Finnish Police Respond To The Norwegian Tragedy By Increasing Internet Surveillance

from the another-attempt-to-prevent-the-unpreventable dept

In response to the tragedy in Norway, Finland law enforcement has decided to increase its internet surveillance in hopes of picking up "weak signals" that could possibly indicate a terrorist threat. As Cato’s Jim Harper points out, this sort of thing just doesn’t work:

…random violence (terrorist or otherwise) is not predictable and not "findable" in advance — not if a free society is to remain free, anyway.

The problem with attacks like the shooting/bombing in Norway is that they are isolated instances. The shock and horror of the event tends to overwhelm the common sense of politicians, law enforcement and the press itself, leading to unfortunate efforts like these, often combined with commentary from ad hoc armchair quarterbacks whose hindsight is endless but whose foresight is severely restricted.

The civil rights of citizens are trampled underfoot by politicians and law enforcement officials wishing to appear to be doing "something" to make their homelands safer. These "somethings" usually combine rush-job legislation with political theatrics, resulting in a hastily applied veneer of safety that extends the government’s reach into the personal lives of its citizens.

We’ve seen it here in the US via the PATRIOT Act and the corresponding growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA. Once a law gets on the books, it rarely gets removed. There may be discussions about oversight issues or possible detrimental effects, but bad legislation tends to be permanent.

The problem with an effort like Finland’s is that there is only one guaranteed outcome to this effort: more internet surveillance. In light of Breivik’s known interests, this heightened attention means anyone whose gaming choices include Call of Duty or World of Warcraft could possibly find themselves under surveillance. People with strong opinions on major world religions or political organizations could very well be flagged as possible suspects.

No one truly knows what they’re looking for when they implement programs like these, and because of that, nearly anything can be considered "suspect." Even worse, this attack was characterized as pro-Islamic by the media before the information surfaced that Breivik was anti-Islamic. Knowing who’s actually the “risky” party isn’t always so clear, meaning that anyone can be the risky party. When you combine large amounts of speculation with the tendency of politicians to twist laws into vehicles of self-service, the originally well-meaning legislation soon becomes a weapon against any display of political or religious dissent:

As former FBI agent (and current ACLU policy counsel) Mike German advises, any ideology can become a target of the government if the national security bureaucracy comes to use political opinion or activism as a proxy or precursor for crime and terrorism.

It’s very hard for anyone in power to respond to a horrific tragedy by doing nothing, but if the track record of post-terrorist-attack legislation is anything to go by, "nothing" would be a refreshing change.

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Comments on “Finnish Police Respond To The Norwegian Tragedy By Increasing Internet Surveillance”

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Overcast (profile) says:

So then you get to watch them go off on Camera?

It’s not like once this type of situation starts – that a camera can do anything to stop it, and I doubt the response time would improve.

If the time and energy devoted to ‘control’ and ‘surveillance’ was put into making the world a better place, these problems would likely go away on their own – at least many of them. There will always be nut-jobs out there.

Scott says:


…random violence (terrorist or otherwise) is not predictable and not “findable” in advance — not if a free society is to remain free, anyway.

But a lot are findable with some sacrifce of perceived freedom. Is everything ok if there’s a pre-911 warrant?

So far nothing huge has been found and publicized, but if there were a plot to set off nukes in a city where loved ones were, I would hope some CTU agent was on it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Findable

“But a lot are findable with some sacrifce of perceived freedom.”

Citation needed. One of the things I took out of the 9/11 investigations was that the information was already there it just wasn’t correctly prioritised or filtered to enable prevention to take place. Sacrificing freedom does nothing to change that, and in fact increases the garbage the authorities have to sift through.

“if there were a plot to set off nukes in a city where loved ones were, I would hope some CTU agent was on it.”

Sadly, life doesn’t work like an episode of 24. Your safety doesn’t depend on a bunch of wannabe Jack Bauers running around violating your freedom in order to save it.

cjstg (profile) says:

disenting opinion

this is one area where i must disagree. i certainly don’t believe in convicting someone based on views expressed online, but from what i have heard (from the mass media, npr in particular) this guy expressed some serious violent tendencies online before this happened. a 1500 page manifesto filled with hate and xenophobic rhetoric was one item. these things certainly call for a second look. if i started spewing hate and threats of violence online against my government or certain social groups, i would fully expect to be investigated.

while wiretapping and such things may be beyond the pale, an investigation into this kind of behavior is the least law enforcement can do. in no way would his freedoms be curtailed, but an examination of his intentions is certainly warranted. has he purchased large quantities of fertilizer without being a farmer? does he own a large number of powerful weapons (not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly an indicator)?

there was a lengthy post here recently about the difference between basic security precautions (metal detectors at airports) and overzealous security theater (full body naked scanners and groping children). this is a classic example of the 80/20 rule. a simple measure can prevent a majority of the security risks. but to go further requires some very intrusive measures that really don’t add much to security.

we know about fertilizer and bombs from timothy mcveigh. the simple step of treating large purchases of it like any other controlled product can go a long ways toward preventing large bombings. i believe the u.s. actually does this now.

unfortunately, i don’t have a quick answer to mass shootings, but i believe a social solution might be available.

i recognize that any security measure is an threat to my freedoms, and i bristle at them every time i am subjected to them. however, i can recognize the difference between a security measure that has a high likelihood of success and one that is simply a knee-jerk response designed to keep a politician in his job.

?Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.?
Author Unknown

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: disenting opinion

On one hand, you are right in that a 1500 page manifesto like he had should warrant further investigation.

I don’t believe that any free society would need government monitoring to find those signs that should warrant further investigation though. I believe, that with a free society, the educated, free citizens of that society should want to police themselves, while letting the government stay the hell out of your business. There doesn’t need to be an adult on the playground for every child, because when a free child sees something they know to be wrong, they are inclined to go tell an adult about it. Sure “snitches get stitches” and “nobody likes a tattle-tale”, but if you are getting someone kicked off the playground, who do you need to worry about giving you stitches? If you are protecting the other innocents on the playground, who do you need to worry about not liking you?? A free society should be able to police themselves sufficiently, and should not need any government watching their every move.

(aside: especially a government that is as financially irresponsible as the United States has proven to be.)

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: disenting opinion

Although in theory I tend to agree with you, in all practicality I feel I cant on a couple of points.

“free citizens of that society should want to police themselves” and “because when a free child sees something they know to be wrong, they are inclined to go tell an adult about it.”

As for policing themselves, well. we have seem time and time again where this is a major failure. Even pointed out on on this site. All this concept leads to are more victims because of the inherent corruption of society itself. This can be exampled in the next part.

SOMEBODY knew this guy. Somebody knew how radical he is. These ideas didn’t just pop in his head 10 minuets before he did it. His beliefs grew from the “opinions” of other radicals. He was communicating with others. Somebody read his manifesto before Monday. Did anyone “snitch”?

The police are there for a reason. Granted, they cant have a file on everyone AND THEY SHOULDN’T. They need as much, or MORE, oversight as anyone in a position of authority. But in a case such as this, I can see where they should be able to get warrants quickly in order to freeze their social network accounts (before people “unfreind” them) so that those “somebodies” can also be investigated (with warrants) as to their involvement or of the likelihood of them doing something similar. This is where commonsense is needed most

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: disenting opinion

Ok. But people need to understand that you can’t prevent EVERYTHING bad from happening. Like is mentioned below, the manifesto wasn’t published until the day of the attacks. This guy had to have some smarts, in which case it is likely he kept a lot of things secret between him and people he knew he could trust. There is no level of surveillance that can catch everything like that. The higher in invasion of privacy, the deeper underground the secrets go. If it were well known that police listened to phone calls, he wouldn’t have ever used the phone.

Cases like this one should serve one good purpose if nothing else, and that is to remind the general public of their own responsibility to watch their own backs.

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 disenting opinion

Exactly, you cant stop every attack. You made my point that the general population could not police it themselves because they didnt know, didnt want to know , or didnt want to tell. Where we differ is that I’m saying the ones who did know should have reported him to the police. Thats what they are there for. Not tomonitor the entire Internet. Now that the attacks have happened Now the police should be investigating the people whom he trusted. They are the ones who knew and should have reported him beforehand. It should also be investigated as to what they are doing and why they didn’t report him. Radicals tend to flock together because they have the same beliefs (stroke each others egos). Maybe their next attack can be avoided. Isnt that what undercover work is all about?

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 disenting opinion

hmmm, I’m starting to think we don’t differ at all here…

There may or may not have been evidence of this preliminary attack outside of those in his inner circle. They should have reported him, but you’re right, they wouldn’t have if they shared the same feelings. In that case, before this attack, there was no evidence there would have been an attack. Once he ‘goes postal’ there’s lots of evidence, and yes, there’s reason to investigate those in his inner circle.

That should never mean that a government can use an act like this to suddenly investigate everyone just for the hope of preventing it. Only those who have shown reason to be investigated… I think there’s a phrase for that in the U.S….something like ‘Probably Cause’ maybe…??

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 disenting opinion

I told you I agreed with you in theory. It were just those two points. Maybe I just didnt understand what you were saying.

My position is that the evidence was probably out there. The manifesto or parts of it, his video, and his postings on radical sites. Instead of hiring people to monitor everyone, they should concentrate their efforts on the radicals and their sites. all radicals!! Thats what we need the Gov. to do, and thats what they should be doing.

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: disenting opinion

With it being a 1500 page manifesto, I dont think it was something he just “threw together” and posted as he walked out the door. Human nature being what it is, someone knew he was writing it and/or proof read it, or parts of it, more than an hour before it was posted. People like him do tend to brag. There was even a video he supposedly made (with pictures of himself in it) entitled “Knights Templar 2083” but has since been taken down from where i saw saw it on the 23rd. In it it talks of starting a war. Well, you cant have a war without people to follow you into battle. So yes, someone knew. be it the manifesto or some other posting, someone knew.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 disenting opinion

I agree that he probably made some missteps or left a potential trail. He’s human after all, even if his actions suggest otherwise.

I would question if greater surveillance would have identified anything though. It’s early days yet, but we should have some lessons in time once an investigation is complete. However, the basic thing to take away from the 9/11 investigations wasn’t that the signs weren’t seen, it was that they weren’t understood. The reports of a guy learning to fly but with no interest in landing weren’t taken as serious as they should, because every terrorist attempt involving planes before 9/11 involved people wanting to land. The infamous “Osama determined” memo wasn’t taken seriously because Al Qaida and Osama weren’t on the top of watch lists, and so on.

I have no doubt that some signs in Norway weren’t seen either due to negligence (ignored because he was white/Christian/Norwegian/no criminal record/whatever) or lack of understand of the implications of what was seen. Extra surveillance wouldn’t fix this.

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 disenting opinion

No, your right, extra surveillance of the general public wouldn’t fix this. But more specific surveillance of radical groups may help. Idiots like these tend to hang in groups. That way they can share their twisted ideals with people of the same mindset. Those are the ones who need to be watched. This guy was quoting some American radicals in his manifesto. Thats where are tax money should be going. Not so that a bunch of perverts can molest every airplane passenger in line. Radical Left radical, Right, radical Black radical, White, radical Christian, radical Muslim, all radicals should be monitored. They arent hard to find. Just tell them what they want to hear and they will invite you in. The only problem is that here in the US, we have radicals in gov. who want to monitor everyone. Thats what need to be stopped.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: disenting opinion

“..this guy expressed some serious violent tendencies online before this happened. a 1500 page manifesto filled with hate and xenophobic rhetoric was one item…”

Which was posted online less than an hour before he started his murder spree. No one could have seen it and identified there was a real problem here, and it wasn’t posted under his own name but under an anglicised version of his own name and in English rather than Norwegian.
Would have to be some kind of superhero to spot it, read it, realise it was the product of someone actually killing style crazy rather than a garden run of the mill crazy. Figure out who he actually was, what country he was actually in and get on scene all in under an hour.

In his document he talked specifically about not coming onto the radar while you as a crazed lunatic plan your murder spree and deliberately going out of your way to not show any links to other crazies.
No amount of wiretapping etc would have helped here.

He had a farm so he had a good justifiable reason to buy lots of fertiliser, he had never committed a crime that anyone knew about so there were no flags to indicate he was going to be a problem. Thankfully people as crazy as him are rare despite appearances.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: disenting opinion

> this guy expressed some serious violent
> tendencies online before this happened.
> a 1500 page manifesto filled with hate
> and xenophobic rhetoric was one item.

No, he posted that manifesto the *day* of the attack. It was the last thing he did before striking. No amount of before-the-fact internet surveillance would have detected anything in his case.

Breivik actually went to extraordinary lengths to maintain his operational security and avoid popping up on any government watchlists or arousing suspicion.

For example, he saved up the equivalent of $360,000 over many years to finance his operation. Breivik’s financial independence allowed him to work without the need to contact like-minded individuals for financing, or to engage in any activity that might have triggered suspicious financial activity indicators or warnings.

In order to purchase the chemicals and equipment he needed to make the explosives, he created two different professional-looking businesses to use as cover– one for a mining company and the other a small farm operation, complete with web sites, business cards, and contacts with suppliers. He educated himself on farm practices and learned all the appropriate terminology in order to appear legitimate. Following media reports of the Oslo attacks, several agricultural supply companies notified authorities that he had purchased fertilizer and chemicals from them. They did not report him earlier because his orders fell within expected norms and he appeared to be operating a legitimate business.

He acquired all his non-suspicious equipment first and had it in place before attempting or even inquiring about the chemicals and weapons whose purchase is monitored by the government.

He kept all the equipment that might arouse suspicion far from his home. Using internet imagery, he identified a remote forested area three to four hours away from him residence where he hid things like the police uniform and insignia, body armour, etc. in a waterproof pelican case.

At every stage, he took great care to clean as much of his digital trail as he could, to include routinely purging and destroying hard drives.

As the date of his attack approached, his OPSEC grew more intensive. He planned his travel in a manner designed to limit contact with authorities, often taking routes that would add hours to his journey; he structured purchases and financial transactions in a manner designed to avoid tripping automated reporting requirements and paid cash whenever possible.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

He’s a mass murderer, and not the drooling maniac kind you often see in movies. He’s very cold and calculated. He knew what he was doing, and what he was doing was in part politically motivated. Remember, one of the definitions of terrorism is to use violence and fear to cause political change. That was one of his stated goals.

There is absolutely no way he didn’t understand the amount of fear his actions would cause. So, even if the killing was primary and the fear the secondary motive, he was still a terrorist.

That’s my opinion of course, and it may change as more evidence comes to light. But, he’s a terrorist in my view with the information available now.

cjstg (profile) says:

Re: Re:


killing people for political purposes is terrorism. to quote wikepedia:

Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal, and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).

anything more than a cursory glance at the news (even fox) would tell you that this guy had motives that were expressly political.

AR (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

But that was(is) his goal to create the fear of Muslims taking over Europe. Look up “Knights Templar 2083”. Thats the video he supposedly made, with pictures of himself in it, that shows how he wants to start a religious war against them. So he killed those kids to bring attention to it and to hopefully get the war started (IMHO). Thats the same thing that happened on 9/1., Terrorism!

Anonymous Coward says:

?Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say ‘what should be the reward of such sacrifices?’ Bid us and our posterity bow the knee, supplicate the friendship and plough, and sow, and reap, to glut the avarice of the men who have let loose on us the dogs of war to riot in our blood and hunt us from the face of the earth? If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!?

“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds?

?Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can?

“Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty?

“The Constitution shall never be construed… to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.?

Samuel Adams quotes (American patriot and Politician of the American Revolution. 1722-1803)

John Doe says:

Re: Re:

I love the quotes from the founding fathers, it shows they had far more wisdom than our current leaders. Especially considering they have the writings of the founders to lean on but choose not to.

Thomas Jefferson:

“I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers.
To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.”

“The principle of spending money to be paid by future generations, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.?

?Democracy is two wolves and a sheep, voting on what to eat for dinner; Liberty is a well-armed sheep contesting the vote.?

Andrew (profile) says:

Coming elsewhere too

There have been calls in Germany and Estonia for increased surveillance too. Can’t be long before more politicians and countries jump on the bandwagon.

It’s very hard for anyone in power to respond to a horrific tragedy by doing nothing, but if the track record of post-terrorist-attack legislation is anything to go by, “nothing” would be a refreshing change.

Yes. I thought the speech by Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg linked from here a couple of days ago, responding to the tragedy, was incredibly brave, dignified and statesmanlike.

It basically said, despite this horrific violence, we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing, only more so. Your actions won’t provoke us to oppress our people. Your actions won’t incite us to take action against any groups living within our borders. In fact, you’ve already lost.

“If one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we all can show together.”

Our answer is more democracy, more openness and more humanity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Coming elsewhere too

“If one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we all can show together.”

“Our answer is more democracy, more openness and more humanity.”

Some of the most powerful rhetoric I have read since the founding fathers.

If the leaders of the nations surrounding Norway would only be as brave.

btr1701 says:

Frog in the Pot Syndrome

> The problem with attacks like the shooting/
> bombing in Norway is that they are isolated
> instances. The shock and horror of the event
> tends to overwhelm the common sense of
> politicians, law enforcement and the press
> itself, leading to unfortunate efforts like
> these

Exactly. The city of Chicago has turned into a war zone, with many times the number of people killed this year by thugs than were killed in Oslo. But because it happens in increments of two to three a night instead of all at once, the shock and horror is greatly diminished, and you don’t see the Mayor of Chicago demanding surveillance powers over the internet to stop it.

btr1701 says:


> Once a law gets on the books, it rarely gets
> removed. There may be discussions about
> oversight issues or possible detrimental
> effects, but bad legislation tends to be
> permanent.

This is even more true of taxes. There’s no such thing as a “temporary tax” and if you believe any politician who’s trying to sell you on one, come see me next. I have some stuff to sell you, too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Response Time

The reason why the massacre was so bad was because of the slow response time of the police. Exactly the same thing happened in the Port Arthur massacre in Australia. If the police want to do something effective about nutters going on a murder rampage, they need to shorten their response time.

The cause of this problem is the unwritten law of policing: “Always make sure that at the end of your shift you go home alive.” The police never want to show up when there might be armed bad guys around. If they have a choice, they always wait until the bad guys have gone or run out of ammunition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Now a couple of year ago a guy in Finland went in to a school and killed kids. He had posted similar stuff as the Norwegian guy on the net before he committed these acts. I think the Finnish police is on the right track. They are not suggesting that they are monitoring all communication. There is a profile to these things that can be monitored. I’m originally from Finland and I know we are very much in to our privacy and human rights. If there are any people here from the US you are most likely monitored much more closely than any person in Finland.

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