Censorship

U.K. Anti-Terror Censorship Law Stupidly Used Against Guy Who Fights Terrorism

Nevertheless, officials want to see the law expanded.

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Joshua Walker
Richard Vernalls/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Prosecutors in the United Kingdom didn't think Josh Walker was an actual terrorist. But they treated him as if he were one anyway, because of a book they found in his bedroom.

Fortunately, they failed. But the case, highlighted at The Intercept, details some of the terrible consequences of trying to criminalize dangerous thoughts or ideas rather than actions.

Walker was prosecuted for downloading and having in his possession a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, an infamous guide to homemade explosives (and other tools for lawbreaking) that was first published in 1971.

Walker wasn't plotting a terrorist attack. He was, in fact, doing the opposite. According to The Intercept and the court case, he was using the book as a reference material for a terror crisis management simulation at a college.

The United Kingdom does not have the same broad First Amendment freedom of speech protections that Americans have. The Terrorism Act of 2000 in Section 58 criminalizes the ownership of "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." There is a defense that a person has a "reasonable excuse" for having the material, and that's what Walker had to lean on during the trial.

The whole thing seemed particularly absurd because Walker had returned to the United Kingdom from Syria, where he was helping a Kurdish militia fight the Islamic State. I wasn't kidding when I said he was the opposite of a terrorist. And prosecutors knew that.

From The Intercept:

As the case moved forward, the prosecution acknowledged that Walker was not suspected of plotting any kind of terrorist atrocity. The government was instead arguing that his mere possession of the book was a violation of the Terrorism Act's Section 58 because it contained information that could have been useful to a terrorist if discovered. The book is freely available to anyone on the internet, and versions of it can even be purchased on Amazon. Regardless, prosecution lawyer Robin Sellers said it was possible a "radicalized" person could find Walker's copy of the book and use it to prepare an attack.

The prosecution's argument seemed bizarre and without precedent. People in the U.K. have been prosecuted before under the Terrorism Act for possessing the "Anarchist Cookbook," but usually the defendants have been involved in some other kind of nefarious activity as well. In 2010, for example, a member of a violent neo-Nazi group called the "Wolf Pack" was convicted of a terrorism offense for possessing the book. He was linked, through his father, to a plot to overthrow the government and poison people. In another case, in 2011, a man was sentenced to three years in prison for selling the "Cookbook" and Al Qaeda training manuals, pocketing $113,000 in the process. Walker's case was different: He was being prosecuted solely because he downloaded and stored a copy of the book.

Fortunately for Walker, the jury also found the prosecution's argument bizarre. Last week they found him not guilty.

Despite the absurdity of this prosecution, the U.K.'s home secretary (essentially the equivalent of the head of America's Department of Homeland Security) actually wants to expand this anti-terror censorship law.

Section 58 doesn't currently cover viewing or reading content online. So this month Secretary Amber Rudd said she wants to expand the law's reach to cover people who view "terrorist content online, including jihadi websites, far-right propaganda and bomb-making instructions." (If you'd like to know how the U.K. government would be able to know what you've been viewing online, they've covered that with the Investigatory Powers Act that went into effect at the start of the year.)

Rudd says that the "reasonable excuse" exemption will remain for people such as journalists and academics who write about ideas the government has classified as "extremist." But even when prosecutors acknowledged that Walker was not a terrorist, they still put him on trial.

This law is obviously open to prosecutorial abuse already. That's a good reason not to give the government the power to punish yet more speech, as if the speech itself is some sort of magic spell that causes terrorism just by being read.

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20 responses to “U.K. Anti-Terror Censorship Law Stupidly Used Against Guy Who Fights Terrorism

  1. It is only stupid if you don’t understand the UK government’s goals. Their goal is for people to feel helpless and dependent on the government for their safety. So from their perspective, someone who tries to fight terrorism themselves is in some ways worse than the terrorist.

    1. I was about to compare this to the UK’s gun-control laws, so yeah, what you said.

    2. Noblesse Oblige is strong in Europe. And the rise of progressivism is in no small part to the jilted gentry upset that shit peasants were growing to have similar lifestyle to the previously chosen few.

      1. Shit peasant; is that akin to a flyover bumpkin? If so I might change my name to shit peasant.

        1. Shit peasant is anyone not descended from the landed gentry, i.e. those who rightfully should be in control.

  2. So, what *would* the prosecutors in this case have accepted as a reasonable excuse?

    This case sounds more like a hypothetical which civil-libertarians would have invoked to criticize the law. “What if someone possesses terrorist material specifically in order to fight terrorists?”

    The fact that this case occurred in real life makes me wonder what this guy did to antagonize the government.

  3. This story is America’s future, if we aren’t already there.

    1. “Over my dead bo–”

      [exploded by police drone]

    2. And that is the lesson I keep taking away from stories about our “Mother Country.” Cautionary tales indeed, and exactly what the progressive element wants to see happen. With the assumption that they are in power and get to decide such things, of course.

  4. (If you’d like to know how the U.K. government would be able to know what you’ve been viewing online, they’ve covered that with the Investigatory Powers Act that went into effect at the start of the year.)

    This is why the U.K. has shoot on sight orders for BUCS should he try to enter the country.

    1. And they didn’t even revoke my dual citizenship. I tried to complain that this was clearly entrapment but they just locked me in a room and forced me to watch East Enders.

  5. The Terrorism Act of 2000 in Section 58 criminalizes the ownership of “information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.”

    An Underground map, an owners manual for a delivery truck, a concert schedule, a chemistry textbook, a book on military firefight tactics, a wall calendar with bank holidays marked on it, an electrical circuit symbol guide, written directions to a laboratory supply or home improvement store.

    1. That’s way too narrow. It doesn’t say that the information has to be useful for the purpose of committing the terrorist act. It says it has to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. So a recipe for my mom’s lasagna would qualify: terrorists like to eat too. Or maybe a copy of Moby Dick: certainly terrorists like to read about whales.

      1. My signed vinyl copy of Leviathan got taken at the border for those exact reasons 🙁

    2. Every safety manual ever written has a boatload of “don’t do this” warnings that could teach “terrorists” how to break things and hurt people.

      Then there’s the Star Trek episode where Cpt. Kirk makes gunpowder to defeat the Gorn.

      And don’t get me started on the Network News. Since Boston we all know what pressure cookers are really for.

  6. RE: U.K. Anti-Terror Censorship Law Stupidly Used Against Guy Who Fights Terrorism
    Nevertheless, officials want to see the law expanded.

    1. “Prosecutors in the United Kingdom didn’t think Josh Walker was an actual terrorist. But they treated him as if he were one anyway, because of a book they found in his bedroom.”
    Terrorism is what the UK government says it is when it says it is.
    2. I sure am glad my ancestors left that island centuries ago. The UK has turned into an island of hyper-sensitive, politically correct guided paranoid nitwits.

  7. That’s a good reason not to give the government the power to punish yet more speech…

    Who are we to judge their culture?

  8. A few minor adjustments to the book casings and you could cover all your books with the Quran. Problem solved.

  9. Petani Shit adalah siapa pun yang bukan keturunan dari bangsawan yang mendarat, yaitu mereka yang seharusnya memegang kendali.

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