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.

Filed Under: civil rights, finland, internet, norway, surveillance, terrorism


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  1. icon
    cjstg (profile), 27 Jul 2011 @ 8:00am

    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

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