Knowledge Made Illegal

You can now get prison time in the United Kingdom for obtaining verboten knowledge:

Asim Kauser, aged 25, of Bardon Close, Halliwell, Bolton, pleaded guilty to four offences under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at an earlier hearing. The particulars are that Kauser was in possession of records of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

He has today, 27 January 2012, been sentenced to two years and three months in prison at Manchester Crown Court, Crown Square. Kauser was arrested and charged following an operation by the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit.

The first thing I had to do was look up Section 58 of the Terrorism Act. What Section 58 does is make the possession of certain knowledge outright illegal:

58 Collection of information.

(1)A person commits an offence if—

(a)he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or

(b)he possesses a document or record containing information of that kind.

(2)In this section “record” includes a photographic or electronic record.

(3)It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession.

(4)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

(a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, to a fine or to both, or

(b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.

So a person commits and offense if possess a document or record containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. That is so broad that somebody could be charged for possessing any document. A blueprint for a building would be very useful for somebody wanting to commit an act of terrorism at said building so the architect in possession of the blueprint could easily be charged under this section. Subsection three really makes me laugh because the only way to avoid this charge is to prove you have a reasonable excuse for the possession of that document. Notice that “reasonable” isn’t actually defined to it means whatever agents of the state says it means. That’s the kind of open ended law that I’ve come to expect from jolly old England (honestly I expect it from the United States as well).

Let’s get back to the story. Kauser is now sitting in prison for two years because he violated this catchall law. So what knowledge was Kauser in possession of exactly? Mostly material that I’d find interesting to read through:

Kauser’s father gave police a USB stick which was thought to contain CCTV images of the burglary.

However, when it was examined it contained recipes on how to make explosive devices and poisons, anti-interrogation techniques and details on how to kill efficiently.

A further examination of the stick revealed a letter, addressed to an unknown recipient, in which the author – again anonymous but referring to himself as a 24-year-old man – seeks spiritual guidance and says he has prepared himself physically and financially for jihad.

Officers also recovered a list that contained prices in both pounds and rupees of a number of items, including an AK47 rifle, rounds of ammunition, a grenade launcher and other survival or combat material.

Forensic analysis of the pen drive revealed the material had been downloaded in the spring of 2010.

With the exception of a letter seeking spiritual guidance all the information on the thumb drive would be material that interests me. While I have no interest in blowing anything up I find the chemistry of making explosives interesting and I sure as the hell enjoy reading about different counter-interrogation techniques. I don’t even think I need to state the fact that I have lists of gun prices in my possession on a very regular basis.

Ultimately though this story just seems downright fishy. Supposedly Kauser had a magical unencrypted USB stick that contains material on making explosives, killing people, and countering interrogation alongside a single archived email asking for spiritual guidance and a statement saying he’s physically and finically ready for jihad. Not only that but all of this information is from 2010 and Kauser hasn’t made any indication of acting using the information found on this USB drive. That combination of things just seems far too convenient.