiveness. It's about whether the response is reasonable given the threat. Obviously, you think it is. Good for you. You go stand in line. Don't fucking direct me into your line, though. You're not on my side.
posted by odinsdream at 8:04 AM on September 22, 2005


The Truth is: Terrorists Are Not A Significant Threat To Me. I am far more likely to be killed by the police. If your security is truly your concern, then you will address THAT issue first.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:12 AM on September 22, 2005


Something didnt sit quite right here...

'Two bomb squad officers pass by getting out of the station. One turns to me and says in a joking tone: ‘Nice laptop!'

Is the officer sacastically refering to the laptop as the main reason he was detained? When there is no mention of the laptop or wires being pulled out prior to the arrest.

The description of what he was wearing was too ubiquitious to be the only reason for being picked up, perhaps there was something else - the profile of a box (mistakenly - a laptop) in a backpack WITH WIRES HANGING OUT OF IT.

You know how this would look at an airport xray machine and of course this would trigger a response from the security personel in that situation too.

Perhaps they have installed cameras/scanners capable of scanning through clothing at met trainstations now....

Now i know this sounds tinfoil hat material but their has been some debate about the privacy issues of this technology as a 'neccessary' precaution. Some of the above article outline the machinery required as being 'refrigerator sized' but there is no reason that advances in the tech arent happening exponentially with all the money thats being thrown at security currently.

If so, this would possibly fit with the suddeness of the police surrounding him and cordoning off the area. They obviously knew something was amiss here, and i bet it wasnt just racial profiling and unseasonal weather clothing.

Time to start going to gym and buffing up for that photoshoot you have scheduled for 8am tomorrow morning on the Met...!
posted by rawfishy at 8:18 AM on September 22, 2005


rawfishy, it sounds to me like his bag was handed off to someone to check who, when returning it, was not at all alarmed so he joked about the contents (most likely thinking "Great, yet another bag with a laptop, no bombs here!"). I'd imagine he was stopped for having a large bag and his supposedly suspicious behavior, not because they could see what was in there.
posted by mikeh at 8:30 AM on September 22, 2005


One point of response, felix. I see a lot of reason in your point of view, and can even sympathize with this line:

some IT geek with a sense of personal entitlement got his hackles up over police who are trying to do their job.

but you should bear in mind that in a free society, this guy is also doing HIS job by publicizing the incident. We're supposed to hear about this stuff. We're supposed to discuss it. We're supposed to cluck our tongues and be disturbed and wonder how we got here and what we can do to get out. That's OUR job in this situation. Firing all the cops involved is no answer, I agree. But I think it's wrong to imply that this guy should have just bourn the incident quietly, with a sense of duty. Unlike Israel, where people bear this kind of thing for the sake of the ultimate mission to have a Jewish Homeland, in America, the only mission is to have a country where this crap doesn't happen.
posted by scarabic at 8:42 AM on September 22, 2005


I am told that I am being stopped and searched because they found my behavior suspicious (from direct observation and then from watching me on the CCTV system):

I am wearing a jacket ‘too warm for the season’
I kept my rucksack with me at all times (I had it on my back)


My thought on this are (a) won't they please arrest my girlfriend, who is always fucking cold? and (2) what is the magic balance between keeping something with you at all times and leaving your bags unattended? I can only imagine what they'd think of the death-grip I keep on my laptop bag when I have it with me, given my terror that someone will run off with My Precious.
posted by phearlez at 8:50 AM on September 22, 2005


To me, it's really a question of how I want to live. Do I want live as freely as possible and accept that there is the threat of a terrorist blowing my ass up, or do I want to subject myself to unlawful search and seizure, with the possibility of arrest, in return for the illusion of safety? It comes down to that, as far as I can tell. felix would rather feel safe and be searched; I would rather be allowed to go about my business and run the risk of a terrorist attack.

Suicide bombers are usually trying to accomplish something. Sometimes they want a policy changed, sometimes they want a comrade freed from jail, and sometimes they want people to live in fear. Well, we're doing that, aren't we? And sometimes, they just want to blow shit up.

No amount of profiling, counter-terrorism activity, etc., ad nauseum is going to change this one simple fact: people suck. They always have, they always will, and some people are going to suck more than others. Nothing we ever do is going to change that. Nothing. There will always be people who think they can get what they want through violence. Neither strict anti-terrorism policies nor complete nonchalance is going to change essential human nature; all we can do is try to minimize.

Given this premise, what would you prefer? To live as you please and accept that there will be an occasional risk associated with that, or to live in fear, give power to a police state, not be allowed to carry backpacks, wear jackets, use gadgets and STILL have to accept the fact that bad things are going to happen? Or perhaps you'd prefer to live with your head up your ass and think that if we crack down hard enough we can eradicate all violence.

Freedom is not free; but I want to be able to choose my own price.
posted by jennaratrix at 8:53 AM on September 22, 2005


They obviously knew something was amiss here, and i bet it wasnt just racial profiling and unseasonal weather clothing.

Point of order: Nothing was fucking "amiss." This is a clear, absolute case of the police failing.
posted by odinsdream at 8:54 AM on September 22, 2005


I can only imagine what they'd think of the death-grip I keep on my laptop bag when I have it with me, given my terror that someone will run off with My Precious.

My laptop is literally my livelihood. I'm just supposed to give it up to anyone with a badge for an interminable period of time? You can't even trust a computer repair shop with your hard drive, let alone some unknown police employee whom you can have no contact with.

Freedom isn't free, but the price is not our autonomy, the price is eternal vigilance against this sort of immoral abuse of authority.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:59 AM on September 22, 2005


Hey felix betachat: "[T]he Police have decided that wearing a rain jacket, carrying a rucksack with a laptop inside, looking down at the steps while going in a tube station and checking your phone for messages just tick too many checkmarks on their checklist and make you a terrorist suspect."

How in the fuck do you think anybody could avoid "fitting a terrorist profile" like THAT? I have some ideas that by your expressed criteria should make you all warm and gooey inside:

1) Don't wear a jacket of any kind. Best yet, so they can't suspect you have anything in your pockets or concealed about your person, go naked. And no shoes: they might be bombs. Be ready at all times to submit to a body cavity search for any reason.

Don't worry about your ID cards, you'll have the appropriate bar codes tattooed onto your body (which must agree with your identifying subcutaneous implants) specifying who you are and what security clearance you are allowed. ("Sorry Mr. Betachat, but it says on your left pectoral that you are not allowed near a kosher grocery, and anyway the curfew for your level is 6 minutes from now so you simply don't have time to do any shopping; please rejoin the queue marching to your assigned domicile.")

2) Don't carry a backpack. Carry everything in completely clear transparent bags. Line up before entering a public building to have your clear bag searched; allow time for everything in it to be disassembled (and maybe put back together), and give yourself time for a body cavity search just in case.

3) If you must carry a cell phone don't check your messages in or near any building or structure that might be a terrorist target. (Note: ANY building or structure might be a terrorist target.)

4) Don't carry a laptop. Every document you must carry that is not a newspaper or magazine should be clearly printed on A4 or smaller paper and carried either in your hand or in your transparent bag; the practice of mailing letters in envelopes will of course have been outlawed because they might contain letterbombs or anthrax spores. For your safety, because even the smallest book might be hollowed out to contain a bomb, upon queueing up to attempt to enter a building or structure all books must be run through an X-ray machine and then visually inspected, and any book that any of the police around you deem potentially offensive, subversive or favoring terrorism is subject to immediate confiscation without compensation.

5) When walking through a public place, focus your eyes on each and every police officer anywhere around you; if this means falling down the steps and breaking your neck because you were looking at the cop behind you instead of where you're going that's just too bad. If the police deem that the movement of non-police personnel through any public area is to be encouraged they will provide you with guide guards and with whatever restraints might be necessary to ensure the safety of your fellow subjects and public servants. In areas near or in structures or buildings bearing public foot traffic you will at all times stand or walk in the appropriate file.

If you follow these simple procedures, and any further or additional measures that the authorities might deem necessary -- and if you're a blond-haired blue-eyed person whose accent fully matches the one officially specified for whatever area you're in, and if you comport yourself exactly how every cop in the area decides is not "suspicious" in any way -- you might be able to go about your day without undue hardship, safe in the knowledge that your government is protecting you.
posted by davy at 9:00 AM on September 22, 2005


Sorry, but boo fucking hoo to this fellow. We're a few months after a major terrorist attack on London, he's not in Guantanimo or some other dark place of indefinite detention and he has the wherewithal to easily access a lawyer (at which point his problems are effectively over). His lost civil liberties amount to some time in jail and a search of his home. Period.

let us search your apartment and computer, felix. if you're against that, you must have something to hide. do you?


fit several profiles for a potential terrorist. He's acting strangely on the subway,

just like that Brazilian fellow!


I'm living in Israel now, where the line has long been drawn harder to the side of security

*wonders how he can politely break the news to felix that, ahem, most people don't want to live like Israelis accept to live since the second intifada. we just don't. but then, so many of us don't want to hold on to land that isn't ours in the first place, either*



Some poor, innocent 18 year old Arab kid who's looking at spending the rest of his youth in a trailer in the Caribbean? That's a different story altogether.


well, you're so compassionate, Mr Boo Fucking Hoo
posted by matteo at 9:11 AM on September 22, 2005


and what davy said
posted by matteo at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2005


Question for the class: why do these incidents happen in London, but not in Madrid? (to compare to another European city that has already had a terrorist attack)
posted by funambulist at 9:23 AM on September 22, 2005


some IT geek with a sense of personal entitlement got his hackles up over police who are trying to do their job.

Of course he has a sense of entitlement, as a citizen of england, he expects the civil liberties due him.

If the police had stopped him and searched his bag, found no bombs, and let him go this would not be a big deal. Apparently felix betachat believes that the police should be able enter people's apartments, and take whatever they want simply because they thought they looked 'suspicious' in the tube station.

I'm sorry, but I just think that's right.
posted by delmoi at 9:26 AM on September 22, 2005


Question for the class: why do these incidents happen in London, but not in Madrid? (to compare to another European city that has already had a terrorist attack)

Maybe they do and we just don't hear about it?
posted by delmoi at 9:27 AM on September 22, 2005


Hmm, apparently I took the subway with 1000's of terrorists this morning, attended classes with 100's of the same, and come to think of it I felt perfectly entitled to carry my laptop with me, wear my windbreaker, and consult the map of my school's campus whilst waiting for my train..... goddamnit, I also made eye contact with several strangers, and who knows if I inadvertently ignored an authority figure at the same time!

*runs off to buy some blonde hair dye, blue contacts, & a stylish clear plastic backpack*
posted by zarah at 9:27 AM on September 22, 2005


delmoi: wrong answer!
posted by funambulist at 9:32 AM on September 22, 2005


Can someone flag felix’s post please… cos, you know—it didn’t sit too well with me:

First of all, it didn’t look at me when I wanted it to.
Then, it had the nerve to not smile.
And now, it’s just sitting there in the corner like it doesn’t even care!

Wtf…? That’s like, totally unacceptable behaviour I’m afraid.


I’m glad this guy didn’t take this sitting down. More power to him. And I hope people everywhere continue to question the right of their governments to trample on their civil liberties in the name of self-defence.
posted by MoralAnimal at 9:33 AM on September 22, 2005


markesh writes "So if they take away my computer, and I am unable to work for the entire time, will I be compensated?"

Heck are you kidding? The police won't even compensate you if they kick your door in but don't arrest anyone.
posted by Mitheral at 9:35 AM on September 22, 2005


why do these incidents happen in London, but not in Madrid?

Because they do, but people getting upset about it tend to do so in Spanish, making it less likely to get to MetaFilter, which is largely populated by Anglophones?

(or)

Because maybe their cops are better?
posted by Vidiot at 9:43 AM on September 22, 2005


matteo writes "but then, so many of us don't want to hold on to land that isn't ours in the first place, either*"

Heck ya! All you white guys get the hell off my land. //sarcasm
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2005


Innocent in London. An account from someone who was stopped, searched and arrested by the Police in a London Tube station.

Now if only the guilty would give an account of how they succeed.
posted by semmi at 9:52 AM on September 22, 2005


Vidiot, I'd wager your choice A is spot on. matteo, check your email
posted by romakimmy at 10:15 AM on September 22, 2005


One of the reasons I'm against this police state crap is that I don't believe it works. On the US immigration (now part of Homeland Security) adjustment of status form it asks if you are a terrorist. Um... terrorists will lie.
Terrorists will overcome this arbitrary and pathetic attempt at profiling. If they choose to attack the subways again (and they'll probably shift targets), they will do it in a way that is not counteracted by such simplistic defenses.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:18 AM on September 22, 2005


Do any UKers feel safer with all those cameras around? The ones that were reported as not working at the exact time of the underground bombings? And not working when that innocent man was shot?

Real safe. These liberty/safety trades are really paying off.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:23 AM on September 22, 2005


Vidiot: neither of the two really, it's not about what gets discussed here, and it's not about how good cops are but about political choices. Now in terms of judicial measures for suspected terrorists, Spain too has procedures that have been criticised as being not exactly up to scratch in terms of human rights. But in terms of incidents like these specifically - not identifying someone as member of terrorist organisation after intelligence work, but arbitrarily picking somone as a "suspect" from a bus or train station based on ludicrous reasons like behaviour that is so normal and common it sounds like a joke to even call it suspicious - not to mention the whole de Menezes story, not so much as an isolated incident but in terms of the political handling of it, the justifications of shoot to kill policies and the debate that followed, no, it hasn't happened, not even after the bombings. Why? I don't know, different governments, different political climates, but it seems to me it may also have something to do with what Malor mentioned above: memory of abuse of powers by government.

I may be completely off of course, and this is only what I know superficially from media and friends in Spain. But the way the debate has been handled in UK, it seems obvious to me there is a certain mentality that allows for these things to happen. So to speak.
posted by funambulist at 10:31 AM on September 22, 2005


scarabic writes "but you should bear in mind that in a free society, this guy is also doing HIS job by publicizing the incident. We're supposed to hear about this stuff. We're supposed to discuss it. We're supposed to cluck our tongues and be disturbed and wonder how we got here and what we can do to get out. That's OUR job in this situation."

This is a really good point, but I'm not sure that our job extends to condemning this kind of approach to terrorism out of hand. We may choose to do that, but we may also think, as Felix seems to, that the approach is legitimate but that the criteria applied were wrong or applied incorrectly.

The "calculus" above about lost time is completely unconvincing. Aggregate time gone is not the same as a life lost; the impact of a lost life is far greater than time lost; the affect of mass killings is potentially much more detrimental to civil rights than is small amounts of time lost. These are hard questions not solved by arithmetic.

So, what's the solution? I don't mean that in some snarky way, I'm actually curious. Take London. A city just a few months past a major terrorist attack of a particular sort (and not a sort that seems clear would only work once, like 9-11). How do you prevent it from happening again? What would constitute negligence by the police in letting such an attack occur again? Recall that they only have to miss one suicide bomber in order for it to happen again, but they have to catch every one in order to keep it from happening. I'm not at all sanguine about loss of civil liberties, but I also don't know the answer to this question.
posted by OmieWise at 10:42 AM on September 22, 2005


funambulist: "Question for the class: why do these incidents happen in London, but not in Madrid? (to compare to another European city that has already had a terrorist attack)"

delmoi: "Maybe they do and we just don't hear about it?"

Or maybe those things happen and people do post about it, but they post in Spanish on Spanish-language sites? Given Franco (died 1975), I don't think Spanish culture would be much more libertarian than Britain's.
posted by davy at 10:51 AM on September 22, 2005


But the prevention of terrorist attacks does not depend on the police. They come in at the last level. Otherwise we might as well have mandatory airport style checking for every single person that enters a station or public building.
posted by funambulist at 10:58 AM on September 22, 2005


This is a really good point, but I'm not sure that our job extends to condemning this kind of approach to terrorism out of hand.

As a whole, no, which is why there are checks and balances in our system. But in terms of "getting the hackles up over it" - absolutely he should. It's one voice. Someone in the room should condemn it out of hand. The rest of the people in the room can stop and think about that. Another voice can completely disagree. This, if anything, *is* freedom in action.
posted by scarabic at 11:06 AM on September 22, 2005


davy: it has nothing to do with who posts about it on some weblog (no offense to weblogs). I don't live in the UK and I read news from Spain too, maybe affairs from the continent do not get a lot of space in the UK press but the debate on the police policies after the bombings were largely reported in all European media. I am not talking of the overall counter-terrorism measures but of the actions of police towards the public and the political debate on that. It has nothing to do with libertarian vs. whatever is not libertarian either. As for Franco... have you noticed there have been some changes in Spanish politics and society since the 1970's? Not just with Zapatero's government.

All I'm saying is, the way the debate is handled in UK about police powers has elements that are very specific to the UK, more than to the question of how to deal with terrorism in general.
posted by funambulist at 11:08 AM on September 22, 2005


OmieWise: Recall that they only have to miss one suicide bomber in order for it to happen again, but they have to catch every one in order to keep it from happening.

Well, here is the thing. After determining that this guy is not carrying a bomb and only trivially matches a profile of behaviors matching dozens of subway riders, and that this guy seems to be fully cooperating with police and not hiding much of anything, is there a good reason to waste time and manpower moving him through the system?

I think there is a serious problem if it takes a dozen man-hours to distinguish between "man with a laptop" and "terrorist with a bomb."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:13 AM on September 22, 2005


... the affect of mass killings is potentially much more detrimental to civil rights than is small amounts of time lost.

Point of order: "small amount of time lost" does not even begin to describe what this guy went through. He was detained for nearly seven hours while his girlfriend was completely uninformed about his whereabouts, his home was searched, his property was taken and not returned, and he still hasn't gotten any indication that the charges were dropped. The incident will be a permanent part of his record for the rest of his life.

Secondly, on a more philosophical note, how do you consider that a mass killing is detrimental to civil rights? I would argue that, for instance, if I were to walk out of my building today and be blown up by a "terrorist," that nobody's civil rights are being affected. I was murdered by someone, and justice should be served per our legal system. How does this involve civil rights at all? These rights can only be truly harmed by our government, not by citizens, even citizens acting as terrorists.
posted by odinsdream at 11:23 AM on September 22, 2005


Also, to me, the question here is not about a fear of erosion of civil liberties, well not primarily. I certainly don't believe ID cards and searches are the path to a police state. It's how it's done and what it leads to. Like schoolgirl report said - it's about the criteria, not just the policy of being able to stop and search people at random (regardless of how useless that may be).

Arresting - not just searching - people only because of jackets and rucksacks and mobile phones and nothing else, no prior intelligence, no actual hostile behaviour, nothing, is useless, it's inefficient, it's a waste of resources, and it is politically dangerous because it leads to lack of accountability when things go wrong.

Speaking of which, notice how this happened after the de Menezes shooting and the police claim about "suspicious behaviour" of this guy is remarkably similar to that of the Brazilian guy? (minus the rucksack) The "jacket too warm for season" is exactly what the police said about that case (and it wasn't true, as they now graciously admit after two months). Did they get a checklist with that item as a reason for suspicion? How ridiculously arbitrary is it?
posted by funambulist at 11:36 AM on September 22, 2005


odinsdream: These rights can only be truly harmed by our government, not by citizens, even citizens acting as terrorists.

I feel I have to disagree with this statement. One of the major blind spots that I think American libertarians have is that the abuses of corporate power in the early 20th century were at least as damaging to civil liberties as any actions taken by the government during this time.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2005


One of the major blind spots that I think American libertarians have is that the abuses of corporate power in the early 20th century were at least as damaging to civil liberties as any actions taken by the government during this time.

Agreed, but never forget that such abuses require the complicity of governments.
posted by voltairemodern at 12:41 PM on September 22, 2005


I was thinking about this a bit ago. Does anyone else find it disturbing that "Looking suspicious" is actually a crime now?

Seriously, WTF? If some random person with a badge thinks you're suspicious looking then you, through no action on your own are now actually a criminal, and can have your home searched and your possessions confiscated, and spend a day in jail.

Being arrested and charged with a crime simply because someone else feels like arresting you absolutely is 'police state' material.
posted by delmoi at 1:16 PM on September 22, 2005


Don't forget. He had 'wires'.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:20 PM on September 22, 2005


I am concerned, but powerless. We all are.
posted by Acey at 1:55 PM on September 22, 2005


KirkJobSluder writes "I think there is a serious problem if it takes a dozen man-hours to distinguish between 'man with a laptop' and 'terrorist with a bomb.'"

I agree completely, but that doesn't obviate a role for the police in profiling people, it only obviates the means which they now use to do it.

odinsdream writes "Point of order: 'small amount of time lost' does not even begin to describe what this guy went through."

The post to which I referred was not talking specifically about this guy, it was counting up small increments of time losst for large numbers of citizens.
"Now calculate the hours of life lost by spending an extra 5 minutes getting on the subway every day..."

funambulist writes "Speaking of which, notice how this happened after the de Menezes shooting and the police claim about 'suspicious behaviour' of this guy is remarkably similar to that of the Brazilian guy?"

This seems like progress. They didn't shoot this guy.

funambulist writes "But the prevention of terrorist attacks does not depend on the police. They come in at the last level. "

Which means that it partly depends on police. I agree that having police be the first line of defense would be a mistake, but I've seen no one advocate for that. (I don't mean in the thread, although that, but out in the real world.)
posted by OmieWise at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2005


... they are also entitled to hold on to what they gathered during their investigation: notepads of the arresting officers, photographs, interviewing tapes and any other documents they collected and entered in the Police National Computer (PNC).

From what I know of the police, this is SOP in many currently untargetted countries, and gives the police roughly the same rights as, say, journalists. You might not like it, because it's in an 'official' state database, but police can put anything they think of against your name and you have no recourse. It can only be accessed by other police though.
posted by Sparx at 3:55 PM on September 22, 2005


funambulist: "Question for the class: why do these incidents happen in London, but not in Madrid? (to compare to another European city that has already had a terrorist attack)"

Police excesses do happen in Spain, there is also plenty of profiling and, in a war with domestic terrorism for over 30 years now, innocents have been killed.

But it is also true that, unlike the British and Americans, the Spanish people got fed up with their joke of a government and its gross mishandling of the situation. Also, members of a a previous cabinet led a different party ended up in jail for engaging in illicit activities against the Basque terrorists. Ditto for cops all up and down the command chain.

So while things are far from ideal, there is a general consensus on the fact that nobody really wants to go back to the still relatively recent police-state-totalitarian past.
posted by magullo at 3:59 PM on September 22, 2005


OmnieWise: I agree completely, but that doesn't obviate a role for the police in profiling people, it only obviates the means which they now use to do it.

Well, I guess I disagree. "Profiling" in my mind has come to mean subjecting people to suspicion and possible coersion based on characteristics that have a fairly low probability of actually leading to strong evidence of guilt.

The scary thing is, I was reading a review of an anti-death penalty book that points out a large number of convictions revealed to be false by advances in forensic techniques involve cases where the suspect "confessed" to the crime. This suggests to me that the risks of wrongful charges and conviction are dramatically higher if you ever find yourself in police custody for any reason. Just finding yourself in a police lockup appears to be a civil liberties problem.

The review was for Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row btw. At least according to the review, Dow comes to the conclusion that the American legal system is pretty much broken in that due process must be paid for.

Given this new bit of evidence, I think that any system in which a person can be jailed and interrogated based on circumstantial evidence that would be innocent in another context has some serious civil liberties issues. In particular the police in these cases have a mandate to show "results" that directly contradicts their mandate to respect due process.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:28 PM on September 22, 2005


funambulist, I stand corrected. And I'm happy for the people of Spain about it too. So the upshot of what you're saying is that in the past 30 years Spain has gained in civil liberties while the UK has lost some? Whoa.

And I find what KirkJobSluder said damn chilling. It sounds plausible, though I confess I haven't read much about the effect of abuses of corporate power in the early 20th century on civil liberties. Have any informative URLs and/or titles for me, KJS?
posted by davy at 6:20 PM on September 22, 2005


davy - So the upshot of what you're saying is that in the past 30 years Spain has gained in civil liberties while the UK has lost some? Whoa.

not really, and just so it's clear my point was not which country is cooler and better and has nice friendlier sexier police officers (although of course that would be Spain! just kidding...).

Yes Spain gained in civil liberties compared to Spain thirty years ago, that normally happens when you go from dictatorship to democracy so yeah but that's not the point.

It was more along the lines of what magullo explained too.

Police abuses can occur anywhere and there's definitely lots of countries where they happen a lot more than in Britain. Single incidents, themselves, are not proof of a loss of civil liberties (if they occur too frequently then it is proof that there is something wrong with the standards of police behaviour and how they are enforced). Even the killing of the innocent Brazilian guy, in itself, is not. You can put down the actual incident itself to a mistake or to a senseless approach of the particular officers involved. Same here with the IT geek, even considering the huge difference in outcome.

What is interesting though, is the political handling and the public reaction. The level at which policies are brought up to justify an egregious incident, or things like bulky jacket as a criteria for suspicion, and not just for searching someone, but arresting them, or shooting... That only happened once, sure, and it could have happened anywhere else perhaps, but the following political spin and justifications, well, that had a very British flavour to it.

I don't know if the UK has eroded civil liberties strictly speaking, or any more than other countries, I just think it's obvious that much of the political handling of such issues is very manipulative, it draws on populist reactions, like that "yeah but what if he'd been a terrorist" line Sir Blair used after the shooting incident, it's the kind of thing you'd expect a tabloid to say, not a police chief.
posted by funambulist at 6:19 AM on September 23, 2005


Davy: Well check out reviews of the book I mentioned. I have it on hold at the library so I'm really iterested in checking it out. One of the things that interests me is that at least according to the reviews of Executed on a Technicality Dow's critique of the criminal justice system doesn't depend as much on the problem of wrongful convictions, but on the fact that the punishment for guilt and processes for appeal are arbitrary to the point of malice.

Of course, the book (according to the review) focuses primarily on the problems with capital punishment. But the scattered reading I've read suggests that ethnic and economic class bias is epidemic in the justice system on every level. It's just that it's hard to get people to care about bias in misdemeanor and light felony sentencing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:53 AM on September 23, 2005


Then too funambulist, Brazil has become famous in recent years for Rio de Janeiro police using homeless street kids for target practice, along with the more usual police brutalities and extortions, so the UK and USA still have a way to go. But regardless of the "perspective", it saddens me that we're not providing an example for the world of freedom, respect, democracy and human rights, but instead sinking to the level of your average tinpot "Third World" dictatorship.

And KJS, damn. That sounds like one depressing book. Yikes.
posted by davy at 6:14 PM on September 25, 2005


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