Mass sur­veil­lance is not the an­swer

Mizzima Business Weekly - - FEATURE -

Gov­ern­ments have been quick to use the terror at­tacks in Paris to ar­gue for greater mass sur­veil­lance de­spite a lack of ev­i­dence that it works. Just days af­ter the at­tacks, the di­rec­tor of the United States’ Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, John Bren­nan, rekin­dled the US de­bate over mass sur­veil­lance. He said the at­tacks were a “wake-up call” and called for a re­view of the coun­try’s reg­u­la­tion of data in­ter­cep­tion. Bren­nan went on to de­nounce what he termed “hand-wring­ing” over the US se­cu­rity ser­vices’ abil­ity to spy on its cit­i­zens. He did not elab­o­rate on why greater sur­veil­lance pow­ers may have pre­vented the at­tack in France or why the US sit­u­a­tion is com­pa­ra­ble.

The For­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency and CIA di­rec­tor, Michael Hay­den, also said: “In the wake of Paris, a big stack of me­ta­data doesn’t seem to be the scari­est thing in the room”. His sug­ges­tion of the ba­nal­ity of me­ta­data col­lec­tion is in sharp con­trast to what he told an au­di­ence dur­ing a de­bate at John Hop­kins Univer­sity, USA, in 2014: “We kill peo­ple based on me­ta­data”.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron also used the at­tacks as an op­por­tu­nity to push his gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance agenda. Just three days af­ter the shoot­ings, he sug­gested expediting Bri­tain’s con­tro­ver­sial In­ves­ti­ga­tory Pow­ers Bill through Par­lia­ment and there­fore re­duc­ing the level of pub­lic and par­lia­men­tary scru­tiny. As pro­posed, the Bill will ex­tend the Bri­tish se­cu­rity ser­vices’ in­ter­cep­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties enor­mously and would al­low the po­lice to ac­cess peo­ple’s me­ta­data with­out any ju­di­cial over­sight or even a war­rant.

Links be­tween greater sur­veil­lance and se­cu­rity are un­founded, par­tic­u­larly as there was no in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing fail­ure in France. The deputy le­gal di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, Jameel Jaf­fer, said: “there’s no ev­i­dence the French lacked some kind of sur­veil­lance author­ity that would have made a dif­fer­ence”. Ad­di­tion­ally, a French counter-ter­ror­ism ex­pert told the press: “our in­tel­li­gence is ac­tu­ally pretty good, but our abil­ity to act on it is lim­ited by the sheer num­bers”.

A num­ber of in­tel­li­gence agency around the world, in­clud­ing those of France, Ger­many and the US, al­ready had ev­i­dence that Paris was an im­mi­nent tar­get of the Is­lamic State or Daesh. The se­cu­rity ser­vices of both France and Bel­gium knew of sev­eral of the at­tack­ers, par­tic­u­larly as sev­eral of the men lived only hun­dreds of me­tres from the Paris main po­lice sta­tion and in an area known as a haven for ex­trem­ists. US se­cu­rity ser­vices even sin­gled out the mas­ter­mind of the at­tack, Ab­del­hamid Abaaoud, as a par­tic­u­lar threat to France.

Dis­cov­er­ing that the at­tack­ers were known threats is not unique to the re­cent at­tacks in Paris. Se-

Armed po­lice at St Pan­cras Sta­tion, Lon­don, in wake of Paris at­tacks. Photo: EPA

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