Politicians Are Ridiculously Dishonest When They Justify Invasion Of Privacy By The World Being More Dangerous

Posted on Dec 25, 2013 by Rick Falkvinge

The world is a much safer place now than in previous years. In the 1980s, the threat was total annihilation of the entire world, and today, it’s some terrorists blowing up a vehicle. Yet, politicians deceptively and dishonestly justify endemic mass surveillance by the world being “more dangerous”.

In my last column on Privacy News, I asked myself the question how we arrived at the point where I can’t discuss political work with my colleagues over the phone.

Politicians are pushing this relentless hunt for our private lives by repeating a lie over and over again: that the world has become “more dangerous”. This is obscenely false.

Today, the worst “threat” to society of this type is that some nutjob may blow up a bus on the other side of the continent. While such an occurrence would be nowhere good, it needs to be put into context. In the 1980s, we lived with an everpresent awareness that two superpowers held each other at nuclear gunpoint 24-by-7, and that they may push the red button at any time. When they did, there wouldn’t be a tomorrow.

Every night when we went to sleep, we were aware that tomorrow might not come, if that button was pushed.

There is arguably a level of difference between the entire world disintegrating, as in the 1980s, and a bus blowing up somewhere, as today. And it’s absolutely not in the “more dangerous” direction.

It’s hard to communicate just how ever-present the fear of nuclear annihilation was, so I’ll quote the first verse from the ballad Forever Young by Alphaville, a track that happened to be released in 1984:

Let’s dance in style, let’s dance for a while
Heaven can wait, we’re only watching the skies –
Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst:
Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?

For people growing up today, it will come across as odd – distasteful, even – to be slow-dancing cheek to cheek to such a message. But that’s how everpresent the threat of total annihilation was. We were quite literally falling in love with each other to ballads about nuclear war.

I survived the 1980s. Don’t try to scare me with terrorism.

It’s very troubling to see how many are buying this outrageous lie – that the world would have become “more dangerous”. For the ordinary citizen, it certainly hasn’t: it’s become remarkably safer on several orders of magnitude. But terrorism is useful, as it allows any kind of restrictions in liberty to pass unchallenged.

Looking at the numbers, this has simply no basis in measurable facts. In Europe, on average, 40 people die per year from terrorism. That’s in an area with 500 million people. To put that in perspective, five times as many die from drowning in bathtubs, and over a hundred times as many die from falling down staircases.

Are we spending billions preventing bathtub drownings? No? Then there’s obviously something else at work here.

Terrorism has become the modern version of what communism was in the 1950s, comic books in the 1940s, and jazz music in the 1930s. It’s a scare that can motivate any measure, no matter how ridiculous, and more importantly, no matter how eroding to civil liberties.

It didn’t come as a big surprise when Edward Snowden revealed that the mass surveillance never had been supposed to target terrorism, but that its purpose was always economic, political, diplomatic, and social dominance. The ability to discredit an adversary.

It’s up to all of us to call politicians out on the lies.

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  1. Antimon555

    Isn’t it great that H-bombs exist, much more death and destruction with just a fraction of the longtime widespread radiation. Now superpowers and their allies don’t have to be as afraid of killing the entire Earth when they bomb each other to smithereens as before, so they can start with much less provocation.

    (Note, above may contain traces of irony.)

    Humans are really resourceful when it comes to killing each other. We’d be exploring outer space now if all that resourcefulness had been used better.

    8 years ago

    So true it’s tragic one more time this to will pass.

    8 years ago
  3. davecb

    I suspect old media will complain when it’s their phones that are getting tapped, and will then suggest to the public that it’s A Bad Thing.

    Suggest to all the spies in your acquaintance that watching investigate reporters investigate is the second-best best way to catch terrorists. The best way is to (try to) bribe reporters (;-))


    9 years ago
  4. paco229

    US armament industry needs a permanent menace to live or survive. The shock they needed to renew the menace came in with 9/11 when they realized that they could be direct victims of terrorist. Until then only japanese were able to throw a direct strike to their territories. And that frightened them. A “fail” of intelligence work allowed both direct attacks…or were they really a “fail”?

    9 years ago