Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Twitter Joke Trial

I am a commercial pilot. I qualified as such in early 2001, and started my first job in September of that year. The timing of my employment should make you realise that I am acutely aware of the security implications of what I do for a living, and the actions of people in relation to aviation. I must make it clear that the views expressed in this post are purely my own. I do not personally know anybody involved, nor have I ever been to the airport in question.

Today, @PaulJChambers will have an appeal heard in the high court. He posted a tweet which was clearly a throwaway comment in cartoon language expressing his frustration at the closure of an airport, and disruption of his travel plans. I'm sure you know the story, and if you don't, there is a comprehensive list of links HERE

There were several stages where this process could have been brought to a halt, had some common sense been applied.

The Airport
Firstly, some blame lies with the airport duty manager who, on searching for tweets about the airport found Paul's tweet, and presumably after discussion at a high level of management within the airport (he was, after all a duty manager) took it further. The investigating officer at the airport regarded it as a joke, and stated as much in his report.
If something *could* be a threat, no matter how unlikely, he felt that he was obliged to report it. I regard this as the first official failure of common sense. Having already established that this was a joke not a threat, wasn't passing this on to the police tantamount to wasting police time?

The Police
This is where things started to go a bit Monty Python. After receiving the report, the police classed the message as a "non-credible threat" (argue amongst yourselves as to whether you think there was a 'threat' at all) and yet SENT A SQUAD OF ANTI-TERRORIST OFFICERS TO PAUL'S PLACE OF WORK TO ARREST HIM.

Somebody actually thought that was an appropriate course of action.

And then he was charged under the 1977 Bomb Threat act. It was almost as if somebody had realised how silly they looked sending in the anti terrorist squad, and needed to bring a serious charge to save face. But that's just conjecture.

The CPS knew there was no hope of gaining a conviction for anything Paul was arrested and charged with. So instead they decided to try and get him for something else... Anything else... And they found section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
I'm not sure whether their attitude is one of trying to save face in the light of a massive overreaction, indifference to the impact on someone's life in their pursuit of targets, or just plain spite.
At every stage in this process was the opportunity for someone to stop, and think "hang on... Is this really in the public interest? Is what I am about to do really proportionate or even necessary?"

I could rant for several pages about the conviction, or worse the muddled, illogical thinking contained in the appeal judgement. However it has all been said before, and is not really relevant here.

The people charged with the very serious job of ensuring the safety of air transport failed at every turn to apply their common sense and instead favoured the ticking of a box, the following of a procedure, or the hitting of a target. And I am left wondering; while they deliberately distracted themselves by pursuing Paul Chambers, what might they have missed?

Just weeks after Paul was arrested, there was another story in the news. Whilst the American authorities were similarly looking in the wrong direction, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to board aircraft with explosives in his underwear.

My concern is not with the security staff whom I see every day (in fact I get on pretty well with the staff at my base) rather it is with the rules they have to enforce, and with the people who set those rules. As I walk through the terminal past restaurants and duty free shops I see many things far more dangerous to the safety of an aeroplane than the toothpaste, deodorant and nail clippers I am banned from taking in my nightstop kit.

My point is this. Aviation security has never been served by this prosecution, in fact quite the opposite. Those who sought the prosecution look ridiculous; it undermines their authority and their professionalism. It undermines public confidence in what they are doing. It makes their job harder. I am not left with the impression of professionals undertaking their security role seriously, instead, I see Romans looking for Spoons

I wish Paul the very best of luck in his appeal.

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