Skip to main content

UK Government declines to pardon Alan Turing

There's been a petition to the government and an Early Day Motion asking for Alan Turing to be pardoned. This is something I oppose despite having been behind the 2009 Alan Turing apology campaign.

Last, Thursday, February 2, the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Sharkey asked in the House of Lords: "To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider granting a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing."

A government minister, Lord McNally, responded for the government declining to pardon Turing:
The question of granting a posthumous pardon to Mr Turing was considered by the previous Government in 2009.

As a result of the previous campaign, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an unequivocal posthumous apology to Mr Turing on behalf of the Government, describing his treatment as "horrifying" and "utterly unfair". Mr Brown said the country owed him a huge debt. This apology was also shown at the end of the Channel 4 documentary celebrating Mr Turing's life and achievements which was broadcast on 21 November 2011.

A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted.

It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd-particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times.
It's interesting, to me at least, that the issue of a pardon was considered in 2009 as this was not something I had been asking for. The government's response makes clear that they do not consider a pardon appropriate.

Comments

Unknown said…
Hmm.... much as I don't like it, they're right. It was at the time a crime, a stupid law certainly, but he did break the law of the time... pardoning him now wouldn't change anything, but it wouldn't be "right" just because of his achievements, to pardon him for a crime he did commit.
Unknown said…
Hmm.... much as I don't like it, they're right. It was at the time a crime, a stupid law certainly, but he did break the law of the time... pardoning him now wouldn't change anything, but it wouldn't be "right" just because of his achievements, to pardon him for a crime he did commit.
Bernard said…
I disagree. He should be pardoned.

As should anybody who was subject to the equivalent of an apartheid law should be pardoned when a societiy civilies itself enough to recognise that discriminatory legislation is unjust.

Take a law concerning a black man having consenual sex with a white woman. A man ends up being hanged under this law. A future society sees that this law is intrinsically discriminatory. Why should the man not be pardoned? A white man could rape a black woman with impunity.

Nelson Mandela was offered a pardon, despite his guilt in leading a terrorist campaign. Mandela refused the pardon because he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the system offering it to him. Turing is in neither the position to accept or reject. But the legal definition of a pardon does not mean the person never did the crime.

In Britain, even in the 1990s , gay men were being arrested and imprisoned on charges related to sex, charges which were never brought against straight people. There was a famous case called Operation Spanner, where the judge imprisoned a group of men for years, because their behaviour was "not manly".

Two straight people who had been found by the police in the same circumstances as Turing would never have been imprisoned.

But then I guess like whites under Apartheid, straight people think that the laws that are applied discriminatively in their favour are just.
Bernard said…
I disagree. He should be pardoned.

As should anybody who was subject to the equivalent of an apartheid law should be pardoned when a societiy civilies itself enough to recognise that discriminatory legislation is unjust.

Take a law concerning a black man having consenual sex with a white woman. A man ends up being hanged under this law. A future society sees that this law is intrinsically discriminatory. Why should the man not be pardoned? A white man could rape a black woman with impunity.

Nelson Mandela was offered a pardon, despite his guilt in leading a terrorist campaign. Mandela refused the pardon because he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the system offering it to him. Turing is in neither the position to accept or reject. But the legal definition of a pardon does not mean the person never did the crime.

In Britain, even in the 1990s , gay men were being arrested and imprisoned on charges related to sex, charges which were never brought against straight people. There was a famous case called Operation Spanner, where the judge imprisoned a group of men for years, because their behaviour was "not manly".

Two straight people who had been found by the police in the same circumstances as Turing would never have been imprisoned.

But then I guess like whites under Apartheid, straight people think that the laws that operate in their favour are just.
Pankaj Doharey said…
This is absolutely disgusting, Alan Turing should be pardoned. Women in pre renaissance europe were burnt alive in the name of witchcraft, but now we think that it was plain wrong because witchcraft is superstition.

So why not this, in those days gay men were basically violating old testament, the people who do homosexual acts there end will be the same as sodom and gomorrah,
but now we know god doesn't exist and Bible is just a fairy tale.

This means that when old laws are wrong or doesn't reflect the current need of the society then we replace them. and thats what happened in the western world.

So a law which seemed right in the light of old societal constructs are plain wrong, and alan turing was prosecuted for all the wrong reasons. So he should be pardoned now because in the light of current day laws and societal norms, the laws under which he was prosecuted were wrong.

Alan turing is widely considered as the father of computer science. I think it is about time and only fair to give the man his rightful place in history, and for us we have a chance to tell the future generations of the wrong doings that we and our predecessors did and we overcame it.

It is worthwhile exercise of learning for our society and the whole wide western world. Even historically it has always been a sign of western world view to be progressive, then why not here, right?
nwhitfield said…
It's perhaps tricky to pardon a single person, but even so, I really don't think the government argument stacks up in the face of precedent.

In 2006, all 306 soldiers who were shot at dawn for cowardice in the Great War were pardoned, in the light of a better understanding of the issues involved.

So, to say something was a crime at the time and nothing can be done now flies in the face of that precedent.

But, if there is to be a pardon, it should surely be for all those convicted of such consensual offences, and not just for one person.
sholvar said…
It would be quite smart to start an article with explaining the situation. It is not clear to everybody what's the problem between Alan Turing and the U.K. government. If they need to pardon, I would like to know why. Without using Google.
iconomaster said…
Wouldn't pardoning him now be like the Mormons baptizing dead people?
iconomaster said…
Wouldn't pardoning him now be like the Mormons baptizing dead people?
Hello John,

This is William Jones who started the petition on 23/11/2011.

Rather than being absolutely opposed to this petition, John. You should campaign with me for a pardon. This petition in no way undermines the petition you started in 2009 that gained an apology. This takes the matter further by granting a pardon.

You can find me on twitter at @justwill11 should you want to get in contact.
Hello John,

This is William Jones who started the petition on 23/11/2011.

Rather than being absolutely opposed to this petition, John. You should campaign with me for a pardon. This petition in no way undermines the petition you started in 2009 that gained an apology. This takes the matter further by granting a pardon.

You can find me on twitter at @justwill11 should you want to get in contact.
Hello John,

This is William Jones who started the petition on 23/11/2011.

Rather than being absolutely opposed to this petition, John. You should campaign with me for a pardon. This petition in no way undermines the petition you started in 2009 that gained an apology. This takes the matter further by granting a pardon.

You can find me on twitter at @justwill11 should you want to get in contact.
@William. I don't feel the petition undermines what I did in 2009. If a pardon is granted then it will be welcomed by many, many people.

But I don't think the state should be forgiving a crime that should never have been a crime in the first place. Alan Turing should never have been faced with criminal prosecution in the first place (and all the other men). It feels wrong to me that the state should now forgive his sentence.

My email is on my web site should you wish to contact me privately.
seanrobsville said…
How about an apology from the Church of England? Turing was chemically castrated and driven to suicide by the religious bigots of his day: http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2012/02/alan-turing-gay-buddhist.html
Steve Jay said…
@Pankaj Doharey "...but now we know god doesn't exist and Bible is just a fairy tale." *We* do?? I didn't realise you could speak for everyone. Interesting. Perhaps you can also tell us how exactly we know this?

Popular posts from this blog

Your last name contains invalid characters

My last name is "Graham-Cumming". But here's a typical form response when I enter it:


Does the web site have any idea how rude it is to claim that my last name contains invalid characters? Clearly not. What they actually meant is: our web site will not accept that hyphen in your last name. But do they say that? No, of course not. They decide to shove in my face the claim that there's something wrong with my name.

There's nothing wrong with my name, just as there's nothing wrong with someone whose first name is Jean-Marie, or someone whose last name is O'Reilly.

What is wrong is that way this is being handled. If the system can't cope with non-letters and spaces it needs to say that. How about the following error message:

Our system is unable to process last names that contain non-letters, please replace them with spaces.

Don't blame me for having a last name that your system doesn't like, whose fault is that? Saying "Your last name …

All the symmetrical watch faces (and code to generate them)

If you ever look at pictures of clocks and watches in advertising they are set to roughly 10:10 which is meant to be the most attractive (smiling!) position for the hands. They are actually set to 10:09.14 if the hands are truly symmetrical. CC BY 2.0image by Shinji
I wanted to know what all the possible symmetrical watch faces are and so I wrote some code using Processing. Here's the output (there's one watch face missing, 00:00 or 12:00, because it's very boring):



The key to writing this is to figure out the relationship between the hour and minute hands when the watch face is symmetrical. In an hour the minute hand moves through 360° and the hour hand moves through 30° (12 hours are shown on the watch face and 360/12 = 30).
The core loop inside the program is this:   for (int h = 0; h <= 12; h++) {
    float m = (360-30*float(h))*2/13;
    int s = round(60*(m-floor(m)));
    int col = h%6;
    int row = floor(h/6);
    draw_clock((r+f)*(2*col+1), (r+f)*(row*2+1), r, h, floor(m…

The Elevator Button Problem

User interface design is hard. It's hard because people perceive apparently simple things very differently. For example, take a look at this interface to an elevator:


From flickr

Now imagine the following situation. You are on the third floor of this building and you wish to go to the tenth. The elevator is on the fifth floor and there's an indicator that tells you where it is. Which button do you press?

Most people probably say: "press up" since they want to go up. Not long ago I watched someone do the opposite and questioned them about their behavior. They said: "well the elevator is on the fifth floor and I am on the third, so I want it to come down to me".

Much can be learnt about the design of user interfaces by considering this, apparently, simple interface. If you think about the elevator button problem you'll find that something so simple has hidden depths. How do people learn about elevator calling? What's the right amount of informati…