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Why do they want to know?

Via a correspondent, I have obtained a copy of the form that the police are sending round to sceptics as part of their investigation of the climategate leaks. Some of the questions being asked are pretty surprising:

18) What is your stance on climate change?

19)  Are you a current or past member of any political or environmental organisation/ group? Details:

20) Do you contribute to, participate in, or administer any internet based website, forum, blog, etc.  including any related to climate change? Details:

Is it just me, or is this rather sinister from a civil liberties point of view? I simply can't see that contributing to a blog is relevant to the inquiry. One can't help but get the impression of innocent people having police files being built on them, simply because the forces of law and order (in the shape of NDET) haven't got anything better to do.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the offence being investigated is described in the form as, variously, a theft, a leak and a breach. But never a hack.

One thing we can say about the hacker/leaker is that he/she was possessed of some relatively sophisticated IT skills, so it's also interesting to see that the police seem to have no interest in whether any of the people they are quizzing have this skillset.

Very odd.



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Reader Comments (62)


1. Yes . . . climate does change as any fool knows

2. None of your business, this isn't Soviet Russia, Hitler's Germany or Chavez's Venezuela

3. None of your business, this isn't Soviet Russia, Hitler's Germany or Chavez's Venezuela

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred from Canuckistan

Can we see questions 1 to 17 on the form? Or are they so benign as not to be relevant.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterTempGauge

Perhaps is time you directed an inquiry to the local constabulary, and asked them the basis for the questions. You might copy your inquiry to a media outlet, so that it percolates along on top, rather than getting buried.

Usually, these efforts wilt in sunlight.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan

In Sweden at least, question 19 is illegal. Should be the same in all democratic societies.
Not so in the UK?

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

Remember the original impetus for this group; find the extremists who were destroying research facilities violently.

I think the form is designed to find people who are trying to hide their very naughty activities. While the authorities may seem quite dull, I think it can be taken for granted that they will get their own answers to questions like 19 and 20.

So, I'm saying that the truthful answers to those questions are benign, and merely establish you as a solid citizen.

The questions seem to be asked as a wedge , to be exploited with folks that cannot answer such questions candidly.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterRuhRoh

Wow! Turning into Keystone Cops.

I'm beginning to lose faith in human progress.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

ignore it.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterdread0

Wait - y'mean it's still legal in the UK for cops to question people? Without filling out 27 different forms first?

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

Unfortunately, this attitude, by any authoritative body in this once, relatively free society, has become the normal way of doing business - and a business it is.
We in this country are watched, logged, profiled, scanned, screened, Analyzed and categorized. There is no honest purpose in soliciting this kind of personal information.

This isn't My paranoia; its theirs.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterVince

Bring it on......

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterOld Holborn

Q19. "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of ......... "
If that is unfamiliar to anyone, look up House Un-American Activities Committee.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterView from the Solent

18) What is your stance on climate change?:-
Well.. I drop to all fours and then I lift my right leg..

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrant

The questions are provocative and silly. In the US I doubt that anyone would see these as legiimate questions under any circumstances. It is hard to believe that information gathering on this level would do anything other than generate noise.

Jan 27, 2010 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

I found the questions very odd, but decided that it was more prudent to answer the questions than to make an issue of it.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

I wondered long and hard about posting this. My civil libertarian side won out. It's not right.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:10 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

All of that is covered under the US Constitution Fifth Amendment, which is based on the Magna Charta and British Common Law. In US criminal law, you have the right to remain silent and the coppers have to warn you of that right with the Miranda rights -- Miranda v. Arizona 1966. Since I watch the tele here in the US (ain't satellites wonderful) and enjoy such wonderfully intellectually stimulating shows such as Road Wars I know that the coppers are careful to warn the miscreants caught boy racing and such their rights as well.

If I were given such a document to fill out in the US, I would fire off copies to my congress man, my senators as well as the local press and ACLU.

And tell them to buzz off.

Now just what they can do to you in Britain is not known to ne, but as an Irish citizen, I will admit having a bias against the heavy handedness of British law -- but that is another issue.

Tell them ye live outside of the Pale!

For those of you who would like a more detailed explanation of US law, I so suggest Wikipedia. This is a better than most article"

And View from the Solent is right. They can't ask #19 in the US. Note to self -- be careful when traveling in Sweden.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Hmmm, I think 19 and 20 are quite reasonable. I assume there is no legal threat or imperative to answer any of these questions, so I can see that these two question would save a bit of research if chummy chooses to reply, they can be easily slotted into categories with a one line entry.

Question 18 is the strange and disturbing one, I'm assuming for this there is no simple tick boxes offered like

"Al Gore"

So are they expecting an essay? And who in HQ would assess it?

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2


I disagree about answering any questions beyond those that identify that I am qualified to issue the FOIA inquiry. They have a right to know who I am, where I live, that I am a citizen (if required by the law). Outside of that, they can't ask you anything without "probable cause." If asked such questions, you can ask what is their probable cause. If they can't answer, f*** them.


I am interested in what the other questions are. And if there is any warnings about publishing the questionnaire. That would be interesting to know. They are probably trying to hide behind "confidentiality" or some other BS.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Have linked BH, with a pertinent comment!

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterWitteringsfromWitney

@ Don Pablo de la Sierra

My interpretation was that this questionnaire was something along the line "would you mind helping our investigation by answering these questions?"

If it was shown to be at any stronger level than that, then it could strike me as disturbing. I think more context is required here.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

I'm holding off publishing any more at the moment. As I mentioned above, I'm slightly uncomfortable about publishing them at all - I don't suppose it's terribly helpful to the investigation. The points I did publish are some of those I'm uncomfortable with, particularly in the light of the involvement of NDET. If I'm under suspicion of being a domestic extremist then it suggests that the police have taken leave of their senses, and I will publish what it takes to make my concerns clear.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:42 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

This is reminiscent of the fishing expedition tactic used by American police. At a routine traffic stop, sometimes police will ask, “Do you mind if I take a look in the trunk?” They have no legal right to do so, but people don’t realize that or just don’t want to cause trouble. Usually nothing comes of it, but sometimes the police hit the jackpot and find drugs, weapons, etc. Hardened (but foolish) criminals open the trunk and incriminate themselves, whereas if they had said “no thanks” the police could do nothing.

US courts have allowed this tactic, as long as the police do not represent their request as mandatory. It is up to the citizen to know their rights and decline these requests.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff C.

I agree with you Steve2, but I'm Irish, and so sensitive to British law. Particularly when I see questions like those listed.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

@Jeff C

Exactly correct -- which is why you should ask what is their probable cause.

Every day I see police shows where the police get away with this tactic and the dumb smuck puts himself in jail. Smart criminals don't make that mistake.

And Bishop, you have a right to know if you are under suspicion and should ask them "Why should I answer these questions?" You don't have to ask "What's yer f'ing probable cause, copper?" You can be polite. But ask the question.

And if they ask to see what is in the boot of your car when stopped for speeding, you can ask "Why? What does that have to do with the speeding ticket?" If they force the issue, and there is nothing incriminating, they have a big problem -- at least in the US.

But then again, I'm Irish and we have Irish cops in America. :)

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

These questions are not noise. These questions are a gateway; put you at ease answering simple questions, then they delve more deeply later on hoping that since you've gotten used to answering their questions, you couldn't possibly have a reasonable excuse to stop answering further questions. It's a common police interview tactic.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Well, since the British legal system is full of holes, just cut the form into 20 questions. Send the answer to one question back to NDET every fortnight, starting with question 20 and working backwards. By the time they get your name (first question?), over a year will have passed. That should keep you safe if, for some reason, any summary offence charges arise from your answers to questions 18-20.

Jan 27, 2010 at 8:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterLegal Opinion

"2. None of your business, this isn't Soviet Russia, Hitler's Germany or Chavez's Venezuela"

Sadly, this country is becoming increasingly like those three statist paradises.

Jan 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrian, follower of Deornoth

Whoops, the above should read "over six months will have passed", not "a year".

Jan 27, 2010 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterLegal Opinion

Why is anybody surprised by the type of questions the police ask? New Labour has been very keen on "thought crimes" since it came to office and regards Orwell's novel 1984 as a blueprint, not a warning. Careerism is also a factor. If you want to rise to the top in many public sector organisations who have to conform to the ethos introduced by the Left in British politics.

Jan 27, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

it appears to be as political as AGW itself.

Jan 27, 2010 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterpat

19 would probably get me labelled as an extremist given I've just come back from a meeting with a shadow cabinet MP who's planning to make the Police force more locally accountable. Shame I'd not seen this before or I'd have raised it.

20 seems just a tad wide ranging and when I went to a consultation with the ACPO regarding the creation of RIPA, looks like the kind of fishing expedition that the ICO attendee said would not be permitted.

Jan 27, 2010 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

I hear what you are saying, Bishop Hill. Your concern is noted , reasonable, and telling.
We should not feel uncomfortable in our dealings with authority, but we are.
We should not be afraid to shine light in dark places, but we are.
Whenever I stand up to authority, and I find I do it more as I get older, I cant shake the feeling of impending doom.
It hasn't always been that way, and I'm angry that it is now.
What you have shared so far is enough for me to ask questions. Step back and take a breather.
Sorry. The increase in surveillance and data collection of us, the little people; and the increase of power and secrecy of the big people, gets right up my nose.

Jan 27, 2010 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterVince

JUST quote the following and tell them to go away in jerky movements

Human Rights Act 1998.
Article 8 Right to respect for private and family life
Article 9 Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Article 10 Freedom of expression
Article 11 Freedom of assembly and association


Jan 27, 2010 at 10:44 PM | Unregistered Commenteranoneumouse

Look at it from their point of view. The local police force, somewhat out of their depth no doubt, called in the Domestic Extremism unit who have "experience" with climate change related... something or other. These new friends probably asked for the data to be collected to help identify people who, only perhaps, should or should not be on their watch lists. All perfectly proper and above board.

Jan 27, 2010 at 11:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Dunford

All perfectly proper and above board.

I do hope that my irony meter needs new batteries and that you do not seriously believe that.

IIRC these forms are being sent to people who have submitted FOIA requests to the CRU. Nothing more. Why there should have to justification for asking a question is beyond me.

Jan 27, 2010 at 11:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDennis


I keep an excellent floor level metal circular filing cabinet for papers like that.

Always remember be polite to the nice policeman.

He may ask such questions as he pleases.

He is not entitled to any answers in many matters and certainly not in this one. However he may huff and puff to the contrary.

Think too how helpful you can be by querying why he is asking the questions, what is it he suspects? what is it all about? and so forth. Mind you ONLY play this game if you know the rules. Be sure he will. Or possibly of you might of course live outside UK jurisdiction. In which case ENJOY.

But above all else don't imagine you are Rumpole of Bailey unless you really are: you would be amazed how many well educated people gets themselves tied in knots because they think they are cleverer than the police: and moreover that the police are reasonable. Neither is likely to be true. The police do it for a living and know what's what and further will prosecute the most minor offence if they think there is a chance of conviction to chalk up on the target list.


Kindest Regards

Jan 28, 2010 at 12:07 AM | Unregistered Commentera jones

Yer Grace

I wonder what someone like Geoffery Robertson would make of the questions?

The questions remind me of the personal information sought by Australian Security and Intelligence organizations when processing middle to high level security clearances for government employees and contractors.

Jan 28, 2010 at 12:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterE O'Connor

Typical and completely unjustified. Labour in the unlikely event they hold power are likely to introduce regulation to control the blogosphere. They have lost control of Climate Change and are seeing it crumble completely before them, despite their best efforts to control the media. These question demonstrate just how much they have politicalised the police, because answering them will not help them with their enquiries into CRU. And its none of their bloody business anyway.

Jan 28, 2010 at 12:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeterMG

In the UK you're under no obligation to go beyond furnishing the police with your name, address and DOB when requested, and even then they can't just stop random people in the street and demand this information: as has been stated, they must have some reason to do this.

If and when you're cautioned, you're thereafter under no obligation to say anything at all.

Any "volunteered" information however could be used in court. It's safer to say nothing.

Jan 28, 2010 at 1:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterwoodentop

What is Britain's equivalent of the FBI?

Jan 28, 2010 at 1:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterKevin

IMHO, this is extremely bizarre. How can asking (or answering) these questions assist, in any way, in finding the individual (blessed be his/her name) that released this information (IMHO, had to be an inside job).
To ask individuals (randomly, or perhaps based on their reputation) what they believe about a scientific controversy and whether they have ever exercised their right of free speech (via the internet), cannot help resolve how this unoffical FOI release of climate information (apparently the only kind of FOI release that occurs in the UK or US, for that matter) happened.
The only possible purpose for these questions I can see, is to try to pull in people that re-posted (or discussed?) this information under some kind of "possession of stolen goods (knowledge)" charge.
Sounds paranoid, but these days, non-paranoids are the delusional types.

Jan 28, 2010 at 1:44 AM | Unregistered Commentergaryp

I wondered long and hard about posting this. My civil libertarian side won out. It's not right. January 27, 2010 | Bishop Hill

Absolutely not right! Good on you.

I am surprised Steve McIntyre meekly acquiesced. Please bend over sir and expose your backside for 6 of the best. Very well sir, at your service sir. Yes sir, no sir, 3 bags full sir.

I would counter with a set of questions of my own. As a member of the public interested in a fair and unbiased investigation and its fair and unbiased outcome, I would like to have names and qualifications of the investigating committee. Its terms of reference.

I would also like to know:

1) What is their individual stance on climate change?

2) Is any of them a current or past member of any political or environmental organisation/ group? Details:

3) Do any of them contribute to or participate in any internet based website, forum, blog, etc. including any related to climate change? Details:

Jan 28, 2010 at 3:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard


I do hope that my irony meter needs new batteries and that you do not seriously believe that.

After watching the Q-ship job you did on Frank -- I for one won't. That, by the way, was beautifully done. Even sucked me in. :)


What you say appears to be what the nice coppers do on that intellectually stimulating British tele show Road Wars when they catch yet another boy racer. I assume the same is true of sinister right-wing law-abiding bloggers, but you never know. Maybe they taser you.


Go have a nice chat with a solicitor if you have one of these inquisitions come your way. I believe Cardinal Torquemada has retired, so. I doubt they will rack and pinion you -- or am I thinking about my car? Age is such a terrible curse.

Jan 28, 2010 at 3:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

I believe Cardinal Torquemada has retired, so. I doubt they will rack and pinion you ..January 28, 2010 | Don Pablo de la Sierra

I looked up Cardinal Torquemada. Apparently he supported papal Crusade policy in opposition to the Ottoman Turks which wasnt such a bad thing considering the blighters were attacking Constantinople and other Christian states. You maybe thinking about his nephew, the Inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada.

Jan 28, 2010 at 3:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

I am sorry. I failed to read the post correctly.

And so to understand Bishop that your concern is that you might be subject to investigation?

Fear not. The only thing to fear is fear itself and don't policemen love to rely on it.

So what's to fear? Policemen love to give you the willies that they are looking at you.

But they are your public servants so tell them so and send them about their business.

You need have no fear.

What is the policeman's revenge? I have got my eye on you sunshine.

Och Aye. A bit of backbone and just forget it.

I repeat and particularly in something like this the police are your servants so tell them so. It is their job to track down offenders and prosecute them. And since you know nothing of the matter you cannot help them.

Again do not be fooled by suggestions you might know something that might help them: how could you? You know nothing of the matter beyond what is in the public press. Explain they should ask the reporters not you.

Just don't be drawn into any kind of discussion. At all.

Rules you need to know.

If a policeman comes to your door asking questions about something you might have been involved in ask him to put his questions in writing and send him on his way. You do not parley with him. At all.

Do not be taken in by his argument that questions in writing are not police procedure. It is no concern of yours.

Questions in writing please.

If written questions turn up deposit a copy of the same with your lawyer, acknowledge receipt that you note they have been sent, and throw any extra spare copies in the fire.

And that is it.

You do not answer written questions Any more than you answer verbal ones.

Kindest Regards

Jan 28, 2010 at 4:33 AM | Unregistered Commentera jones

This is scandalous Whomsoever prepared and approved this should be fired!

Jan 28, 2010 at 4:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Engineer

I wonder what happened when they must have handed over the questionaire to the person who leaked the emails.

I also think about what might happen when they uncover the person who leaked the emails. Put him/her in prison?

Jan 28, 2010 at 6:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnand

Anand - since they have not asked the question - Were you the person who leaked the emails? - he or she can answer the questions truthfully - if they choose to.

And why do you presume they will find the person who leaked the emails? With questions such as those they make Inspector Clouseau sound like a genius.

Jan 28, 2010 at 7:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

There seems to me to be a growing conclusion that the emails were leaked (see today's post). That being the case, why are these questionnaires being sent out? As I said, it's just that NDET have nothing better to do. That's a civil liberties issue. I'm not concerned about an investigation per se - I have nothing to hide - but being investigated because a few policemen are bored should concern everyone who wants to live in a free country.

Jan 28, 2010 at 8:12 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I agree yer Grace

Jan 28, 2010 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

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