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
    CommonSense (profile), 27 Jul 2011 @ 2:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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...??

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