In the wake of the February 2015 terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, the Danish parliament is considering legislation that would allow the country’s intelligence service to spy on Danes overseas without a warrant. Australia’s federal police want the nation’s lawmakers to allow domestic drove surveillance. Just a month before the terrorist attack on Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the French government took executive action to expand mass surveillance in the country. In the aftermath of that attack, British Prime Minister David Cameron began parroting calls by FBI Director James Comey that public access to safe, reliable personal encryption technology be banned. Their preferred method: force technology companies to build exploitable flaws into their products to facilitate easier surveillance by America’s National Security Agency and other Western intelligence services.
Always left unsaid by proponents of such technological “back doors” is the reality that hostile intelligence services and malicious hackers could also exploit those vulnerabilities. Compromising encryption for everyone would be just as ineffective at preventing future terrorist attacks as all the mass surveillance conducted to date has been in preventing previous attacks–including the Ft. Hood shooting, the “underwear” bomber, the Boston Marathon bombers, and so on.
And all of these proposals fly in the face of a recent Council of Europe report denouncing mass surveillance as a violation of human rights.
Nils Muižnieks, the Council’s commissioner for human rights, told the Guardian that “The aftermath of the Paris attacks has … seen a broader debate about counter-terrorism in France and Europe. Some proposals – giving security services unfettered access to digital communications, banning encryption, etc – suggest that little has been learned from the Snowden affair about the dangers to human rights, especially the right to privacy, of mass surveillance”.
But in the debate over how best to respond to an ongoing but hardly civilization-threatening terrorist menace, fear is triumphing over facts. Nearly two years after Edward Snowden’s initial revelations about the scope of the NSA’s global assault on the U.S. Constitution and the world’s telecommunications infrastructure, one thing is abundantly clear: the terrorists are winning on a key battlefield–inside the governments of the world’s major democracies.
These assaults on long-cherished civil liberties and privacy rights are the clearest evidence yet that the terrorists are succeeding in changing how we live, rather than vice versa, as former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld so confidently asserted a decade ago. But the terrorists could not achieve this victory on their own.
Western politicians from Washington to London to Copenhagen are giving the terrorists what they need most–de facto allies inside the democracies ISIS is attacking. Even as ISIS wages a campaign of terror and destruction against the rights and lives of its victims in the Middle East, and now Europe, Barack Obama, David Cameron, Francois Hollande, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt are, through current or proposed legislative and executive actions, effectively waging a war against the rights of their own citizens. All of this is being justified by Western politicians under the guise of “national security”, in response to the murderous actions of a small, desperate and savage international criminal enterprise. The terrorists only hope for victory rests upon our willingness to allow their fear-based tactics to succeed in driving us to self-obliterate over 800 years of human progress towards a freer and more inclusive world. That our elected leaders are, witlessly, helping them achieve this goal should serve as a clarion call for us to replace those leaders before genuinely lasting damage is done to Western civilization.