Rise of the police state?
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.