UK Terrorism Law Used for Non-Terrorism Purposes

The U.K. has used terrorism laws to stifle free speech; now it’s using them to keep pedestrians off bicycle paths.

With her year-round tan, long blonde hair and designer clothes, Sally Cameron does not look like a threat to national security.

But the 34-year-old property developer has joined the ranks of Britain’s most unlikely terrorist suspects after being held for hours for trespassing on a cycle path.

And also to prevent people from taking pictures of motorways:

A Hampshire student was stopped and warned by police under new anti-terror laws—for taking pictures of the M3.

Matthew Curtis had been gathering images for the website of a design company where he works part-time when he was stopped, searched and cautioned.

The 21-year-old was told that he was in a “vulnerable area” as he snapped pictures of the M3 and was made to account for his actions before he was issued with a warning and told not to do it again.

Officers, who had quoted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, today apologised for causing concern but say they were just being vigilant.

I get that terrorism is the threat of the moment, and that all sorts of government actions are being justified with terrorism. But this is ridiculous.

Posted on October 19, 2005 at 12:04 PM50 Comments


Paul October 19, 2005 12:11 PM

Not more rediculous than anything else. And unfortunately, probably not rediculous enough to make people sit up and notice how stupid/dangerous the whole anti-terrorism framerwork is.

Davi Ottenheimer October 19, 2005 12:15 PM

How do you lose credibility as a security practitioner, let alone a peace officer?

“We will robustly prosecute anyone who breaches these new security measures because they have been introduced by the Government and we are obliged to enforce them.”

By wasting resources and “robustly” prosecuting every single infraction without any regard whatsoever for actual risk, that’s how.

I wonder if someone introduces or even trains officers in how to use risk analysis to interpret the new security measures (Threat x Vulnerability x Asset) would they still have acted so draconian?

Voice from Sardinia October 19, 2005 12:28 PM

Yes but wasn’t there a Graham Greene novel that involved bicycle bombs?

Oh that was the “Quiet American” though!

Andre LePlume October 19, 2005 12:28 PM

In the account of this I read (@ Alec Muffet’s blog), it said the “possible terrorist” was laughing so hard at the authorities she had trouble hearing them.

Truly a ludicrous misapplication of the law.

[Note: quotation marks meant to convey sarcasm. Do not taunt happy fun ball.]

ac October 19, 2005 12:37 PM

Not that this ISN’T a horrible application of anti-terror legislation, but I think the article’s text reveals yet another problem: the expectation that there should be an automatic whitelist for blondes.

It just so happens that the most recent lethal terrorist attacks to occur in the United States were likely committed by Christian White Supremacists. I suspect one or two of them are blonde.

Frankly, if she was wearing a chador and holding a copy of the Koran, there is STILL no justification for the police to have removed her!

Rich October 19, 2005 12:41 PM

No walking? Heaven forbid a cyclist get a flat tire on that path. If they’re not allowed to walk, what do they do- stand and wait for rescue?

I wonder how they define ‘cyclist’. Roller blades? Push scooters? Recumbants? Wheelchairs? Trying to define modes of transportation is very difficult to do.

Does the UK have anything like the US Americans with Disabilities Act? Anyone in a wheelchair feel like testing the path?

Zwack October 19, 2005 12:42 PM

So what happens to the cyclist who gets a puncture on that cycle path and walks his bike out of the area?

Not that I have ever had a puncture while cycling… No… Not me.


Dennis October 19, 2005 12:44 PM

Do people still do flash mobs? This area sounds like the perfect place for a large gathering of people just walking around.

Chris Sanner October 19, 2005 12:47 PM

sure, bicycle bombs. so in addition to pedestrians, we need to keep bicycles off of bicycle paths. the world will not be safe until everyone is accounted for at all times and can be made to stay where they’re put.

Zwack October 19, 2005 12:48 PM

Given that the majority of terrorists in the UK have been Irish Terrorists the fact that she was white and blonde would not have been considered.

Considering that she was “Walking on a cycle path” while the majority of cycle paths are footpaths that are also open to bikes it seems utterly stupid. In fact I can’t think of a single cycle only path anywhere else. Runcorn has cycle/foot paths that are distinct from the roads. Edinburgh has cycle/foot paths, bike lanes, and pedestrian only paths. Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough and Warrington are the same…


RvnPhnx October 19, 2005 1:05 PM

The other problem is that the media think that this is just a sick joke–instead of putting it on the front page where it belongs (instead of the latest date of one of the princes, or some other completely worthless hogwash–all of which is even more abhorrent in the USA, where the royal family isn’t even “ours”). The only way to prevent abuse of power is to completely and quickly humilitate the “powers that be” whom screw up.

Michael Ash October 19, 2005 1:44 PM

That photography story sounds exactly like a story that would have come out of the Warsaw Pact in the 70s or 80s. Why can’t the public see the similarities now?

Lee October 19, 2005 3:02 PM

Terrorists if you’re reading this, get yourself a bicycle and you can have free run of ports across the UK. I also think the police should charge themselves with wasting their own police time.

Fred F. October 19, 2005 3:57 PM

When I read “robustly pursue …” I think he is mainly thumbing his nose to the politicians that are pushing this thru. Who better than law enforcement to show how ridiculous this is? Instead of not doing anything too silly and trying to act sensibly to an insensible law, lets push the boundaries and probe to this silly people how silly they are. Sorry sir, just following the law.

jammit October 19, 2005 3:58 PM

Note to terrorists:
Instead of finding bomb materials and scoping out new targets and training personnel, instead buy everyone in your organization new shoes and have them simply walk around. Not only will your operatives be set free after a certain time because they didn’t do anything wrong, you will still be able to grind the system to a complete halt.

Jilara October 19, 2005 4:33 PM

Ray Bradbury was prophetic. Remember “The Pedestrian”? Obviously people who are out walking are up to no good.

Dax October 19, 2005 4:42 PM

I agree. I think that by over-application of a law, and by stretching its intent, they effectively make that law meaningless. How is one supposed to take “terrorism suspect” seriously when it seems one might be labeled a terrorist (often by an untrained, underpaid, overworked person who wasn’t properly informed of their duties) for simply sneezing?

However, one part of the excerpt that really gets to me, and probably wasn’t intended to in this way, is:

      "With her year-round tan, long blonde hair and designer clothes, Sally Cameron does not look like a threat to national security."

Oh? And what, exactly does a “threat to national security” look like? I know that today it is anyone with brown skin, and yesterday it was creepy white guys who bought cabins alone in the woods. But really, is one’s physical characteristics, hair style, and/or clothing really a good metric for determining “threat”? Would a suicide bomber be any less threatening if they were to dye their hair brown and wear nice clothing? I am concerned by this notion. It seems that one side is content to label anyone and everyone a terrorist in order to fulfill their agenda, while the other is content to label terrorists simply by “how they look.” Neither seems a good method for finding terrorists, really.

Dax October 19, 2005 5:00 PM

I don’t think it terrible to ask one to stop and account for their actions. Why, I should hope that if people were out taking a seemingly large amount of pictures of my workplace, that someone would kindly engage them and observe how they behave to being questioned.

There is nothing wrong with taking pictures, but one must accept that this might draw attention. Not just with respect to terrorism today, but think also about the DC snipers and the amount of documentation that was found to have been done prior to other attacks. Were something to happen and it was found that security observed the individuals responsible beforehand, were suspicious of them, but did not stop them, then I feel that the backlash would be far worse. For law enforcement, it seems you must hope that nothing happens, and proceed as if nothing will. They can only be reactionary (after it is too late), and then they must shoulder the blame. I don’t find that a good solution, either.
No, citizens should not be continuously harassed, but were I taking pictures in the Metro, for instance, and continued taking one after another of seemingly boring/non-artistic/non-people things, I would not be suprised or offended if a law enforcement officer asked me what I was up to.

I think the part to focus on was that he was told to not do it again. Having nothing to hide, were I stopped when taking pictures of the Metro, I would simply answer them and go about my business. If I acted nervous and as though I were caught doing something, I would expect even more questioning. However, a person that doesn’t set off these flags and seems to genuinely just be taking pictures should, in the interest of reason, be allowed to continue along their way, if no signs are posted restricting the action.

I think the part to focus on was that he was told to not do it again. That they wouldn’t allow the person to take pictures of a public area, even after explaining his actions in what I hope was not a suspicious or nervous way, is a problem. I suppose, though, that the pressure placed on law enforcement to be mind-readers and fortune tellers in the case that someone does do something might contribute to this alarmist and authoritarian behavior.

Rich October 19, 2005 5:47 PM

It’s all very cruicible. Pretty soon people accused of terrorism will save themselves by pointing the finger at other ‘terrorists’.

Richard Veryard October 19, 2005 6:08 PM

Many people have professional uses for photographs. How is the next generation of structural engineers going to learn their craft if teachers and students are not permitted to get close enough to existing structures, or to take photographs and measurements?

The unintended consequence of this legislation may be that future buildings are structurally unsound.

FutureTerrorSuspect October 19, 2005 6:31 PM

“They took me to the police station and held me for several hours before charging me and releasing me.???

So does this lady, along with the geek on the subway (, now has a permanent ‘terrorism suspect’ label attached to her?

How long before I’m a terror suspect for walking with my shoelaces untied?

“There is nothing wrong with taking pictures, but one must accept that this might draw attention.” … “Were something to happen and it was found that security observed the individuals responsible beforehand, were suspicious of them, but did not stop them, then I feel that the backlash would be far worse.”


These “security measures” are a CYA for security personel. Nevermind their ineffectiveness or inconvenience to the people they’re supposed to protect.

“If I acted nervous ….”

Yeah… I’d be dead calm when confronted by the same people who publicly executed someone else who was also a terrorism suspect…..

What if you’re not nervous enogh? That could be an unnatural reaction too, and worthy of increased suspicion.

B-Con October 19, 2005 6:39 PM

People are scared by terrorism, and it makes them feel better if they feel like their doing something about it — regardless of how effective, or sane, their actions really are.

Dax October 19, 2005 7:18 PM


“What if you’re not nervous enogh? That could be an unnatural reaction too, and worthy of increased suspicion.”

I suppose I have a better feel for people than most, and have to realize that not everyone is a good judge of character. I imagine I could misjudge as well.

I agree that people shouldn’t be accosted for anything-and-everything, and situations such as this one tells you that the measures aren’t always effective, but if someone were standing around a large building and behaving suspiciously (and yes, I know that different people have different measures for this, so apply your definition of suspicious. What would make you wary?), not questioning them doesn’t necessarily increase security, either.

It’s a tough balance of “Better safe than sorry” and “Don’t harass innocent citizens.”

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I do not believe that it is so easy a solution as just leaving everyone alone. It is apparent that a whole new sort of training is necessary for these officers, one that not only includes what to look for and be wary of, but also a call for being reasonable about it (thinking back to the earlier discussion about the infants refused board on planes for being on a “No Fly” list.)

Roy Owens October 19, 2005 8:34 PM

The goons have to have something to report in their activity logs. Since they don’t know how to find terrorists, they have to arrest innocent people because that’s all they have to work with.

If they don’t show some activity then they have nothing to report but inactivity. This is make-work, self-selected.

Rob Mayfield October 19, 2005 9:30 PM

we have far more to fear from inept governments and authorities and their minions who blindly apply their ineffective and inappropriate laws than we ever had or likely will have to fear from so called terrorists …

Kristine October 20, 2005 2:26 AM

You are right. In “L’étranger”, the main protagonist is asked over and over by the police to repent and turn to god, something he cannot do short of lying. Then during the process the murder is not as important as the “fact” that the main protagonist does not believe in god, that he did not weep when burying his mother etc.

He was convicted more because he was not “human” in the way the other humans around him wanted him to be, than because of the murder.

According to the french wikipedia, Camus says about his protagonist (my translation): “One is not very mistaken to interpret “L’étranger” as the story of a man who, without any other heroic behaviour, accepts to die for truth.”

Arturo Quiramtes October 20, 2005 2:36 AM

Funny how history repeats itself. The “X are coming, circle the wagons, question nothing” has been used over and over again for the same kind of people and with the same results. Now X=terrorism. Before, it was the commies, and before that was the fascists, and the bolsheviks, and the anarchists, and the masons, and the british (well, if you happen to live in the US), and the indians …. When my kids have kids, what will the new excuse, er, menace will be? Aliens from outer space? The Klingons? Darth Vader? Hmmm…

Richard Braakman October 20, 2005 3:37 AM

The note about calmness seem to be one of those “get you either way” things. You’ll be either “almost too calm” or “visibly nervous”. Their agenda in writing up the report is to justify the arrest retroactively.

Cassandra October 20, 2005 4:28 AM

“Oh? And what, exactly does a “threat to national security” look like?”

  • Apparently, like a Brazilian electrician.

“I don’t think it terrible to ask one to stop and account for their actions.”

  • I do. The society I was brought up in assumed good faith. Stopping people and asking them to account for themselves was associated with the worst aspects of living behind the Iron Curtain in totalitarian societies. My, how things have changed.


Huge October 20, 2005 6:21 AM

Why are people suprised at this? Once legislation is enacted, the police will use it in any way they can, irrespective of the intent of the politicians who created it. I’m sure I’ve seen a quote from a US President (although needless to say I cannot find it right now) that legislation should be judged on the harm its misuse will cause, rather than the good its appropriate use will engender. All legislation is misused. Why is anyone suprised?

Avedon October 20, 2005 7:57 AM

I have often suspected that the police deliberate enforce worst-case events like these in order to make the public aware of just how stupid a law is. Otherwise, the unofficial exemption for blondes is usually in operation.

Ed T. October 20, 2005 9:53 AM

So, if making images of public places makes one a “terror suspect”, then when will we see the French start acting against all those “AQ agents” along the river Seine? And, maybe the FBI can take a cue, and “deal with” the folks in Jackson Square? After all, that might explain Minister Farrakhan’s claim that the levee in New Orleans was bombed intentionally — these so-called “artistes” were doing the recce to tag the targets for the black ops planes from Area 51!


denis October 20, 2005 11:13 AM

Now that I’ve seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the movie), I finally have a suitable name for the type of person that arrests pedestrians like in the first example: Vogon!

Anonymous October 20, 2005 11:55 AM

Obviously, everyone need to have an ID card.

And the only people who won’t have them are the vampires.

Not Important October 20, 2005 1:33 PM

So, just out of curiosity, hypothetically.

If a police officer had simply walked up to the photographer, asked him a few questions, “Hey, whatcha doing?” and “What’s the name of your website” and so on, would that be acceptable? Maybe asked a few pointed questions about the equipment being used, or the web design business in general. It would give any well trained police officer enough to form a gut feeling on whether or not to watch someone, without really intruding on the person’s privacy much. Of course, the photographer would have every right to not answer, but when phrased politely, even verging on being friendly, it would actually be very suspicious to choose that route.

Just curious.

cryptodendrum October 20, 2005 2:20 PM

I seem to recall that as the UK mounted up to the task of implementing the world’s largest law enforcement CCTV network – one of the major justifications was mainly all about centralized command and control of it’s officers, with an emphasis on reacting towards incidents.

I wonder how much we are seeing could possibly be the result of that centralization of real-time C&C being used to proactively make decisions about when to approach someone as a suspect, when perhaps that was better left in the hands of the beat cops pulling the detail themselves?

Ed T. October 20, 2005 3:20 PM

@Not Important,

So, how would the police handle the stereotypical tourist, who is taking snapshots for the folks back home? Probably doesn’t do web design, and may not even have a web site.

Or, how about the photography student — not yet a working professional?

In case you are interested, the photo school I am attending (via a correspondence course) did receive a “visit” from a counter-terrorist law-enforcement type. It seems that one of the students was seen taking photos along a highway for the course, and the anti-terrorists wanted to make sure that the school was legit, the person was in fact enrolled in the school, the assignment was as the student stated — in other words, they wanted to check out his story and make sure he wasn’t a Threat to National Security.

David Mery October 20, 2005 4:16 PM

The point has been made in several comments that this an example of incompetence or ineptness of the Police.

These are interesting point of views and they’re obviously partly true, however I believe that the situation in my case and for most others as well is much more organised and part of a propaganda effort to show how efficient the Police is.

cryptodendrum also pointed out that there’s a trend to centralise C&C (through CCTV). As the officers handling me were in the process of releasing me when they were told to stop and then a few minutes later I was arrested (I described this at the beginning of, I believe that the order effectively came from someone higher up who was not present on the scene – though I’m not convinced CCTV played a role.

I’ve written a short opinion piece based on this theory at As it is very difficult to get data on similar arrest, it is very hard for anyone to write a factual piece but it would be very interesting.,3604,1586887,00.html has some data in the last two paragraphs.,16141,1551418,00.html is also well worth reading.

And a bonus link on how crazy technology imposed measures are:,12780,1567953,00.html

P.S. @Davi I hadn’t though about l’Etranger in that context but thanks for bringing in the conversation such a wonderful book. I was carrying in my rucksack another subversive book: the ‘Why I write’ collection of essays by George Orwell (whose real name is of course the same as that of the UK Prime Minister and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police – irony).

Tom Brandt October 20, 2005 5:26 PM

I was so flabergasted by the article about the walking woman that I emailed Mr. Tony Blair, you know, Geo. W.’s pal in the UK. I told him I thought he at least owed the woman an I’m Sorry letter. I’m sure that Tony B. will never see the email himself, but if you want to email him about this, or any other thing that strikes your fancy, the link is:

Moshe Yudkowsky October 20, 2005 5:37 PM

You don’t give any criteria for separating “ridiculous” from “reasonable.”

We all know that it’s necessary to ocassionally search the 80-year-old little old ladies in the airport, because carving out an exemption based on “reasonable” will eventually result in a security hole. Even though it seems “ridiculous” it’s quite necessary.

I suspect what we’re seeing is police observing behavior that, in their judgement, is suspicous; isn’t that what you’ve called for in the past — use of informed, trained judgement?

We’re not in possession of all the facts; let’s not jump to conclusions.

David Mery October 20, 2005 6:00 PM


An email I received after publishing my story points towards the police officers jumping to conclusion and then not changing their initial judgement to take into account the facts of the situation. It is likely that their training is not good enough.

Here’s the relevant excerpt:

David’s experience seems to have significant parallels with a social psychology experiment conducted back in the 70s in the US. Researchers got themselves admitted to psychiatric hospitals by acting up, and then changed behaviour back to normal on admission. However, all this normal behaviour (things like writing letters) was interpreted by hospital staff as symtomatic of their so-called illness. Once a conclusion has been drawn, any behaviour or data seems to be interpreted as supportive of the conclusion/diagnosis already reached.

This seems to be the normal – human – state of affairs, how human minds work. The point being that there should be an awareness of this as a phenomenon, and measures and procedures in place that help prevent it from happening in circumstances such as these.

br -d

ecmPuke October 23, 2005 2:46 PM

Look folks. The purpose of government is to make everyone a criminal. That way, laws are enforced arbitrarily, with all the implications that follow.
In any security system, the measure of effectiveness (MOE) is (probability of detection) /(probability of false alarm).
I submit that the numerator in the MOE is, by practice zero, and the denominator is one. Therefore the incremental cost per improvement in MOE is infinite.
Remember…half the world is below average. Too bad if you are in the upper half, and god forbid in the top one percent.

Yodat October 24, 2005 1:06 PM

When innocent people can’t walk a bike path or take pictures of buildings without fear of being arrested, from where I sit, it looks like the terrorist are winning.

The terrorists have managed to get the government to join them in their efforts to terrorize the people.

Imran Aziz October 28, 2005 4:26 PM

Combating Terrorism Nonviolently

The world has seen great changes since 9-11, great enough to get into the entire human history’s hall of fame. Just comparing the world we know today with what we knew five years ago will shock any concerned mind, especially if you are in a developing country. Changes are there in all aspects, not only in politics. We now divert our attention to terrorism, as it has arisen in the past few years. Various countries have taken steps to increase security after attacks on the World Trade Center and the United States’ Pentagon ignoring the fact that increases in security lead to decreases in fundamental rights of humanity.

Socio-Political changes are sweeping the globe and affecting economic systems at grass root levels. Every nation is in conflict with other and in a broader sense world peace is at stake. Many organizations including governments, law enforcement agencies, counterterrorism wings and task forces have established set of rules and methods to counter terrorism in an affective and legitimate way but none of them have been able to produce satisfactory results.

Terrorism is growing like child grows in mother’s womb and new forms of terror have always been introduced by terrorists. As it is difficult to define terrorism it becomes impossible to outline one set of rules or methods to counter terrorism. Terrorism is a parasitic phenomenon also when network roots are found in organized crime. Abrupt Geopolitical changes, Bad Governance and Power-Vacuum create a fertile ground for corruption and organized crime. Terrorism sponsored by organized crime becomes difficult to counter and easy to illustrate.

Naturally speaking the probability of one man’s actions is unlimited but the probability of motives behind these actions is comparably limited in this systematic world of occurrences. Nature created us, and we are forced to exist with the qualities that were imposed upon us. It is as if we were only semi-intelligent beings: intelligent only to the degree that we are aware of the fact that our actions are determined by the characteristics and the qualities that are inherent in us, and that we cannot go against them. If we are at the mercy of nature, then there is no predicting where this wild, unreasonable nature can lead us, constantly causing conflict between individuals and entire nations, who, like wild animals, are engaged in a vicious struggle of the instincts. Yet, subconsciously, we cannot reconcile the idea of ourselves on the one hand, and primitive beasts on the other.

With all understanding terrorists are humans driven by influential motives affecting their cognition and forming set of user defined rules and methods to make unlawful change in political, social, ethnic and religious levels. If humans are not part of any terrorist activity then concept of aliens and animals as terrorists would have been evolved.

An embarked strategy of reporting of unexpected behavior, patterns, or events that might signal an intensified or immediate terrorist threat has been implemented leaving a big question mark behind that what exactly should be recognized as important, reportable indicators and events that security and law-enforcement professionals need to know about. One can consider this as solution to combat terrorism in developed countries where infrastructure is strong enough to facilitate civilians or authorized personals to initiate instant alerts or messages. Some see democratization as a potentially successful counterterrorism strategy and by others as taking a backseat to the U.S.’s war on terrorism. The theory behind democratization as a counterterrorism strategy is that democratic institutions and procedures provide peaceful avenues for individuals to criticize government actions and, therefore, prevent the need to resort to violence. On the other hand, the severe repression indicative of non-democratic governments pushes moderate opposition and criticism underground and encourages the type of political extremism that leads to terrorism.

After 2001 measures has been taken to counter terrorism globally under the title “War against Terror”. No doubt it’s a great initiative but still is not promising a coherent and unified system to counter terrorism by non violent means. Killing a terrorist doesn’t help solving the equation of terrorism rather it invites uninvited humans as terrorists. At present scenario best breed method is working at morality level and creating an international networked community rejecting terrorism and organized crime.

We need to encourage the use of non-violent means in order to express ourselves, whether here in our society or anywhere around the world. We need to go back to doing the right thing. For us as a society and as a world community not to stand up and do justice and bring those who have committed these atrocities and crimes against humanity, we will be failing the most fundamental rules of humankind, which is to allow the collective interest of the people to prevail and to allow the interest of the people to be protected, both as individuals and as a group.

We need a “A Unified System to Combat Terrorism by non-violent means” basing on a new model of knowledge unification. The unification of knowledge has great implications in philosophy, and even psychology. “Textbooks” may not talk much about it, if they might do. Even in physics, which is a branch of knowledge with extreme importance, theoretical physicists seek a unified theory of universe, which they believe will be the ultimate theory explaining everything. Specifically in context of terrorism research concludes that, “When Unification Engine reduces and represents complex entity as simple entity in multidimensional knowledge forest, it formulates and factors out a common representation that maps directly abstract representation to its relationships. Entity represents type of organization, and motives behind actions represent the path to the entities (cross-links).”

Fritz October 30, 2005 5:45 PM

I agree the incident is ridiculous. Another article on the incident explained, however, that the bike path goes through a ship dock area; new “anti-terror” legislation (which is the ridiculous part) mostly closed the path to everybody — pedestrians and cyclists alike — unless you happened to work in that harbor.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.