Terrorized Into Irrationality: UK Police Demand Names of Charlie Hebdo *Supporters*

from the confused?-you-will-be dept

It’s been sad to watch the Charlie Hebdo story turn from a massive outpouring of solidarity with the victims to an opportunistic exploitation of the strong feelings it produced to attack the very freedoms that solidarity was celebrating. Just how bad things have become can be gauged from this story in the Guardian:

A British police force has apologised after an officer told a newsagent to hand over details of customers who purchased copies of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

Wiltshire police confirmed that one of their officers visited a newsagent in Corsham, Wiltshire, to ask for the names of four customers who ordered the commemorative “survivors’ issue” of the magazine.

Demanding the names of people who bought that commemorative issue clearly makes no sense: they were trying to support Charlie Hebdo, not attack it in any way. And yet the continued terrorization of the public — by the authorities, that is, not by the so-called “terrorists” — has induced a kind of irrationality that has apparently now spread to the police. Here’s the official “explanation” of what happened:

A police officer visited a local shop and post office in Corsham to make an assessment of community tensions and, if appropriate, encourage the newsagent’s owner to be vigilant. During this conversation the officer requested information about subscribers to the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

This is clearly creating a problem where none exists, purely because fear has become the default condition for society, resulting in heavy-handed and unnecessary interventions of the kind described above. At least the police force concerned seems to recognize this here:

Wiltshire police would like to apologise to the members of public who may be affected by this. Information relating to this specific incident has been permanently and securely disposed of.

That’s welcome, but it’s worrying and symptomatic of the situation today that a police officer could demand these names without being aware of the absurdity of doing so.

Update: It seems that this was not an isolated event.

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Comments on “Terrorized Into Irrationality: UK Police Demand Names of Charlie Hebdo *Supporters*”

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25 Comments
andyroo says:

UK police and others doing wrong!!!

Why is it that they always seem to be apologising but never resolving the attitude police seem to have that they are in the right and have the power to do whatever they want.

Every time someone in power has been found to do something wrong or made serious mistakes there is an outcry and three days later they organisation at fault just claims they will look to put procedures in place to ensure those type of things do not happen again.

And the Brits seem to fall for it every time.
just as in may other cases the police will talk about training and new procedures and monitoring of the issue and do essentially what the American cops do when accused do doing something wrong, and end up doing nothing other than protecting their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: UK police and others doing wrong!!!

Well, in this case, things seem to have actually worked.
1)overreach by an officer
2) process identifies the overreach
3) process publishes the overreach, apologizes for it, and correctly disposes with the results of the overreach.

You can’t guarantee it’ll never happen again — people always make bad decisions. They could create penalties for officers who do so, but in that line of work, you often only know if what you did was too much after the fact (that doesn’t apply to this specific situation, but any process enacted wouldn’t be limited to this specific situation).

So I think that correcting the problem, apologizing, and making the officer’s mistake VERY public was probably the correct thing to do. Just the publicity attached to this should be enough to prevent most officers from attempting something like it in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

> This is clearly creating a problem where none exists …

Certainly a public relations problem. Not necessarily a (new) law enforcement one.

> During this conversation the officer requested information about subscribers to the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

There’s a “, because…” missing here. And a “demanded”. People have certainly leapt to the worst possible interpretation fast enough. Given the remediation reported, I’m happy to wait for the other shoe to drop before I spend some of my carefully conserved outrage on this story.

> Just how bad things have become can be gauged from this story in the Guardian: …

An odd thing to say, in a story where the police department stepped in before publication and “made things better” rather than stonewalled, redacted, or denied. Are you saying that things aren’t that bad, then?

Anonymous Coward says:

at Update

So now you are even a suspect if you want to help victims of terrosim. Imho that means that if your name might appear anywhere near anything that has do with terrosim you are suspect and people will watch you.
Because, you know, as we all learned from TV shows, the guy who did it will show up at the crime scene to watch what he did… Sooo what is a normal person to do about it? Imho the only way not to become a suspect is to stay out of everything. Don’t go out, stay at home all the time, don’t do anything that might be under any circumstance be viewed as suspicious and stay away from anyone because they might be viewed as terrorists one day and you don’t want to be friends with a terrorist do you?
If everyone follows that guideline I guess the human species will die in 1 generation but the good thing is, there won’t be any terrorists anymore and the various security agencies last news will be “We won!”.

I'm_Having_None_Of_It says:

When PCs meet PC

fear has become the default condition for society

For the authorities, Glyn. The rest of us are looking at each other, scratching our heads and wondering why everyone in an authority position has suddenly gone doolally. Remember the “good old days” when even bombs going off in our cities didn’t provoke this level of panic?

RE: the title, you’ll probably find that this nonsense is driven by political correctness and that Charlie Hebdo has been labelled hate speech by the powers that be.

Does anyone else remember when this country had a backbone? What has become of us?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: When PCs meet PC

Does anyone else remember when this country had a backbone?

I don’t, but I heard about it. It was called The Age of Enlightenment. Unfortunately, it didn’t take and was soon followed by Romanticism whose “long-term effect on the growth of nationalism was perhaps more significant” than the artsy stuff it was mostly known for.

AoE was in the 1700s, long before our time. This mess we now have has been brewing for a while. I suppose we can take some satisfaction from that. It takes a long time to fuck things up as bad as this.

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