Sympathy for the Devil

Tallbloke, and the other recipients of the second batch of stolen CRU emails, are not, as I see it, people whose actions are good for the world. They have very strange ideas about climate as a phenomenon and of climate science as a professional practice. They are on the whole deeply and damagingly wrong.

But their confusion is not illegal, and in most cases their shenanigans are well-intended. Of course, extremists are like that. But the point is that people have a right to their own minds, and to their personal machines as an extension of that basic freedom.

They were unlikely to be voluntary cooperative with the CRU investigation. As a result, there are bona fide reasons to seize their computers. Specifically, they should do so immediately, to try to find tracks in the server logs while they are still fresh, as they ought to have done the first time.

But police forces seizing computers is not something to take lightly. The potential for abuse is vast and obvious, and what cuts your enemy today may cut your friend tomorrow.

I hope that the investigations are done quickly and professionally, and that the confiscated equipment is returned intact to its owners with maximum haste and due apologies, regardless of the serious harm I believe those owners are perpetrating.

At some point there is a right to be wrong.

I am not a purist; on any issue I think there are various principles at work.

Still, when police work becomes confiscation of intellectual property, the value of free thought and free speech have to weight heavily. Taking somebody’s computer is not like taking their eggbeater or their glockenspiel. It’s serious business, and needs to be handled with care.


  1. Some possible corrections and questions about your post:

    1. Tallbloke and the others did not receive "stolen" emails. Links to the location of the emails were posted on Tallbloke's blog (which isn't hosted from his home, btw).

    2. The links to the emails were posted on servers which hosted Tallbloke's (and the others) blog. The servers were not located at Tallbloke's home, so there was no need to confiscate Tallbloke's computers in order to determine who posted the link to the emails. This information most like would be found in the server logs for the blogs, not on an individual's personal computer.

    3. "Stolen" emails... It's never been proved that the emails were stolen via hacking, and most people who have looked into it say that it is more likely that they were released by a whistle-blower inside the CRU.

    The emails in question were the subject of several FOIA requests, which the scientists in questions (Jones and others at the CRU) were actively trying to ignore and were discussing deleting these emails in an attempt to avoid the FOIA requests. Destruction of emails which are the subject of FOIA requests would be considered destruction of evidence, which would be a crime (at lease in most other circumstances, but apparently this time it's different).

    4. "They have very strange ideas about climate as a phenomenon..." Could you be more specific? Not accepting that a trace gas measured in parts per million controls the climate isn't really "a strange idea". Asking to see the data that people are using to create policies that will affect billions of people and could conceivably cost trillions of dollars isn't a "strange idea". Especially when the emails show that there was a concerted effort (a "conspiracy" if you will) by the scientists at the CRU to keep the data hidden. Science is about openess and skepticism. If you won't release your data or your methodology, why should you expect anyone take what you say as truthful?

    5. "...and in most cases their shenanigans are well-intended." Again, could you be specific as to their "shenanigans"?

    6. Extremists? An ad hominem that is really unnecessary and could be a form of projection.

    7. "...there are bona fide reasons to seize their computers". What are those reasons? " try to find tracks in the server logs while they are still fresh..." If they want to find tracks in the server logs, they probably won't find them in the personal computers of Tallbloke and the others, so again, what are the "bona fide reasons" to seize personal computers?


  2. Pinroot, thanks for your comment.

    We are not going to agree about the nature and importance of the CRU emails. I think the presumption of a criminal act remains.

    And I think the outcome to date, drenched in misrepresentation, calumny and paranoia, has been disastrous for everyone except those who actually own fossil fuel deposits and don't anticipate having grandchildren.

    Nevertheless, I concede that others' readings of the emails and of the nature of climate science, however implausible and wrong, is in many cases honestly held. There is no basis in the law for punishing incorrect opinions.

    I do not know what the rules are for confiscating computers in any country, but I think that it should be a very strict standard. I am unfamiliar with the details of the case, but my impression is that Tallbloke did nothing wrong in any legal sense.

    If in fact Tallbloke only pointed to a repository, the question remains how he was informed as where that repository is. I have not been following the matter closely, but if there was reason to believe he had been contacted by the perpetrators, that could conceivably justify police action in my humble, non-lawyer non-Brit opinion.

    However, that action should be swift, time-limited, and scrupulous. It is of course absurd for advocates of the CRU invasion of privacy to plead invasion of privacy.

    But I am willing to plead for privacy on their behalf.

    You don't protect civilization by setting the police on uncivilized missions. Copy the disks if the law allows and there is potential evidence leading to the perpetrators there, look for that evidence, refrain from reverse fishing expeditions, and give the machines back as soon as possible.

    Above all do not accuse people of crimes just for believing stuff that isn't so. No matter how dangerous their beliefs, that slope is about as slippery as they come.

  3. MT, after writing boilerplate stuff along the lines of 'I think the denialists mean well' for the umpteenth time, I think you should start asking yourself,

    Dang, why do I feel so compelled to insert this boilerplate 'I think the denialists mean well' stuff all the time? Why do I repeatedly throw out this hackneyed idea each time, as if it's some brand new insight?

    Especially since it has no bearing whatsoever on your main argument. I don't know the details of UK law, but I think it doesn't care whether a suspect "meant well" when he did something, but only cares whether the suspect knew that he was doing it, whether he had any choice not to do it, and whether he knew it was an illegal thing to do.

    But beyond that, you do have a bit of a point: confiscation of computers and routers, as with anything, should be done only in the presence of "probable cause" (or its UK equivalent), and I hope that this standard has at least been met, though I can't verify that.

    And I think Tallbloke and his compatriots are fully capable of defending their own rights -- and if they can find any indication that the search and confiscation wasn't done in an honest effort to find the truth, we can be sure that they'll be suing the Norfolk police pretty soon.

    -- frank

  4. Some things bear repeating.

    Most of those people believe what they are saying. This is something we tend to forget in our anger at the people constructing and propagating the lies. And that matters.

  5. No, MT, much of the time it does not matter. I don't really care much about whether the inactivists actually believe the nonsense they spew.

    But I do care that in their outward behaviour, they hold themselves to the same standards that others are expected to abide by, and they obey the same laws that others are expected to obey.

    It's a very simple contract, but inactivists keep having troubling sticking to it. And that's the rub.

    -- frank

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