A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

A suspected terrorist who is subject to a control order is being prevented from studying for AS-levels in chemistry and human biology. The Home Office says the courses provide information which could aid terrorism. The man, known as AE, is an unemployed Iraqi national in his mid-30s who was a medical student, according to the journal Nature. He is subject to restrictions running to 15 pages, including a 16-hour curfew and travel limits. His solicitor, Mohammed Ayub, of Chambers Solicitors in Bradford, said the curbs were excessive as the curriculum was readily available in libraries.

The Guardian, last Thursday.

Why stop at this, though? Poetry is dangerous, especially if you own books at the same time. But it’s OK, because the police assure us that in that case, “She had the ideology, ability and determination to access and download material, which could have been useful to terrorists. Merely possessing this material is a serious criminal offence.” Note the ‘could’, there. And yes, it’s the information-that-could-aid-terrorism weasel words there, backed up by s 58 of the Terrorism Act which makes such possession a crime, in many circumstances.

And we used to think the Offences Against The State legislation was draconian… indeed, even the huge Hederman Report on the package of legislation, where the majority favoured the let’s-keep-the-offences approach in most cases, found that our ‘useful information’ section (the OAS Amendment Act 1998, s 8) should be repealed. (Worth mentioning in that regard that the defence under the Irish act seems a little better than that in the Terrorism Act over the water).

As far as I know, we don’t have any plans to introduce control orders in Ireland – yet. If we do get them, though, and then apply them as in the science case of last week, then why stop there? Indeed, as the solicitor says, the materials are available in libraries – so we should go after them too (not that that’s ever happened before, right?). And of course, judges and human rights lawyers are a fairly big threat, too. Control orders for budding law students, anyone? What’s more dangerous, in the Daily Mail mind – school-level chemistry or a degree in human rights (‘bleeding heart soft-on-terror liberal’) law?

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