Rise of the po­lice state?

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

Af­ter yet an­other large-scale ter­ror­ist at­tack, this time in the French re­sort city of Nice which left more than 80 peo­ple dead and more than 200 se­ri­ously in­jured, we’re left won­der­ing how our world will be able to cope with the rise of such “lone wolf” or self-rad­i­cal­ized at­tacks.

While the Is­lamic State did not claim di­rect re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack by a 31-year-old Tu­nisian na­tive, much like the at­tacks at the Pulse night­club in Or­lando last month, this one is a sus­pected sel­f­rad­i­cal­ized at­tack.

Mo­hamed La­houaiej Bouh­lel was known to French law en­force­ment in Nice as a petty crim­i­nal with a vi­o­lent streak, but he had no known links to ter­ror­ism and was not un­der sur­veil­lance, ac­cord­ing to Eng­land’s Tele­graph news­pa­per. Neigh­bors de­scribed him as a “weird loner” who “be­came de­pressed” when his wife left him — a ripe tar­get for the rad­i­cal rhetoric of a group like ISIS.

Al­though we can learn as much as we can about the as­sailant and his mo­tives, we are still some­what cur­rently pow­er­less to pre­vent such in­ci­dents from oc­cur­ring in the fu­ture — that is un­less our world be­gins to tread closer to an Or­wellian po­lice state.

On Fri­day, French lead­ers ex­tended the coun­try’s 9-month-old state of emer­gency and vowed to de­ploy thou­sands of po­lice re­servists on the streets af­ter Thurs­day night’s mas­sacre.

“Ter­ror­ism is a threat that weighs heav­ily upon France and will con­tinue to weigh for a long time,” Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls said af­ter Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande called an emer­gency govern­ment meet­ing Fri­day. “We are fac­ing a war that ter­ror­ism has brought to us. The goal of ter­ror­ists is to instill fear and panic. And France is a great coun­try, and a great democ­racy, that will not al­low it­self to be desta­bi­lized.”

Hol­lande an­nounced a three-month ex­ten­sion to the state of emer­gency im­posed af­ter the Nov. 13 at­tacks on Paris that killed 130 vic­tims. Since those at­tacks late last year, French cit­i­zens have come to see sol­diers in the streets as part of ev­ery­day life.

Un­der the French State of Emer­gency, ex­cep­tional pow­ers are given to the Min­is­ter of the In­te­rior and to pre­fects, in­clud­ing pro­nounc­ing house ar­rests, reg­u­lat­ing or for­bid­ding cir­cu­la­tion and gath­er­ing in some ar­eas, set­ting cur­fews and even re­quir­ing the tem­po­rary re­lin­quish­ing of legally-de­tained weapons, al­though few firearms are owned by pri­vate cit­i­zens in France.

The law, as writ­ten, also al­lows cen­sor­ship of press, ra­dio, films and the­ater rep­re­sen­ta­tions, and the trans­fer of some crimes from the ju­di­ciary to mil­i­tary jus­tice — al­though le­gal ex­perts say the pro­vi­sions are un­likely in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mates.

In ef­fect, the French are liv­ing un­der a semi-po­lice state and even that was un­able to pre­vent Thurs­day’s at­tack on Bastille Day. So how then do we be­gin to pre­vent fur­ther tragedies when so much of the plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion can be done on the back chan­nels of the in­ter­net?

Un­for­tu­nately, the most ob­vi­ous way would be to loosen the pro­ce­dures and laws sur­round­ing sur­veil­lance of pre­sum­ably law-abid­ing cit­i­zens for hints that they may be plan­ning vi­o­lence.

In Amer­ica, the out­growth of 9/11 was the PA­TRIOT Act, which sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded the sur­veil­lance and abil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate pri­vate cit­i­zens on just scant amounts of in­for­ma­tion. The U.S. Supreme Court even­tu­ally found many of the PA­TRIOT Act’s re­sults, such as long-term GPS mon­i­tor­ing or war­rant­less searches, to be un­con­sti­tu­tional and fur­ther it­er­a­tions of the leg­is­la­tion were pared back. Ed­ward Snow­den’s dis­clo­sure of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency’s wide­spread data col­lec­tion pro­gram un­der Sec­tion 215 led to leg­is­la­tion that im­posed lim­its on the abil­ity of the govern­ment to surveil cit­i­zens.

But as our world grows more vi­o­lent and un­pre­dictable, we can­not help but imag­ine that the rise of the po­lice and sur­veil­lance state may be the ul­ti­mate re­sult of ISIS’ at­tacks. Greater on­line track­ing of in­ter­net traf­fic, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and GPS data may help in­ves­ti­ga­tors keep bet­ter tabs of po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists in the mak­ing. While stud­ies have found that the PA­TRIOT Act largely failed to in­crease pro­tec­tion from ter­ror­ism and fil­ing of crim­i­nal cases, to an ig­no­rant pub­lic it evokes a feel­ing of safety.

If no one has pri­vacy then ev­ery­one has safety.

We can­not fathom such a world, how­ever, and hope that an­swers for this lat­est scourge can be found sooner rather than later.

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