Twitter terror? Man arrested for venting about canceled flight.
Briton Paul Chambers says he was only venting when he wrote on Twitter that he might blow an airport "sky-high." He's the first person arrested in Britain for a tweet, and he's banned for life from his local airport.
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Chambers, who has no legal counsel of his own, was provided with state legal aid by GV Hale and Company solicitors. Andy Blennerhassett, a solicitor at the firm, declined to comment "while the investigation is still going on."Skip to next paragraph
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Privacy advocates say the police action crossed a line. Though Chambers's remark was ill-advised, a simple investigation should have showed he was not a threat, they argue.
Tessa Mayes, author of "Restraint or Revelation: Free Speech and Privacy in a Confessional Age," says authorities do not appreciate jokes: "We live increasingly in a no-laughs-allowed age. In a democracy, our right to say what we please to each other should be non-negotiable – even on Twitter," she says.
Frank Furedi, a sociologist at the University of Kent, says the arrest wasn't surprising. "Arresting people in order to make a point is one of the features of contemporary 'impression policing,'" says the author of "Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown."
"It is arbitrary, petty, and intrusive and of course has absolutely nothing to do with curbing the behavior of those who represent a real threat to people's lives," says Furedi.
A good arrest?
Others say the arrest was appropriate. Counterterrorism expert Andy Oppenheimer argues the police had to take notice.
“Regardless of what you think of the law," Oppenheimer says, "if you say anything in the public domain you’ve only got yourself to blame. People are trying to address the terrorist threat, and people making jokes like this muddy the water.”
But Chambers says the workplace arrest, which has him facing potential charges and also the sack, failed to take account of his personal background; the accounting student has no links to militant organizations.
"I'm the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine," says Chambers.
The Irish friend Chambers was hoping to visit, who asked that her name not be used, didn’t initially believe he had been arrested.
"He phoned me and told me the story, I thought he was joking,” she says. “I'm angry at how the whole thing has been dealt with by the police. If they had looked into it properly before they could have avoided all of this – and saved taxpayers’ money.”
Other European nations are also jittery over terrorism, but this does not appear to deter all Europeans from making off-color jokes at transportation hubs. A German man was temporarily detained at Stuttgart airport Tuesday after he jokingly told security personnel he had explosives in his underwear.