Parsing Foreign Law From News Reports (Warning For Journalists)

Cory Doctorow‘s headline: Scotland Yard charge: teaching people to use crypto is an act of terrorism red-lined my anti-government biases.

I tend towards “unsound” reactions when free speech is being infringed upon.

But my alarm and perhaps yours as well. was needlessly provoked in this case.

Cory writes:


In other words, according to Scotland Yard, serving a site over HTTPS (as this one is) and teaching people to use crypto (as this site has done) and possessing a secure OS (as I do) are acts of terrorism or potential acts of terrorism. In some of the charges, the police have explicitly connected these charges with planning an act of terrorism, but in at least one of the charges (operating a site served over HTTPS and teaching people about crypto) the charge lacks this addendum — the mere act is considered worthy of terrorism charges.

The concern over:


but in at least one of the charges (operating a site served over HTTPS and teaching people about crypto) the charge lacks this addendum — the mere act is considered worthy of terrorism charges.

is mis-placed.

Cory points to the original report here: Man arrested on Cardiff street to face six terror charges by Viram Dodd.

Cory’s alarm is not repeated by Dodd:


Ullah has been charged with directing terrorism, providing training in encryption programs knowing the purpose was for terrorism, and using his blog site to provide such training. His activities are alleged to have “the intention of assisting another or others to commit acts of terrorism”.

Beyond that (I haven’t seen the charging document), be aware that under English Criminal Procedure, the “charge” on which Cory places so much weight is defined as:

uk-charge-460

Pay particular attention to 7.3(1)(a)(i) (page 65):

…describes the offense in ordinary language, and…

A “charge” isn’t a technical specification of an offense under English criminal procedure. Which means you attach legal significance to charging language at your own peril. And to the detriment of your readers.

PS: I have contacted the Westminster Magistrates’ Court and requested a copy of the charging document. If and when that arrives, I will update this post with it.

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