Terrorism, tragedy and privacy concerns

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

January 12, 2015

A new year sees another terrorist related tragedy. That’s the new normal today. In an attempt at stifling freedom of speech and of the press, terrorist gunmen wreaked havoc on the Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters in Paris. It seems hardly a week goes by before the world experiences another attack: we’ve almost become inured to them.

With each event we learn more about the terrorist’s tactics, but greater questions beg to be asked. If, as a world, we remained steadfast in our military mission in Iraq and not withdrawn troops, would a vacuum exist in which ISIS and Al Quaida are strong enough or coordinated enough to launch offensives- militarily or against civilians? Probably not. We should have maintained our offensive posture and kept up the pressure and the presence in Iraq. Another question: What good is all the mass surveillance of civilian communications if terrorists can strike with such impunity?

With all the sophisticated surveillance techniques and programs employed by government agencies one would think that events like the recent attack on Paris’ Charlie Hebdo magazine could be thwarted. As it turns out, the authorities had tens of thousands of correspondences linking the perpetrators to nefarious contacts. A few were on some national no-fly lists for years it is in itself an argument that mass surveillance of individuals and bulk data does not work. For despite the mountains of material collected there does not exist a mechanism for collating and analyzing the data.

Nevertheless, government agencies persist in spreading the propaganda that terrorist tragedies such as this present evidence that even more spying, and that more money is needed in the fight against terrorism. It can be argued that more is not the answer – being better is. Currently, law enforcement gathers and store information gleaned from communications from millions of innocent, unwary citizens in the hope that, at some time and place, they will be able to use a kernel of information to prevent an incident or secure a conviction. It is quite apparent that what has heretofore been collected has helped prevent tragedies.

Law enforcement is not alone in the grab for more powers. You can be sure that where power and money are on the line that politicians will be omnipresent seeking their share. In the wake of attacks like Charlie Hebdo or the recent “lone-wolf” attacks in Canada and the US, office-holders and office-seekers alike stumble over themselves to seize the moment for their agendas.

Predictably, no government leader will take responsibility for presiding over a system which permits the abuse of privacy in the name of national security without then providing adequate security for their constituents. Instead it is simpler to point to an attack as a justification of mass surveillance and call for even more obtrusive spying to prevent further terrorist related disasters. Mission accomplished: attention from themselves deflected!

It’s high time that the public wised up to their game and put their foot down. No more excuses for invading privacy- no more money or manpower. Rather, use the resources at your disposal to combat terrorism. And no more demands on private enterprises to collude with them by caving in and supplying data or backdoor systems. Billions of bits of information collected on individuals exist already but go either unnoticed or unused.

The time for amassing of more data in the hopes of uncovering a nugget of useful information is over. Because if it isn’t, the cycle of never ending, increasingly obtrusive law enforcement behaviour will lead to further diminution of liberty and privacy without a requisite return in improved safety and security for citizens.

As usual, we would like to stress that Stan’s highly opinionated interpretation of events in no way reflects or is shared by the rest of the BestVPN staff.

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