Terror Attacks in the UK and Trouble for Personal Liberties

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

June 5, 2017

Terror attacks are bad enough for those involved. But when the collateral damage may include personal liberties, the damage is compounded, and the blame probably misplaced. It seems that barely a day goes by without some sort of terror-related attack occurring somewhere.

Of course, the UK is the country du jour at the moment. Already nearing the end of a contentious election, politicians (primarily conservatives) needed no more incendiary ammunition to fuel their campaign than was provided in the latest attacks in Manchester and London. And much of the ire is being directed at the Internet. Hold onto your hats, because when politicians scream ’’national security”, freedom of speech and expression are likely to take a hit on the chin.

Make no mistake, these terrorist-related attacks are nothing to sneeze at, and should be taken seriously. And calls for stepped-up law enforcement surveillance of potential terrorists are warranted. But what I find dismaying in the clarion calls for greater snooping powers is the absence of an answer to a simple question: With the ’’gazillion” bites of data hoovered up and stored by spy agencies, what good is it doing? Why can’t more attacks be thwarted? And, further, what must be sacrificed further in the attempt to surveil even more, and interdict more communications?

Next to be considered is the paradox evident in the latest WannaCry attack, which affected many countries and crippled the NHS systems because of previous collection policies of the NSA – the mother of all surveillance and collection. What good does it do to feed the beast even more informatio,n when it can’t even protect that which it has already amassed?

It seems not only counter-intuitive, but actually dangerous, to permit the authorities increased spying capabilities, and as a result, give up more individual freedoms. It is apparent that the polls want to you to think it is patriotic to surrender your liberties rather than question their competence in not only using the data more efficiently and effectively but also protecting it.

Former FBI Director James Comey – you remember him – also wanted to paint the tech giants, specifically Apple, as unpatriotic for not caving in to requests to give his agency access to encryption. Of course, in light of WannaCry, it is apparent that the bad guys would simply treat this weakening of security as an invitation – an opportunity to exploit to their advantage.

No, despite how horrific these attacks are, we mustn’t let ourselves be cowed by government leaders. Instead, we should hold them accountable, and have them demonstrate the need for broader powers. Maybe what is needed is more manpower for  sifting through the reams of data already collected and stored, rather than gathering even more such data?

But no, the polls will always pick the lowest-hanging fruit – the most convenient and easiest way out – than do the heavy lifting. That means targeting internet firms. And why not? Aren’t they big, rich and ubiquitous?  So it’s no surprise to see that, i minutes after the latest London attack, PM Theresa May is on the offensive. May suggested that “cracking down” on terror in the country could include tighter internet regulation.

She opined that the online giants must “face up to their responsibilities,” and then added, “we cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide.” She called for even greater regulation of the internet, and the closing down of “safe spaces” that allow terrorism to “breed”. Because, after all, in her opinion, this is what the current practices of internet companies allow.

But May felt compelled to cast a wider net in her internet clampdown.

We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

In an interesting side note, May was not roundly criticized for politicizing the attacks, but President Trump, in striking a similar chord, but in a conciliatory gesture to the people of the UK, was immediately savaged in the US media and in the UK – by the Guardian in particular.

Trump, while on the subject, is wreaking his own havoc with his anti-net neutrality stance, but at least he is doing the heavy lifting. When it comes to terrorism – whether you agree with him or not – he’s not making the convenient pitch for more intelligence gathering. It’s just that May targets the Internet – Trump targets immigrants. Either way, like I said, personal liberty and freedom take it on the chin.

Image credit: By Pres Panayotov/Shutterstock.
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