For several years discussions and measures aiming for enhancing security and fighting terrorism claimed that it was a necessity to balance individual rights and security, implicating that the freedom of individuals opposes the needs of combating terrorism and law enforcement.The Economist this week published Learning to live with Big Brother, the second article in a series on surveillance and privacy (my emphasis):
A report submitted by Europol provides figures on terrorism in the EU. According to the “TE-SAT 2007, EU Terrorism and Trend Report 2007” a total of 498 attacks were carried out in 2006 in the EU, of which the vast majority were not intended to kill.
“There were no successful Islamist terrorist attacks in the EU in 2006. However, a coordinated but ultimately failed attack aimed at mass casualties took place in Germany. The vast majority of terrorist attacks were perpetrated by separatist terrorist groups targeting France and Spain. In France, 283 attacks took place in Corsica in 2006. In Spain, despite the truce declared by ETA in March 2006, separatist groups perpetrated 136 attacks, mainly in the Basque region. Only the attack at the Madrid airport on 30 December 2006 resulted in casualties.”
According to the report the remaining attacks were left- or right-wing-motivated or driven by other/not given motivation.
The number of arrested suspects differs from these figures. A total of 706 individuals suspected of terrorism offences were arrested, of which 257 arrested individuals were suspected of Islamist, 226 of separatist, 52 of left wing and 15 of right wing terror. With regard to the approximately 260 arrests related to Islamist terror “[l]ess than ten percent of the arrested individuals were suspected of preparation, planning or execution of terrorist attacks. [...] The vast majority of the arrested individuals were suspected of being members of a terrorist organisation. Other frequent criminal activities were financing of terrorism and facilitation.”
The figures of the Europol report make clear that terrorism in the EU is mainly driven by separatists in France and Spain and focussing on Corsica and the Basque region. Of the relatively large number of arrests related to Islamic terror only less than 26 individuals were suspected of preparation, planning or execution of terrorist attacks. On the other hand we had and still have to face a series of measures, limiting the freedom of individuals and infringing with human rights, arguing this to be necessary to fight terrorism.
Britain used to pride itself on respecting privacy more than most other democracies do. But there is not much objection among Britons as “talking” surveillance cameras, fitted with loudspeakers, are installed, enabling human monitors to shout rebukes at anyone spotted dropping litter, relieving themselves against a wall or engaging in other “anti-social” behaviour [...]
With an estimated 5m CCTV cameras in public places, nearly one for every ten inhabitants, England and Wales are among the most closely scrutinised countries in the world [...] Few seem to mind, despite research suggesting that CCTV does little to deter overall crime. [...]
Britain has long permitted the “warrantless” eavesdropping of its citizens (only the home secretary's authorisation is required), and few people appear to mind [...]
Ross Anderson, a professor at Cambridge University in Britain, has compared the present situation to a “boiled frog”—which fails to jump out of the saucepan as the water gradually heats. If liberty is eroded slowly, people will get used to it. He added a caveat: it was possible the invasion of privacy would reach a critical mass and prompt a revolt.
If there is not much sign of that in Western democracies, this may be because most people rightly or wrongly trust their own authorities to fight the good fight against terrorism, and avoid abusing the data they possess. The prospect is much scarier in countries like Russia and China, which have embraced capitalist technology and the information revolution without entirely exorcising the ethos of an authoritarian state where dissent, however peaceful, is closely monitored.
On the face of things, the information age renders impossible an old-fashioned, file-collecting dictatorship, based on a state monopoly of communications. But imagine what sort of state may emerge as the best brains of a secret police force—a force whose house culture treats all dissent as dangerous—perfect the art of gathering and using information on massive computer banks, not yellowing paper.
Refuse the war against a noun and what is done in its name. Demand human rights. Refuse to be terrorised, and prevent the situation getting worse (block any further extension of the pre-charge detention period).