Saturday, May 24, 2008

Curiosity is not a crime. Killing cats is.

OK, this is outrageous stupid shit of the sort we expect from our gallant allies. Simply, a graduate student at Nottingham University is writing a thesis on terrorists, and as part of this he gets a copy of an Al-Qa'ida training manual from a US government website. Being a postgrad and therefore by definition permanently broke, he got a friend who worked in the university administration to print off the 1,500 pages rather than paying the shared printer fees.

Now this seems silly - 1,500 pages? Seriously? Wouldn't it have been better to search that lot rather than read it through? Don't they have grep at Nottingham? But that's not the point. The point is that "someone" noticed the document on the administrator's computer and grassed them to the police, who predictably freaked, arrested everyone under the Terrorism Act, kept them locked up for eight days, arrested his family, seized all computers they could lay hands on, etc.

The key detail is that both people have names that might give rise to suspicion of being insufficiently willing to condemn, etc, etc. Now, yer man has been released, however, the administrator is Algerian, and is going to be deported on "unrelated" immigration matters. Yeah, right.

Further, the university:
A spokesman for Nottingham University said it had a duty to inform police of "material of this nature". The spokesman said it was "not legitimate research material", but later amended that view, saying: "If you're an academic or a registered student then you have very good cause to access whatever material your scholarship requires. But there is an expectation that you will act sensibly within current UK law and wouldn't send it on to any Tom, Dick or Harry."
Right, sunshine. There is no such thing as "legitimate" research material, just as there is no such thing as "legitimate" thought. We all have the right to read what we damn well like, and as a fucking university you have a duty to stand up for this. As soon as you accept that reading X, Y, or Z, even though not illegal, is the sort of thing They don't like, you've already lost. Ecrasez l'infame.

The University of Nottingham's vice chancellor is Sir Colin Campbell, who can be reached on +44 (0) 115 951 3001, and by fax on +44 (0) 115 951 3005. More people to shout at are here.

Hat tips: Kings of War, IRG.


Kevin Carson said...

There's another remark there that makes me madder than a one-armed Rand heroine in a face-slapping contest.

It's the later concession that maybe such literature is a legitimate source of inquiry for properly credentialled academics with university IDs. But an independent scholar, without a faculty member holding his hand, needs to be protected from it for his own good.

That thumping sound you hear is Ivan Illich spinning in his grave.

The extent of my academic credentials is a very, very old BA degree. Everything I've learned about networked, asymmetric warfare is self-taught. And I'll god damned well read anything I want, any time I want.

Come to think of it, when I was writing a chapter of my org theory book on agency problems of labor and the Wobbly model of labor struggle as asymmetric warfare, I ordered a shitload of books on industrial sabotage from Interlibrary Loan. So some helpful Stasi collaborators at the University have no doubt got my name put on a list somewhere.


Sir S said...

I'm not sure why this gets the tag "libertarian". I didn't think libertarians had cornered the market on concerns about government intrusion into free speech, though they do try to give that impression.

ejh said...

Without dissenting from your general point, this:

We all have the right to read what we damn well like

isn't entirely true (there are some obvious examples like child pornography and some other examples involving things like copyright, national security and so on) though it is true that when you start acting on the premise that it isn't, there's a very obvious and very slippery slope that you're very obviously close to.

I've not worked in a university library since the end of 2005 so I can't tell Kevin, above, if ILL staff are under any instructions like the ones he appears to suspect: I've no evidence that they do. There have been controversies in the US because requests for certain reading matter were required (under, I think, the Patriot Act) to be reported to the authorities: you can probably find all sorts of stuff on the American Library Association website.

What's not clear to me is the process by which this came to the University's attention: the newspaper report says "the document was found by a university staff member on an administrator's computer". I would guess (but no more than that) that the IT Department detected that somebody was doing much more printing that would normally be expected (even it university administration) and therefore checked it out and - when they saw what it was - everybody went barmy. I'd be interested to know if the University saw fit to talk to their employee and their student before going to the Babylon.

Sophie Pilgrim said...

Too right! Here's the last interview with Hich, from his deportation centre yesterday:
You can join a Facebook group too - it's in the article.

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