Disabled Spectator Arrested for Not Visibly Enjoying Olympic Event [Updated]

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Well, this is pretty goddamn appalling:

Mark Worsfold, 54, a former soldier and martial arts instructor, was arrested on 28 July for a breach of the peace shortly before the cyclists arrived in Redhouse Park, Leatherhead, where he had sat down on a wall to watch the race. Officers from Surrey police restrained and handcuffed him and took him to Reigate police station, saying his behaviour had "caused concern."

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Worsfold … claims police questioned him about his demeanour and why he had not been seen to be visibly enjoying the event. Worsfold, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2010, suffers from muscle rigidity that affects his face. He was released after two hours without charge or caution.

To be clear, he did not actually breach the peace or actually do anything to lead them to believe he might breach it. This was a preemptive detention based on what they thought he might do based on how he looked; police semi-explained that "[t]he man was positioned close to a small group of protesters and based on his manner, his state of dress and his proximity to the course, officers made an arrest to prevent a possible breach of the peace." When they realized their mistake—two hours later, after interrogating him at the station—they "fully explained [the circumstances] to the individual concerned," who "was given words of advice and released with no further action."

What "words of advice" did you give him, exactly? "See if you can't get that Parkinson's disease cleared up before the next Olympics"?

According to the report, police said they had received a letter from the man saying that he "appreciated and thanked both the arresting officers for their apologies and explanations" following his release, and if that's true then at least there was an apology. The report also says, however, that Worsfold "did not want to make further comment until he received a response from Surrey police," so maybe that's not clear yet. (The comment he did make, with just a little understatement, was "It could have been done better. I was arrested for not smiling. I have Parkinson's.")

As for the explanations, they suck. Granted, police have a difficult job and have to make snap decisions sometimes. No argument there. But how does a snap decision then result in an arrest and two-hour detention of someone who, presumably, said something like "I look like this because I have Parkinson's" if they gave him a chance to explain at all? And in this case, the decision took at least two officers away from the race they were supposed to be guarding, so security actually got worse.

In the U.S., this would violate the Fourth Amendment because, although the officers may have had enough articulable suspicion for a Terry stop, I don't see any facts suggesting they had cause to arrest him. Police did say that Worsfold had "a number of knives" in his possession, but they turned out to be rubber display knives. That's weird (though less so if he is still a martial arts instructor), but weird isn't probable cause. The Fourth Amendment doesn't apply in the U.K., as I hope most of you know, and sadly it is on life support over here.

The most relevant example being the NGIFRP—what? You haven't been following the deployment of the NGIFRP? The Next Generation Identification Facial Recognition Program? That's the government's plan to include in its giant biometrics database at least 12 million "searchable frontal photos" (hopefully, this means your face) and develop software to track and ID people in crowd or social-media photos. The vast majority of such people, of course, will not even be suspected of a crime. But hey, can't be too careful. Still, consider this: if human beings are so incredibly bad at identifying bad guys, let alone potential bad guys— and they are really, really bad at it—is it better or worse to hand that off to software? How well do you think that software will work?

Even if this kind of thing did work reasonably well, as Bruce Schneier and others (me too) have pointed out, the inevitable false positives—like, let's say, flagging somebody for "lack of visible enjoyment" who turns out to have Parkinson's—make these systems pretty much useless by "ensuring that any real terrorists identified are lost in a sea of falsely accused innocents."

They will, however, make somebody a lot of money.

Update: As someone has reminded me, the more relevant example is not NGIFRP but rather SPOT, the TSA's so-cleverly-named "Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques" program, a program in which an agency that recruits people by advertising on pizza boxes has supposedly trained these same people to spot terrorists by looking at them. See, e.g., "FBI Counter-Terror Agent: TSA's Incompetence 'Frightens Me,'" Lowering the Bar (Mar. 8, 2012). As I noted in that post, SPOT has supposedly been implemented already at various airports, with the following results:

  • Arrests made: 1,100.
  • Number of those that involved terror-related charges: zero.
  • Number of actual terrorists known to have successfully flown during that time: 17.

Number of disabled persons arrested for not sufficiently enjoying the travel experience: not yet known.