Citizen Counter-Terrorists

The greater Manchester police want everyone to help them find terrorists:

In a new anti-terror drive, a tip-off hotline is being relaunched and an advertising campaign will urge people to report any suspicious behaviour. It asks:

* Do you know anyone who travels but is vague on where they're going?

* Do you know someone with documents in different names for no obvious reason?

* Do you know someone buying large or unusual quantities of chemicals for no obvious reason?

* Handling chemicals is dangerous, maybe you've seen goggles or masks dumped somewhere?

* If you work in commercial vehicle hire or sales, has a sale or rental made you suspicious?

* Have you seen someone with large quantities of mobiles?

* Have you seen anyone taking pictures of security arrangements?

* Do you know someone who visits terrorist-related websites?

* Have you seen any suspicious cheque or credit card transactions?

* Is someone is asking for a short-term let on a house or flat on a cash basis for no apparent reason?

This reminds me of TIPS, the ill-conceived U.S. program to have meter readers and the like -- people who regularly enter people's homes -- report suspicious activity to the police. It's just dumb; people will report each other because their food smells wrong, or they talk in a funny language. The system will be swamped with false alarms, which police will have to waste their time following up on. This sort of state-sponsored snitchery is something you'd expect out of the former East Germany, or the Soviet Union -- not the U.K.

For comparison's sake, here's a similar program that I actually liked.

Posted on March 20, 2007 at 12:26 PM • 44 Comments

Comments

MartinMarch 20, 2007 1:07 PM

How about:

Do you know anyone who is, or has ever been, a member of the Communist Party?

Ian MasonMarch 20, 2007 1:29 PM

"Handling chemicals is dangerous, maybe you've seen goggles or masks dumped somewhere?"

Oh this is great! Every safety officer in the country is cringing. After years of the health and safety people from the government trying to get people to actually use protective clothing in the building trades, carpentry etc. etc. now the GMP step in and say it looks suspicious.

jhritzMarch 20, 2007 1:37 PM

Another step toward a police state. The latest movie on the topic "The Lives of Others" is set in the GDR with a Stassi agent doing surveillance on a playright who happens to be in love (unknowingly) with the mistress of a party member.

paulMarch 20, 2007 1:40 PM

"Do you know someone who visits terrorist-related web sites?"

The mind boggles.

"Do your neighbors not feel comfortable enough around you to share every detail of their friendships, hobbies, surfing habits and business and vacation itineraries? Rat them out."

What really strikes me about this, in addition to the general paranoia, is that it's capable of reducing signal as well as increasing noise. A smart terrorist will have explanations for the frequent travel or the purchase of unusual items, so these questions will bias people away from him or her.

IronicMarch 20, 2007 1:47 PM

"Do you know anyone who travels but is vague on where they're going?"
A tourist perhaps?...
"Do you know someone buying large or unusual quantities of chemicals for no obvious reason?"
Why does people have to give reasons for all??... Maybe its a hobbyst and don't like to reveal it!.
"If you work in commercial vehicle hire or sales, has a sale or rental made you suspicious?"
OMG, C'mon!!... only terrorist?... maybe its going to use it to cheat her wife... dunno

"* Have you seen someone with large quantities of mobiles?

* Have you seen anyone taking pictures of security arrangements?

* Do you know someone who visits terrorist-related websites?"
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have 2 mobiles just for work, 3 sometimes...
If i see the pentagon, the kremlin, etc... of course i will take photos of them...

"Is someone is asking for a short-term let on a house or flat on a cash basis for no apparent reason?"


I think that this "TIPS" are better uninforming, than informing ppl...

Cory Michael BostonMarch 20, 2007 2:30 PM

Sounds like a means of subverting the right to privacy. People who would normally conduct their affairs in privacy will now feel compelled to reveal/explain everything they do to anyone who asks in order to avoid the hassle of being labelled
as suspicious/investigated/etc. Kinda like how censorship in America is being wrought via the education system by destroying childrens ability to think.

derfMarch 20, 2007 2:30 PM

The FBI had a problem with mobiles. People were buying out their local chains of pay as you go cell phones. The FBI was called in to investigate. Turns out these terrorists were reselling them for higher prices in other locales.

Fred PMarch 20, 2007 2:32 PM

Looks like I could report at least 10 people, right now (including myself), were any of us in Manchester.

Dom De VittoMarch 20, 2007 2:41 PM

Hey,
You're just jealous because we're a surveillance state, and you're from one of those axis-of-evil type places where "private" stuff is allowed.

I've got the right to snitch on my neighbours! Or are you saying the British people should be gagged, silenced and un-free?

I personally defend my right to have no privacy! Who are you to tell me what I can't have????!

Of course government neural chip implants will resolve all this, and anyone without one clearly has something to hide....

LancastrianMarch 20, 2007 2:51 PM

Yes, they will get lots of false hits and maybe some malicious reports as well. I think there might be some benefit in discretely asking waste collectors to look out for some unusual things. Waste collectors already perform tasks like checking contents of recycling bins for inappropriate waste - even trying to locate people who put non-recyclabes in recycling bins by sifting through bagged rubbish for names and addresses! In fact come to think of it, I'm surprised that some local councils aren't tyring to use terrorism as an excuse for more intrusion into taxpayer's privacy.

nzrussMarch 20, 2007 2:54 PM

>>>Have you seen someone with large quantities of mobiles?

How are lots of kids toys hanging from string dangerous?

jon liveseyMarch 20, 2007 3:20 PM

Would someone remind me how Timothy McVeigh was caught?

If you have forgotten, it involved cooperation from a truck rental agency, a cop who noticed a vehicle with no licence plate, a sketch that was passed around, and someone noticing the purchase of fertilizer.

People raising questions about unexplained activities does not amount to censorship or tyranny.

Cory Michael BostonMarch 20, 2007 3:33 PM

Good point *but* investigation and information from other people came *after* the crime was committed. Using the general public for information is indeed a good idea but not as sources for spying on each other *before* a crime has been committed because Joe X is "acting suspicious". People have different personalities (I am introverted and some people may consider that suspicious) and different habits - who is to say what constitutes "suspicious"? Its a stupid idea which can only logically lead to disasterous ends.

grs1969March 20, 2007 3:53 PM

The previous greater Manchester police anti terrorism drives have obviously been very successful - no terrorism in Manchester at all!

JjMarch 20, 2007 5:10 PM

May is bonus month. Earn double points for turning in a friend or family member.

C GomezMarch 20, 2007 7:08 PM

When you see the armbands and the pith helmet, you should know you are dealing with a member of the Citizens Auxilary Police.

Quite honestly, these things are stupid and harmless. No one pays any attention to them, and its no different from my simply phoning the police to offer a tip. The tip has to have a certain amount of credibility, anyways, or no one will act on it. It's probably a way to spend federal homeland security dollars so they can get their allotment next year.

Unfortunate the system works that way, but many corporations and public agencies are guilty of it as well (spend it so we can get it again!)

OrvilleMarch 20, 2007 7:08 PM

Visits terrorist-related websites? This site, concentrating on security, is definitely "terrorist-related").

John RidleyMarch 20, 2007 7:16 PM

Sounds like a great list of things to do for no good reason just to piss them off.

Travelling without having any real idea where I'm going actually sounds great.

jmrMarch 20, 2007 8:07 PM

On the contrary, Bruce, this is /exactly/ the sort of behavior I expect out of the UK. Proposed solution in the UK to traffic woes: install GPS receivers in cars to track where they are so that tolls can be charged. Brilliant. I think they ended up going with traffic cameras to the same effect. Nothing like creating a database of when and where your citizens were for, huh? Tax purposes?!


Roving photographerMarch 20, 2007 8:07 PM

* Have you seen anyone taking pictures of security arrangements?

Gee, when I visited the Soviet Union, I got lots of attention when I tried to take a picture of a pretty bridge. Oh - national security. I got lots of attention when I tried to take a picture of a pretty (ugly) office building. Oh - national security. I got lots of attention when I tried to take a picture of an airplane. Oh - national security. Someone in uniform? Oh - national security.

Now I can gather the same attention without leaving home!

ZephMarch 20, 2007 11:46 PM

Ummm... yeah... this is exactly the sort of thing I expect out of the U.K. Bruce, where have you been for the last decade? Have you ever been to London? Damned scary place, these days. Locked, securitized, cameras everywhere, both public and private. Armed soldiers, barbed wire. Not a fun place to visit.

The Anonymous PilotMarch 20, 2007 11:51 PM

* Have you seen someone with large quantities of mobiles?

Yes, most American teen-agers have large quantities of mobiles...

jammitMarch 21, 2007 12:01 AM

With all of these signs for spotting terrorists, wouldn't be easier to make up signs spotting the non-terrorists? Here's one for finding a non-terrorist: Believes everything they hear from an official.

Roy SchestowitzMarch 21, 2007 2:55 AM

I live in Manchester and I must say that I don't see this in the same light as you. Signals -- whatever they may be -- can only help, not detract. You can always ignore them, but with more information you can more more informed decisions.

Richard BraakmanMarch 21, 2007 4:17 AM

* Do you know someone buying large or unusual quantities of chemicals for no obvious reason?

I know people who buy unusual quantities of chemicals, but it's for the obvious reason: they make explosives in their basement.

supersnailMarch 21, 2007 4:57 AM

There are dozens of these "snitch" lines in the UK. You can report people falsly claiming benefits (you get a prize on this one), sex offenders, people not paying sales tax etc. etc..

Brits being Brits the takeup is very very low. However as the costs are low -- an answering machine and some posters with the number on it -- they are still attractive to officialdom. Plus you get to have a press conference and maybe make the local TV news.

So this is basicly an exercise in wasting a vey small amount of taxpayers money.

Clive RobinsonMarch 21, 2007 6:05 AM

Did anybody else notice the little weasel word

"a tip-off hotline is being relaunched"

Yup relaunched... Which begs the question,

"what happened to the previous hotline"

IF you rmember back a couple of Xmass ago there was a similar scheam where people where encoraged to report suscpicious people "with beards and bags hanging around"?

I pointed out that it was effectivly a "self Dinial of Service" attack as London is full of people with Bags and Beards at Xmas as well as the obligitory read cloaths and boots...

You get the fealing that either those in charge,

1, Never Learn,
2, Have nothing better to do,
3, Don't know what to do,
4, Don't belive that what has failed once will fail again,
5, Have more money and resources than they need,
6, Just love to waste their time,
7, Just love to waste everybody elses time,
8, Just love to be ridiculed for any of the above.

Can anybody else think up other point less reasons they might think this is a good idea?

pustota1March 21, 2007 7:01 AM

Well, the only thing I am surprised about is the good faith of Mr. Schneier in the fact that UK (and presumably USA) are not former USSR or DDR -- being able to compare, I would say that in terms of widespread voluntary denunciations of
co-citezens there is few difference, if any.
The one notable being the fact that in Eastern Block people scoffed on those
denunciators and in Western Block it is
considered by masses as good practice

pustota1March 21, 2007 7:03 AM

Well, the only thing I am surprised about is the good faith of Mr. Schneier in the fact that UK (and presumably USA) are not former USSR or DDR -- being able to compare, I would say that in terms of widespread voluntary denunciations of
co-citezens there is few difference, if any.
The one notable being the fact that in Eastern Block people scoffed on those
denunciators and in Western Block it is
considered by masses as good practice

CallMeSuspiciousMarch 21, 2007 10:43 AM

"An attempt to copy US and DHS posters maybe? http://www.us-cert.gov/reading_room/poster_4.pdf"

Interesting poster from the JTTF. However, many of the "suspicious activities" listed would apply to ordinary criminals and not just terrorists. Someone robbing a bank could just as easily fit within these parameters (taking pictures, testing security, timing traffic lights, ...). So, why are we not seeing these types of messages/posters from the local police dept.? Oh ya, because if the police put out these kinds of messages as crime prevention, there would be an uproar about privacy, citizen rights, etc., but if you tack on "anti-terrorism", it makes it ok.

FormicaArchonisMarch 21, 2007 1:58 PM

My uncle never tells me where he's going and carries safety gear as part of his work (HA! A likely story!), my father is moving and looking for a short-term residence, and both of them have about three different names each used on official documents, for obscure reasons involving a long-dead priest who couldn't spell.

So, um... package deal, two for one! Say you "Disrupted a sleeper cell!" Do I earn extra good citizen points for that, or maybe some doubleplusgood citizen points?

Mitch WheatMarch 21, 2007 7:03 PM

The Australian government has wasted millions of dollars on a similiar campaign of TV ads, posters and mailbox drops.

It's naive, stupid and won't work.

The extra "security" they brought in when you send anything overseas from Australian is just as stupid. You have to provide either drivers license, passport or if you don't have those they will take your credit card details !!! Then they stick on a 'validated' sticker. Which of course noone could get printed up....

SamhMarch 21, 2007 8:51 PM

"Have you seen any suspicious cheque or credit card transactions?"

Thats a bit dodgy ...

Kind of reminds me of profiling peoples purchases to see if the patterns change. If you don't buy the things you normally would, such as a change of brand, it gets flagged as suspicious.

JaceMarch 22, 2007 7:38 PM

> * Do you know someone buying large or
> unusual quantities of chemicals for no obvious reason?

Presumably that excludes Osama Bin Laden.

yawnMarch 26, 2007 4:01 PM

It's actually quite a simple idea - if you think you've seen something suspicious, but don't know because you're not an expert, then call the number and let the experts assess it... The facts are there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people alive in the UK today because the police have managed to stop a series of terrorist attacks. All they are saying is they need the public's help. The real paranoia is here, with some of the comments you can read...

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