One outcome of the recent twin bombings in Brussels is that privacy and individual liberty will take it on the chin once more. Supporters of greater security measures at the expense of privacy have already seized upon the incident to increase the already swift current swirling toward that end. In the midst of this avalanche of public opinion and outrage, the pro-privacy voices are few. Those that have raised their voices in opposition to suppression of privacy rights have failed to garner much traction, but they cry nonetheless that surrendering privacy by bolstering security seems to be winning out. Some argue that the relationship between less privacy and greater security is not as simple as it sounds.
“People are misled into thinking that if they give up more privacy, they will get more security,” said Sophia in‘t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who has opposed efforts to expand monitoring of personal data. “That is a complete illusion.” The greater over-arching problem lies in the lack of centralization of data which has led to the failure of the countries that comprise the EU to effectively communicate and share information.
As a result, the Belgian government’s feet are being held to the fire because the Brussels attackers were known to authorities. Two of the assailants, the brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui had already spent time in prison for various violent crimes, including attempted murder and bank robbery. In early March, authorities had raided the apartment that functioned as a safe house for the terrorists behind the Paris attacks. Two men, believed to be the el-Bakraoui brothers, managed to escape. Moreover, it took months to finally locate and capture the key player behind the Paris attacks, Saleh Abdeslam even though he was hiding just a few meters away from his family’s home.
This failure of law enforcement to effectively execute existing protocols had nothing to do with privacy. It was another gaping breach in already existing security procedures and a glaring display of ineptitude by authorities that had nothing to do with privacy constraints.
These incidents quash the argument that current security laws are inadequate or weak and underscore the fact that more repression would yield better results on the terrorism front. On the contrary, Europe is displaying the kind of miscommunication among its law enforcement agencies that crippled the US prediction of response to the horror that was 9/11. Thus, campaigning for more security measures at the expense of privacy is not the answer. The solution is that the 28 countries of the EU should and must interact better. “None of these (national) systems are foolproof,” said James Lewis a Washington security wonk. “It would be better if they played as a team, but Europe isn’t there yet.”
The big fear, of course, is that the far-right sentiment which is sweeping the continent, gains a more solid footing to the detriment of personal liberties. Another immediate concern is that the anti-terrorist protocols which are supposedly temporary become permanent fixtures on the landscape. We’ve all witnessed this type of government regulation “creep” in one way or another. One needn’t look any further than the United States post 9/11 and the preponderance of freedoms which have been lost. Oddly, the march to curtail privacy has occurred during the Obama administration which ironically swept into power with a promise to unleash the “most transparent administration in history.” Like many of his pledges in 2008, it has been cast aside.
Only Germany, ever mindful of its East German Stasi’s curtailment of freedoms, is bucking the trend. But Angela Merkel, already chastened by her pro-immigration policies may well regret not joining the right-wing calls for restraint as she faces staunch opposition at the polls very soon. And she, like all privacy loving Europeans, is at the mercy of the terrorists and the next attack which is assuredly going to come.