Information of use to a terrorist (by )

Ok, in the UK, I've heard of "posessing information of use to a terrorist" as being a crime.

Google can't find me much more detailled information about this, which is nagging at me.

Now, as somebody with a broad interest in the fundamental forces that bind the Universe together (y'know, electromagnetism, nuclear forces, and that sort of thing), and their manipulation to enhance the human frame's limited powers in order to make us godlike beings able to shape planets in our own image, and just because huge glowing balls of plasma are fun to play with, I know lots of stuff that may be of use to terrorists. I suspect, for variosu reasons, that I'm probably on some kinds of watch lists somewhere.

Therefore, I try to be SQUEAKY CLEAN. I don't partake in the minor petty crimes many people do; software piracy, breaking speed limits, and so on. I suspect that I'm probably being watched, and such things logged. If the UK takes a paranoid turn, then somebody in power might ask the intelligence services to start taking down "potentially dangerous" people on whatever minor charges can be found, "just in case". In which case, I'd probably be in for it.

However, yesterday I was browsing the welding section in Foyles, when I wondered accross (in the adjacent metallurgy section) a translaction of "The Pyrotechnia of Vannoccio Biringuccio: The Classic Sixteenth-Century Treatise on Metals and Metallurgy". It contained lots of practical instructions on metal melting and casting without access to super-high-tech equipment - perfect for my casting experiments, and historically interesting.

So I bought it. However, when reading it on the train, I saw in the contents that it has chapters on "The manner of making metal balls (that burst)", "The methods of making tongues of fire", "The methods of making fire tubes", and "Concerning the fire that consumes without leaving ashes, that is more powerful than any other fire, and whose smith is the great son of Venus" (wow).

First thought: "Cool! That sounds like crazy alchemical summoning-and-harnessing-the-great-element-of-Fire stuff. What fun!" Second thought: "Bugger, if the thought police break down my door and rifle my bookshelves, they're gonna look dimly on all that. For at the time, that was the height of military technology (it includes detailled instructions on the construction of cannon, for example)."

Now, I happen to have a detailled book on the construction and effects of nuclear bombs, too. It was a gift from a friend, and it's very interesting to read, but I carefully keep the note the friend attached in the front, so that if questioned on it I can say "It's a gift! Everyone knows I'm a pyromaniac! It's just a light-hearted gift!".

It saddens me that I have to be so nervous about my interests in high-powered technology. I'm a pacifist. A pacifist who's against gun control, at that. I want to be allowed to experiment with powerful machines, because I know I won't use them against people except to prevent them from killing or other such extreme situations. Because some jackasses might want to use multi-terawatt continuous beam X-ray lasers to, for example, hold the UN to ransom for billions of dollars under threat of vaporising the Moon and causing trillions of tonnes of burning lunar slag to rain down on Earth, I can't use multi-terawatt continuous beam X-ray lasers to, for example, experiment with fusion as a cheap energy source, or to make pretty lights in the sky.

But what's worse is that because some jackasses might want to do such things, the fact that I'm interesting in big lasers means I'm in danger of being labelled as a potential jackass.

Maybe the thought police match me to a personality profile of "non-murderous nerdy dabbler" and decide to leave me along. But then again, maybe they've watched "Back to the Future" and still keep tabs on nerdy dabblers because they suspect terrorists may persuade/recruit/blackmail them into making weapons for them.

Now, I'm not arguing for a complete lack of restrictions on people using dangerous technology like cars, narcotics, guns, and explosives - that would make it too easy for them to fall into the hands of bad folks. What I'd quite like is to require a licence to own a handgun, to experiment with LSD, or to make explosively pumped flux compression generators. Whether it's one block licence to "play with dangerous toys" or lots of finer-grained licence is open to debate, but I should be able to get a licence to do something potentially dangerous as long as I can pass a test showing that I am competent to use the thing, and that the licence be permanently revoked if I then proceed to (either through negligence or deliberate bad intent) cause harm to others with it.

I quite like the opinions of this fellow:

It annoys me, too, that I have seen people who I happen to know are fans of illegal drug use saying "God, I'm glad guns are illegal here in the UK. All this people in the States who are fighting gun control - what's wrong with them? What possible reason could somebody have for owning an assault rifle?". They are for government control on firearms, but not government control on narcotics.

"But," they will say, "Me taking drugs doesn't harm anyone, while that gun can kill a lot of people."

Well, they are wrong. I have been nearly pushed to suicide by the drug use of somebody I care for.

Also, me doing target shooting for fun doesn't harm anyone. Nor does me experimenting with explosively pumped flux compression generators as a way of powering field-portable pulsed NMR analysers.

Psychopaths shooting children for fun harms people. Angry unstable people who happened to have a gun to hand shooting their girlfriends harms people. People irresponsibly taking drugs (even alcohol) in order to make a cowardly escape from the responsibilities of everyday life ("I'm fed up of being responsible for my actions, I'm going to get pissed"), and then using that as an excuse for the harm they cause ("I was drunk! It wasn't my fault!") harms people.

I'd like to live in a legal system where people can mess with drugs, but not if they then cause harm to others. And where people can mess with powerful technology, but not if they cause harm to others. And nobody has to be scared of being imprisoned, searched, or harassed just because they're interested in something.


  • By Chris Foster, Thu 23rd Sep 2004 @ 10:58 pm

    Hey Al...I was informed by my sources (Dave/Rodney) of your Internet presence and an interesting site it is too.

    How could anyone deny you the use of any serious weapons. I remember the early days of your interest with the purchase of the generic Maplins blowtourch. I can't remember exactly what you did with it but I'm sure you nearly burnt the house down (accidently of course with no violent intent!!!)

    Anyway, I don't think that there is any law that specifically says that you can't mess about with extreme weapons or subversive books, but it could be part of an interpretation of a terrorist. Check out the terrorism act 2000 and I quote.

    "In this Act "terrorism" means the use or threat of action where-

    (a) the action falls within subsection (2)"

    [fucking legal documents!!]

    "(2) Action falls within this subsection if it-

    (a) involves serious violence against a person, (b) involves serious damage to property, "

    So all you have to do is pose a "threat of action" which could cause "serious damage".

    Any further interests that you may have, say civil liberties, protesting or hacking could also be interpreted in the same way. In short, a potential police state is already in the statute books, but it is just not fully applied at the moment..


  • By Derek, Fri 1st Oct 2004 @ 7:59 am

    Well, I can accumulate an awful lot of welding equipment, build a scroll compressor, liquefy air, and if I don't run out of money, construct a megawatt solar heliostat. As long as the neighbors don't complain too much about the noise.

    Maybe you just need to find a more remote location with a bunch of neighbors missing fingers, eyes, and the like (kindred spirits and all).

  • By alaric, Fri 1st Oct 2004 @ 8:14 am

    Comment: Well, I can accumulate an awful lot of welding equipment, build a scroll compressor, liquefy air, and if I don't run out of money, construct a megawatt solar heliostat. As long as the neighbors don't complain too much about the noise.


    You said "megawatt"


    Maybe you just need to find a more remote location with a bunch of neighbors missing fingers, eyes, and the like (kindred spirits and all).

    Well, I'm working on that:


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