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Techies top cops' terror profile

Allo allo allo - is that an RS-232 cable, sah?

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If you think that the police's profiling of terror suspects is something that only happens to other people - think again. Today's panicky Plod doesn't seem to be very discriminating at all. And you could be next.

Techie David Mery has published an account of being arrested, and having his computers confiscated, because he happened to be wearing a rucksack on the London Underground the day after the 27/7 bombings. Or as phone blogger Russell Beattie put it -

"My pal David Mery got arrested in London last Thursday for being a geek"

Mery's account of his ordeal appeared in The Guardian yesterday, and the newspaper published his story verbatim. You can read it here.

For nerds everywhere, it's a chilling read. The Frenchman works as a developer liaison at software company and he's lived in London for 15 years. But his "profile" is one that fits many Register readers.

As Mery himself puts it, "Techies and terrorist behavioural profiles are the same".

Mery dug out the police's own training guide for identifying potential suicide bombers, and found this -

Behavior. Does the individual act oddly, appear fearful, or use mannerisms that do not fit in? Examples include repeatedly circling an area on foot or in a car, pacing back and forth in front of a venue, glancing left and right while walking slowly, fidgeting with something under his or her clothes, exhibiting an unwillingness to make eye contact, mumbling (prayer), or repeatedly checking a watch or cell phone. [...]

Appearance. Is the clothing, grooming, gender, or age of an individual out of place within the context of the environment? Examples include someone wearing a heavy coat or jacket in warm weather [...]

Equipment. Does a briefcase, duffle bag, or backpack seem extra heavy or have protrusions or visible wires? When the individual sits down, is he or she overly protective of this item or preoccupied with it? [...]’

I think that describes many of us. If applied to Silicon Valley, the US economy would be paralyzed at a stroke. And Bill Gates would be calling a lawyer.

London's jumpy police said that their suspicions were aroused because Mery was wearing a thick coat. The jacket, insisted a constable, was "too warm for the season". A similar justification was used for the fatal shooting of a Brazilian.

But only the day before, temperatures had hit a 25-year low.

"Could it have been instead that the weather was too cold for the season?", asks Mery.

A fact that only London's finest failed to notice.

We're perhaps blessed that the Met chose the wrong suspect, and chanced upon a former professional journalist looking at his phone. In the 1990s David Mery edited the extraordinary, now sadly defunct programmer's journal EXE, a tiny publication which married geek curiosity to literate wit, and was the home for many years to Verity Stob - the poet laureate of computer programming. Mery and his predecessor Robert Schifreen created a publication with an appreciation way beyond its circulation figures, and such wonders live long in the memory of anyone who's worked in publishing.

But what about the less well connected?

As David himself remarked about his ordeal - "at least I'm still alive". ®

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