Events such as the 22 March attack in Westminster often bring out the best and the worst in people. Unsurprisingly, in The Daily Mail, these events often bring out the worst. And an article by Max Hastings certainly illustrates that. Hastings believes he knows the answer to the threat yesterday’s attack exposed: more surveillance. But he couldn’t be more wrong.
The challenge is to strike a balance between protecting us from evil, and enfolding us in a security blanket so heavy that it would stifle the very liberties we are striving to preserve.
And Hastings derides those who critique the increased powers of the surveillance state as “foolish libertarians”. He continues:
Libertarians such as The Guardian newspaper find such scrutiny intolerable, but I — and probably you, too — are more than happy to have my own phone conversations tapped as the price of empowering our spooks to pinpoint such a man as who carried out yesterday’s savage killings.
Maybe it’s because Hastings doesn’t have direct experience of being spied upon that he’s willing to embrace this Orwellian dystopia. But anyone who has experienced the gross intrusion of police and security services in their lives is unlikely to be “happy” with this ‘solution’.
Kevin Blowe, Coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring, condemned the call for more surveillance. Speaking to The Canary, Blowe stated:
The surveillance state and its supporters will always call for ever more draconian powers to snoop on citizens. It’s the only response they have, even though there is overwhelming evidence this alienates the very people best placed to help prevent random, horrifying attacks.
Growing surveillance and data retention isn’t making us safer. Instead, as a whistleblower revealed this week, it provides the tools to illegally spy on legitimate political dissent and then shred the evidence of wrongdoing.
We need a response to attacks on the right to life that strengthens our other rights, not shreds them too.
Would more surveillance work?
Civil liberties notwithstanding, there’s also the question of whether increased surveillance makes a difference. Theresa May announced in parliament that the Westminster attacker was already known to MI5.
And as Hastings points out in his article:
Security forces may have some success in keeping guns and explosives out of reach of those who wish us ill. However, there is no conceivable means of denying them access to wheels or blades.
No, there isn’t. And increased surveillance isn’t going to do this. And very few potential terrorists are going to discuss their plans on social media or the phone. Unless Hastings is suggesting that every person who expresses what authorities deem as distasteful views should be preemptively arrested.
And then there’s the additional problem of data overload. The government has handed over sweeping powers for surveillance to the security agencies. But they can’t cope with the amount of data they’re supposed to process. As The Canary previously reported, The Intercept released a secret report from one of the UK’s security services, which stated that MI5:
can currently collect (whether itself or through partners …) significantly more than it is able to exploit fully… This creates a real risk of ‘intelligence failure’ i.e. from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data that it has already collected.
Creating a climate of fear and paranoia
There is a real need to not create a climate of fear and paranoia. The events in Westminster were terrible. But fear and paranoia feed into racism and division. And this is exactly what we need to be avoiding.
In the days and months to come, it is likely there will be increasing calls for more surveillance of ‘extremists’. We must guard against this and we must speak out against it.
The Canary is following developments related to the 22 March attack here.
Featured image via The Daily Mail