Opinion: Reactionary surveillance will boost extremist groups

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/OcusFocus)

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, much of the world rallied around the magazine's right to free speech; even if they didn't necessarily agree with its content. In such a tragedy, it was a heart-warming response which united people of all background rather than divide. Unfortunately, that unification is now in danger thanks to proposed surveillance efforts.

Radical groups are often formed and thrive under oppressive circumstances. Islam is a major, and mostly peaceful, world religion which has faced historic oppression from the French which ISIS is using to create fear. This causes a vicious cycle; as attacks happen, fear is created. Under fear, oppression is caused. As oppression grows, individuals find refuge in groups such as ISIS.

Surveillance is a controversial subject on a global scale thanks to whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and his NSA revelations

Of course, abstaining from surveillance efforts will allow groups with harmful intent to operate and organise without interruption. However, non-profit think tank New America published a report in January last year which found – of the 227 Al Qaeda-affiliated people or groups that have been charged for committing an act of terrorism in the US since 9/11 – just 17 were credited to the NSA’s surveillance. Furthermore, only one of these cases ever led to an actual conviction.

This places the effectiveness of surveillance measures in question. Regardless, a sensible - not reactionary - discussion around efforts is at least needed which is transparent and does not oppress citizens to ensure we maintain the free speech we strive to protect.

French President, Francois Hollande, said on Tuesday in Paris the government will present a draft law next month that makes Internet operators “accomplices” of hate-speech offenses if they host extremist messages. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he will travel to the U.S. to seek help from the heads of Twitter, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.

This is not just leading to the oppression of every internet user, but also makes little sense as potential terrorists will move away from public domains controlled by such large companies to darker areas of the web where they are less-easily monitored.

Moving away from terrorism, surveillance is a controversial subject on a global scale thanks to whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and his NSA revelations surrounding their far-reaching programs. The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe has unequivocally stated in a report that it considers mass digital spying – such as that enacted by the NSA – to be a fundamental threat to human rights.

Abstaining from surveillance efforts will allow groups with harmful intent to operate and organise without interruption.

Despite this, the commission is proposing further surveillance. The Guardian reports of a proposal which would require the personal data of all passengers flying in and out of Europe to be stored up to five years. It still has to be approved by the European Parliament, but it is part of a trend from politicians who are calling for more surveillance, less oversight, less privacy, and fewer rights.

Instead, we need to call for fair and transparent surveillance with due oversight and with respect for the rights and privacy of citizens. Terrorists can't be free to go unchallenged, but governments can't be free to oppress its citizens either. It damages the values we all hold dear and divides us at a time we need to stand united.

Do you think more discussion is required around surveillance? Let us know in the comments.

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