Since the dreadful events of 7th July 2005 in London, there has been a large visible Police presence on London Underground and on the streets of central London. However the response of our Government and Police authorities to these attacks has been very worrying.
For people as law abiding as ourselves, who have supported the police authorities in the past, it comes as a shock to discover that we now feel far less likely to cooperate with the authorities, or to volunteer information to them, because they do not seem to be able to be trusted to use it proportionately and fairly, or, effectively.
The arrest in Rome of one of the alleged bomb attackers from 21st July highlights the extensive use of of Mobile Phone Communications Data - which phone calls which other phone, when, for how long and , the approximate mobile phone Cell ID based location, and the actual interception of such phone calls. This was obviously useful in helping to track down a technologically unsophisticated or desperate suspect.
All well and good, and only what we expect the Police authorities to be doing in a politically sensitive terrorist investigation. The Metropolitan Police and other authorities deserve credit for the relatively swift investigation and the result so far.
However apart from our general policy worries we have some specific worries.
The fatal shooting of the innocent Brazilian electrician at Stockwell Tube Station on Friday 22nd July is extremely worrying, given the alleged "intelligence led surveillance" of the victim for nearly half an hour before he was killed. If he was a "suspected suicide bimber" why was he allowed to board a Bus before being challenged by the Police ? Are the lives of Bus passengers less valuable than those of Tube passengers ?
The reaction of the Government, to promise even more repressive legislation such as the "shopping list" of powers called for by the Association of Chief Police Officers, is also frightening, because, what is proposed will not prevent any more terrorist attacks, but it will lead to more snooping and harassmant of innocent people.
There has been a lot of press and media attention about how frightened the general public is of using London Transport, or how fed up people are with constant false alarms which lead to avoidable delays, especially on the Tube.
There are also fears being expressed by various ethnic annd religous groups who fear that they are "under suspicion", simply because of the colour of their skin or their religous style of clothing.
However, it is not just young asian Muslims who are being singled out, what should be worrtying Londoners and their politicians is that middle class, white male people who work in the computer and mobile phone industries also seem to be targets of "anti terrorist suspicion".
We have heard reports of a "terrorist alert" sparked off at a central London Pub , by a couple of young white computer techies / hobbyists , who were sitting at the tables outside, enjoying a summer evening's drink and a chat, who were questioned by the Police because they had been seen rummaging in their rucksacks and playing with perfectly innocent and harmless electronic equipment like walkie talkies and stuff with wires and batteries. That incident was cleared up very quickly,but there has been a much more worrying one.
We have second hand reports that a friend of ours (also white), who also works in the high tech IT and Mobile phone industries, and who regularly carrys the latest electronic gadgets on his person or in his rucksack, was stopped last week on the Tube, apparently for not looking a Policeman in the eye, as he passed by, deep in thought, and therefore was deemed as "suspicious".
He was held in a police station and his mobile phone and laptop computer were taken from him, and his home address was searched. Obviously he is not a security threat of any sort, but he was treated with the utmost suspicion.
He has been released, but the question must be, are all his personal and business now contacts being analysed and being flagged in a Police intelligence file as "known associates" of a "possible terrorist suspect" ? It is very likely that some of the people reading this blog will have been included in any "friendship tree analysis" of his mobile phone adreess book, complied after using utilities to extract the information from his phone, and tofeed Communication Data obtained from the phone companies semi-automatically, and to display it in something like I2's Pattern Tracer visualisation software.
If carrying a laptop computer on the Tube is now considered by the Police to either be "suspicious" or "a security risk", then they should make this clear, in their advice to the media and the travelling public, and not operate a secret policy, or allow individual officers to operate such a policy through prejudice or ignorance.
The Police have been appealing for anyone with information about supicious people to contact them via the Anti-terrorist hotline (a number we have been advertising on the lefthand panel of this blog for a considerable time before the current London bombing incidents).
The Police dragnets are pulling in an ever wider circle of family members and aquaintances of the prime suspects.
Therefore the question that you, as one of the technological elite, (which by definition, you are a member of, if you are reading this blog) should be asking yourself is: How many "terrorist suspects" are you linked to, through email addresses, phone numbers, and even pub locations ?
Such "suspicion databases" now linger seemingly forever. There is no technological reason to delete such data (hard disk spsce is cheap) and there are no independent safeguards on the abusive of such unfounded suspicions. The danger is that a subset of tech a database will be passed on to other investigations or other police authorities, shorn of any original exculpatory background information, and people will naturally enough, jump to the wrong conclusions about you, simpley because "the computer system said so".
Where are the guidelines and rules about data privacy and security of mobile phone, personal digial assistant and laptop computers, which you may be carrying, when youa re stopped and searched, merely for "suspicion", without , obviously, posing any security threat at all ? They are all secret - who knows for sure, if they are now a suspect, or not ?
The terrorists seem to be winning: they have succeeded in goading our Governemnt into excessive "shoot to kill" and "stop and search" powers and policies.
For the Police to operate merely on "suspicion" rather than on actual intelligence or evidence, makes a mockery of what they are allegedly trying to protect, and destroys the principle of "policing by consent".
If we feel this way, then what do the young people from the Muslims communities feel like ?
Will this policy of repression and "disruption" based merely on "suspicion", actually end up recruiting even more "home grown terrorists" in the future, just as it did in Northern Ireland ?