2005-11-08 : Mass paranoia
I read this story a couple of weeks ago, which whilst mainly intended to be positive in tone, needless has me a little worried (excerpt follows).
[BBC News UK Edition] Man arrested over July 7 attacks
A 27-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the London bomb attacks of 7 July which killed 52 people.
Anti-terrorist branch officers picked the suspect up in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. Officers are searching two residential addresses in the area.
The man is being held on suspicion of commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism and is being quizzed at a local police station.
The arrest follows a tip-off by the News of the World newspaper.
The latest suspect is the only man being held in connection with the attacks of 7 July although several others have been arrested and released without charge.
The whole tube bombings episode is extremly worrying to me, insofar as anyone could possess the malevolence and the disregard for the lives of their fellow humans to be physically and mentally able to use them as bargaining chips in the furtherment of their own agendas. Equally worrying is the knock-on widespread paranoia, both of general people (for example, “Letters to the Editor” writers who were calling for a blanket ban on rucksacks, or at least a compulsory distribution of transparent plastic backpacks to all London Underground users) and of the authorities (leading to such things as the shooting of Jean-Charles de Menezes ).
The reason paranoia on this scale bothers me, is that it leads to such “justifiable” rights interventions as in the case of David Mery – from what I can gather, he's been arrested on the basis of suspicious behaviour, searched, detained, questioned, had his property confiscated, and generally had his life screwed about on the basis of someone being paranoid about an ordinary geek going about his daily life.
I'm sure that even he agrees that it's good that the police are being vigilant and making the effort to search people, however it's the subsequent treatment which is quite horrifying, and the idea which grates in connection with the BBC story above is that the line “several others have been arrested and released without charge” to me now implies that innocent people have been subject to the same kind of treatment as David Mery. I'm quite sure that after officers have searched the residential address of someone under suspicion, they do it with a certain thoroughness so as to uncover any potentially hidden items which the accused may be using in their evil machinations. And presumably when the person is released, a special Metropolitan Police Tidying Up Squad doesn't visit and put everything back where it was.
Actually the more I think about it, the more that all scares me than the reason I originally started writing this, although there's that too: The arrest follows a tip-off by the News Of The World newspaper. The News Of The World is hardly credited with being a bastion of journalistic integrity – blaringly obvious on their website is a banner ad proclaiming “We pay cash (big money) for the top stories!”. Given the paper's history of factual inaccuracies, and having established the pattern of fishing for sensationalist news, I find the idea of the police taking a tipoff from them extremely lacking in good judgement. If the arrest mentioned in the BBC story turned out to be on insufficient or mistaken grounds I would very much like to see some kind of recrimination against the paper, if nothing else than as a deterrent towards people from thinking about publicity and benefitting themselves first and community safety second.
I suppose I should put my soapbox away now, really, as I don't have a particular solution to the problem in mind, but if any more thoughts on the topic spring up I'll be sure to let you know.