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UK gov bans 'terror' suspect from science class

High Court will hear appeal

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The UK government is facing a High Court challenge over its decision to ban a suspected terrorist from studying sixth-form science courses, lest he use the knowledge he might gain for terrorist purposes.

The government already suspects the man, an Iraqi national referred to in the case as 'A.E.', of terrorist affiliations, and has placed a terror 'control order' upon him. According to Nature's news pages, the man is in his 30s, is unemployed and has already studied medicine at university in Iraq.

Control orders were brought in as part of the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act, and can impose a variety of restrictions on a person's freedom. For instance, they can restrict travel, use of mobile phones and access to the internet, as well as imposing a curfew.

The orders have been condemned as unfair by civil liberties groups, since they do not require that a person be charged with any offence. The details of the accusations against the subject can also be withheld to protect sources of intelligence, making it impossible to appeal their imposition. Currently, 14 people in the UK are subject to control orders.

A.E's solicitors say that the control order has made it impossible for A.E. to find work, and that rather than do nothing, he has chosen to further his education. They argue further that the content of AS level courses in human biology and chemistry is in the public domain, and as such, is unlikely to pose a threat to the security of the nation.

(We'd also argue that it is daft to suggest that someone who has already studied medicine might become more dangerous by taking a couple of science courses aimed at 16-19 year olds.)

The heads of education at both the Institute of Biology in London and the Royal Society of Chemistry also brushed off suggestions that the content of the AS level courses could be of significant aid to someone plotting a terrorist attack. Neil Roscoe, head of education and training at the Institute of Biology, said that the human biology course did contain details of the structure of neurotoxins.

"If the Government wants to be cautious, there are aspects that could be considered as aiding the cause," he said, adding that there would never be an easy answer to the question of science and security.

The issues at stake here are pretty fundamental: is knowledge dangerous, and if so, should we restrict access to it on the basis of what might be done with it later? Should we, as Nature asks, treat science courses as potential terrorist tools?

The Home Office said it is not able to comment on the case, as it is ongoing. ®

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