As many of the readers of this blog will doubtless already be aware, this week saw the prosecution of Paul Chambers for having allegedly sent a menacing message using the social networking site Twitter, threatening to destroy Robin Hood Airport. The internet being what it is, Mr. Chamber's "tweet" is available to one and all, and reads:
"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"While Mr. Chambers has shown questionable judgement in posting this to Twitter, one wonders how anyone could possibly have interpreted the above as a serious threat to destroy an airport, or indeed to feel "menaced" by it. Well, it turns out that nobody saw this obvious joke as a threat - not the airport, not the police - but Mr. Chambers finds himself convicted of the offence.
It's difficult to imagine how this could be the case, until you consider the recent rise of the "security industry", our new found obsession with terrorism, and a world where people no longer seem able to exercise a bit of judgement.
Terrorism isn't new to this country - we've been there before. The campaign by the IRA saw many bombings on the mainland, many crimes committed in Northern Ireland itself, and substantial loss of both life and property. Nobody would argue with the idea that the IRA proved effective terrorists. Somehow though, we coped just fine without all the new "Anti-Terrorism" measures, and we didn't have things like "threat levels" feeding the public hysteria. Maybe we were made of sterner stuff back then - who's to say?
Time and time again we see that the authorities in this country are more than happy to abuse the powers we have granted them - to use them for purposes other than those we have consented to. For example:
• Section 44 searches appear to be frequently used at political demonstrations.
• Members of the press are being harassed for taking photographs as part of their work.
• The police are gathering information on peaceful protesters, storing it in an unaccountable database, and labelling such individuals as "Domestic Extremists".
The past decade has seen a lot of ill conceived law brought onto the statute books, and if the public's faith in government is to be preserved (even rekindled), we need the police and magistrates to exercise some proper judgement in how they conduct themselves. We need to regain the sense that we are all playing for the same team. and we need to keep Douglas Adams’ advice - DON'T PANIC - foremost in our minds.
Maybe then we'll see people like Mr. Chambers merely being told to grow up, instead of facing a £350 fine, £600 costs, solicitor's bills in excess of £1000 and the loss of his (lucrative) career because of a moment's indiscretion at the keyboard. It seems rather a lot of damage can be done in 140 characters or fewer - and seeing as we all take part in online discussions here, maybe this is something we ought to care about.