Global security: is study restricted?

Summary:With the current state of terrorism threats and attacks, and cyber-crime on the increase, I seriously wonder if academics and students have full passage to "do as we like" in terms of studying, learning and educating ourselves and others.Earlier on this year, two personnel from the University of Nottingham, a postgraduate student and an administrator, were arrested under the UK Terrorism Act 2000.

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With the current state of terrorism threats and attacks, and cyber-crime on the increase, I seriously wonder if academics and students have full passage to "do as we like" in terms of studying, learning and educating ourselves and others.

Earlier on this year, two personnel from the University of Nottingham, a postgraduate student and an administrator, were arrested under the UK Terrorism Act 2000. As the Guardian reported:

Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

For certain courses at college and university, you have to go through a level of "vetting". For health-care and medical studies, you need certain checks to make sure you have no prior convictions - obviously, as you'll be working with the young, the old and the vulnerable. In courses relating to terrorism, criminology and others similar, some universities and governments vet also, to ensure the right people get the right material, rather than the wrong people getting the right material.

This may or may not be the case; being vetted before their course, but to be arrested for being in possession of terrorist material, is like being given some cake then made to throw it back up again (thanks for the analogy, Tom).

I spoke to an old friend today to discuss the matter. This person can obviously not be named for legal and security reasons, but they work for the British Secret Intelligence Service, and I was given their thoughts on this issue:

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"The SIS and police believe strongly in the freedom of education and people's right to an education. We also work tirelessly in the protection of our home citizens and British nationals abroad, in avoiding international acts of terrorism. There's obviously a fine line between studying for a love of knowledge and studying to craft terrorism and acts of violence, and we aim to detect the latter whilst monitoring carefully the former."

Terrorism in itself is being held back by the relevant authorities, agencies and governments. For us in the west, we have a level of security which other countries could only dream of. We're very fortunate, but still fear that the intelligence agencies trying to protect us can go a little overkill at times.

On the other hand, cyber-crime and computer related felonies are still rising, and everyone will be affected by some security issue or another at some point in time. With these restrictions on how we live our lives, whether some are obvious or not, can we truly study freely without being subjected to possible detainment for terror related crimes?

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Again, from the same article by the Guardian:

"I would like to say my freedom to research had the full backing of my University authorities, but unfortunately they appear unwilling to uphold the right of their students to read and study legal, openly available documents free from the fear of arrest."

Sometimes the best way to understand a subject is to immerse yourself in it. Not only that, to study criminals and crime patterns, one effective way of understanding these things is by delving into the culture, mindset and thought process of that criminal. Although we'll never know the full story behind Sabir and Yezza's arrest, it's evident that we may not be allowed to study as freely as we first thought.

Please let me know your thoughts on this. Are we restricted to some extent in what we're allowed to study? Do we have a maximum depth of study allowed before we could get in trouble? Has something like this affected you or someone you know before? Your thoughts please, if you have a moment.

Topics: Security, Government, Government : US

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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