Relying on reading habits as an indication of intent is flawed

There are legal cases where someone’s reading habits have been used as an indication of intent. Doing so is flawed and misguided.

Just because someone has a number of true facts doesn’t mean that they know the truth, that they have the full story. Surveillance can lead to true facts coming to the attention of those who authorised or initiated the surveillance. But that doesn’t mean that they therefore know the truth, that they have the full story. There may be vital pieces of information which they don’t have, and because they don’t they can sadly jump to conclusions that are incorrect and just plain wrong. The missing bits of information could make all the difference. And if those bits of information were known, could have recontextualised the (partial) picture that someone has built up.

Why do people swear by Almighty God that they will tell the truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth if only part of the truth were perfectly adequate?

Accurate information can tell inaccurate stories:

– reading a murder mystery does not make someone a murderer

– tracking someone’s location to having been outside a shop minutes after it has been robbed doesn’t make them the robber

– reading a book about aphasia doesn’t automatically mean that the person reading the book is afflicted by the condition

People read books for an infinite variety of reasons, and drawing generalized conclusions from another’s reading choices wrongly assumes that the most obvious reason is always the correct one.

Clifford Lynch (2017) says “remember that knowledge of actual reading activity rather than simply knowing what texts have been accessed or acquired still does not guarantee understanding of the values, beliefs, opinions, or intentions within a given human mind. We can only hope that governments, and commercial data collectors and exploiters, know this as well” (Lynch 2017)

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