Following the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, everybody and their brother have come out in support of freedom of speech. The problem is, they don’t even know what it is when asked. Meanwhile, the surveillance services waste no time in trying to use the attack to claim more powers.
Not even 24 hours had passed before the British MI5 asked for more sweeping surveillance powers. To put it differently: the bodies of the victims weren’t even cold when surveillance hawks tried to exploit them politically.
At the same time, political leaders are using the occasion to talk about civil liberties. More specifically, they speak of Freedom of Speech. These leaders who have consistently, tenaciously, and vigorously worked to erode freedom of speech in their own countries – directly, as in outlawing certain political opinions, or indirectly, via surveillance.
All week, we’ve heard every columnist express their concern of how “all expressions that don’t break the law must unconditionally be allowed” — apparently completely unaware of the tautology, the contradiction, and the complete irony in that statement, which has taken on hundreds of different wordings by now. It’s straight outta The Onion.
One of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, who survived because “he hates meetings”, is outraged at the double standard. He went on the record and said “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they’re our friends.”
“A few years ago, thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to demonstrate against Charlie Hebdo. They didn’t know what it was. Now it’s the opposite.”
This is a prime example of how people who claim to “be Charlie Hebdo” are most certainly not so. For Charlie was an inconvenient voice who dared go against the crowd and use their freedom of speech to provoke outside the mainstream; agreeing with what everybody else is saying, as happens now, is the very opposite of “being Charlie Hebdo”.
But the more grave danger lies in the security services, or the so-called security services, demanding more budget and powers as a result of this attack. There are so many problems with this, let’s try to just list some of them:
- First, fundamental rights are no longer respected. We already have a surveillance state nine orders of magnitude worse than the East German Stasi. We need to start respecting fundamental rights like privacy rather than eroding more of them.
- Second, the mass surveillance appears to have stopped a total of zero terror attacks so far, based on the fact that that there have been no public trials and convictions for “preparing a terror attack” (which there would absolutely have been).
- Third, these people were already under surveillance as potential troublemakers; they had already been singled out for watching closer. Watching suspects is what police should be doing; still, this didn’t help here.
Let’s get this straight: the surveillance services knew full well who these guys were, and still didn’t manage to prevent the attack. And yet they’re asking for more budget and powers to do a lot more of what didn’t work?
I fear respect for fundamental rights may still need to get considerably worse before it gets better.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.