Reader declares himself a terrorist

July 27, 2001

A senior member of Cambridge University has declared himself an international terrorist and has invited colleagues to report him to the police in a move to highlight concerns about provisions in the Terrorism Act, 2000, writes Phil Baty.

Ross Anderson said this week that his work in helping to oppose the national medical database in Iceland, which takes genetic and genealogical data from patients without their active consent, placed him in breach of the Terrorism Act.

Dr Anderson, a reader in security engineering and an expert on the safety and privacy of medical information systems, has acted as a consultant to the Icelandic Medial Association and has given advice on how best to oppose the database, which has raised ethical concerns.

He has helped to organise a boycott of the database, and with his technical advice, 11 per cent of the Icelandic population have been able to opt out of the system. He claims that his involvement is illegal under the provisions of the Terrorism Act.

The act's definition of terrorism includes: "The use or threat of action designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system to influence the government for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause."

"Thus by assisting the Icelandic Medical Association to organise a boycott of a database run for the benefit of a Swiss drug company, with the unashamedly political aim of persuading the government in Reykjavik to safeguard medical ethics and European data-protection law, I have made myself liable for a long prison sentence," Dr Anderson told academics at a meeting of Cambridge University's senate house. "What's more, now that you have heard my confession, you are all also liable unless you immediately seek out a police officer and report that you have just learnt that I am a terrorist."

Speaking to The THES after the meeting, Dr Anderson said he had taken legal advice, "and the consensus appeared to be that the police would never be dumb enough to interpret the law this way.

"That may be okay in the short term, but in the medium term it must by worrying that so may laws are being passed that give an opportunity to prosecute people for doing normal, innocuous things," he added.

The Terrorism Act, which came into power in February 2001, has been criticised by opposition political parties and human-rights groups for imposing a wide definition of terrorism that they believe could be used to stifle legitimate protest.

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