July 24th, 2005

Monkey in charge

I just don't care

Police shot a main on the underground a few days ago.

He was not, apparently, a terrorist.

However, according to a BBC News article the following is what occurred:

1: Jean Charles de Menezes leaves a house under surveillance and arrives at Stockwell station
2: Witnesses say he vaults the automatic ticket barriers and heads for the platforms
3: He then ran down an escalator after being approached by up to 20 plain-clothed police officers and tried to board a train
4: He apparently refuses to obey police instructions and after running onto a northbound Northern line train, he is shot dead

I don't give a damn if he was innocent - if, the week after bombs go off, you vault the barriers, flee from the police and then try to get on a train, I want the police to assume you _are_ carrying a bomb and shoot you repeatedly until you're most definitely not a threat.

Because next time it might well be someone who has one.

Edit: I'd just like to make it clear that my mind is not entirely made up until the results of the enquiry come out. If it turns out they weren't actually police (as some people have said), or didn't tell him to stop, or some other fact comes out, I'm reserving the right to change my mind. I'm currently going on what the BBC is reporting.

Why Terrorists are like the X-Men

Whenever anti-mutant hysteria appears in the X-Men comics it usually has two justifications - (1) They are different, and therefore to be feared and (2) People of such power cannot be trusted around ordinary mortals - the damage they can do, should they choose to, is just too high for them to be trusted.

The same is now true of ordinary people.

Advances in technology increase leverage - they translate a small amount of human effort into a large amount of actual work.  The more technology increases the larger the ratio between effort and work, until you reach the stage where a person can press their finger on a button and cause a nuclear winter.  Or 19 people armed with box-cutters can kill 3000 people and cause billions of dollars of damage.  Or 4 people can shut down the entire London underground. (In addition to, y'know, all the nice people who do fantastically good things with technology - I certainly don't want to come across as a luddite here).

The question being: given that you cannot tell who may at any point decide to cause damage, how do you balance freedom with security?

It seems ridiculous to limit the freedom of 99.99% of people because a tiny number of them want to cause problems.  And, in general, I actually fall into the freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of pretty much everything side of things.  I don't like being told what to do at all, and my original sympathies definitely tend in the libertarian direction.

But just as I started tending away from that direction economically when I understood the effects on the poorest parts of the population, I've pulled back from total social freedom based on the fact that a very few people can cause massive damage.

Which isn't to say that I think that police, security forces and the like should have free reign to do what they like.  I believe heavily in oversight, regulation and control of those with power to try ensure that they don't abuse it.

It's an uncomfortable situation for me to be in - I'm not sure where to draw the lines - or at least, there are huge grey areas where the lines could be drawn across and I wouldn't be sure how I felt about it.

The only thing I'm sure of is that we ought to be sorting out the underlying problems that cause people to feel that their only option is this kind of destruction - because while I can live with the lesser of two evils I'd much rather that we didn't need to do so in the first place.