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Twitter Joke Gets UK Man Arrested, Banned From Airport For Life

January 27, 2010 at 4:30 PM | by | ()

It is thought that there are over 200 indigenous terrorist cells operating in Britain. So we're sure British citizens will be heartened to know that their anti-terrorism forces are chasing and prosecuting frustrated hipsters for posting nonsense to Twitter. Or whatever the opposite of "heartened" is.

At the beginning of January, the heavy snow storms were taking their toll on the Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster, UK. Like many other airports in Europe it was having trouble getting planes off the ground, and cancellations were rampant. Local resident Paul Chambers, who was set to fly out of the airport to Ireland on January 15, got a little frustrated and tweeted "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!!" He didn't at-reply the airport or anything. He just posted it to his stream. Fast forward a few weeks and he's been suspended from his job, banned from Robin Hood airport for life, and is facing trial.

Police operating under the UK's far-reaching Terrorism Act showed up at Chambers' office. They arrested him and hauled him off for an extended interrogation. The officers had never heard of Twitter—we'll get to that in a second—and so defenses like "I was just venting to my friends on Twitter" didn't really work. After a while Chambers was returned to his cell, until he was eventually released on bail pending a hearing next month.

The nice thing about this debacle is that it brings security theater to a whole new level. Here we have an example where the security forces are so untrained about how terrorists act that it's difficult to believe they could identify genuine threats. It's not that they didn't have to pay Chambers a visit. The interview should have happened at home instead of at work—where the spectacle put his job at risk—but if you say you're going to blow up an airport the police take notice. We understand that. But the followup was inane. The guy's not a threat. He's just not. This should have been a 3 minute visit.

"Did you write that on Twitter?"
"Yes I did."

"Did you think it would be funny."
"Yes I did."

"You were wrong."
"Yes I was."

Prosecuting him and banning him from the airport is absurd. It's also where the security theater angle comes in. By late 2009 the consensus was already that social networks, including those in the UK, link terrorists. Surely some of those networks are digital, yet UK counter-terror forces don't even know what Twitter is. This does not inspire confidence in their ability to actually boost airline security, and it's particularly troubling coming from a country supposedly known for its ethos of fair play and common sense. Dumb.

[Photo: Dbertman / Wiki Commons]

Related Stories:
· Twitter joke led to Terror Act arrest and airport life ban [Independent]
· Airport Security [Jaunted]
· Twitter [Jaunted]

Archived Comments:

that is

ridiculous but not surprising. ugh.

Any Threat is a Threat

I've become annoyed with Jaunted's slide toward increasingly uninformed judgemental-ness lately, but this post really crosses the line. Is the guy a threat? Probably not. But, you don't know that -- and resources should not be wasted trying to figure it out. He didn't tweet something SUGGESTIVE, or even couch it with a wink... this dude conciously chose to make a clear, outright threat to blow-up an airport in no uncertain terms. That behavior cannot and should not be tolerated. I for one am pleased that, threat or not, this man is being set in his place for his recklessness!