“We should do everything possible to avoid …”
I get tired of the lazy response of some politicians and commentators after any outrage.
“We should do everything possible to prevent terrorism”. Everything possible? Well an internal security service that would put East Germany and the old Soviet Union to shame would be a start.
“We should do everything possible to prevent children being harmed by paedophiles”. Everything possible? Well for a start you can castrate every male at puberty (having taken any samples necessary to ensure the continuation of the race).
“We should do everything possible to ensure that we have a competitive economy”. Everything? Child Labour – or even slave labour will make us more competitive. So will abolishing most (if not all) of the welfare state.
Even if you do everything possible, outrages can (and will) still happen and desired outcomes will not happen. But what will we have given up?
In a world of 24 hour news we seem to live in a world where you cannot go out without being knifed, shot, mugged or otherwise assaulted. The reality is that these events are very rare but because they are being reported across such huge populations they appear horrendously frequent. We hear the news for the UK (60 million population) and then news for Europe more widely (say 300 million population) and then news for the United States (say another 300 million).
The chances of a UK resident being killed in a UK terrorist outrage is less than 0.0001% per year, yet the Government seems intent on either spending government money or ISP’s money on increases in surveillance. Either way it is our money! Spend that amount on say improving weekend care in NHS hospitals and you will save very very many more lives and with more certainty.
Collecting masses of communication data on us will not improve our security. Those involved in the Woolwich outrage were already “on the radar” but were inadequately monitored. Would that monitoring be any better if it was flooded with details of everyone’s communications? Do we want lots of information of this sort on government (and ISP) servers creating a forest of confusion in which terrorists can hide?
She googled “suicidal thoughts” at the weekend
He texted his ex at 1:38am
He has an online gambling addiction
She emailed a pregnancy advisory service yesterday
He protested against the cuts in March
(Note that to know the above it is not necessary to read the contents of the communication only “its wrapper”.)
Do we have to start using heavyweight encryption, foreign proxies, VPNs and TOR to maintain a private life? (None of the above will be CIA/GCHQ proof but will make it a few orders of magnitude more difficult – the real baddies are probably using these technologies anyway)
I have nothing to hide, but I do have a personal life that I want to keep private. That is why I have curtains in my bedroom window and frosted glass in my bathroom window.
There should be a limit on what the government will do to prevent … . In the end government action (e.g. surveillance, rendition, (condoning) torture, internment, secret courts) will become counter-productive and the money could be better spent elsewhere. Utilitarian calculations should be taken with a pinch of salt but the government seems to believe that:
- say one life (possibly) saved per year
- a small number (possibly) not being injured per year
- a slightly larger number (possibly) not being very significantly distressed per year
- a (definite) reduction in the civil liberties of all the population
- some members of minority communities (definitely – even if misguidedly) feeling particularly oppressed – and possibly radicalised
- our country’s good name being (definitely) sullied (which of course reduces the terrorism threat)
- the money (definitely) not being spent on something like elderly care which would save very many more lives, prevent many more injuries and reduce much more distress.
I am not sure that I subscribe to that equation. I hope I have the courage to continue to hold to that subscription should I or a friend or member of my family be involved in an outrage.
In the end “everything possible” is not a suitable response.