Last weekend, the world watched in shock as horrific attacks unfolded around the globe. From stadium bombings and shooting in Paris to car bombs in Yemen, ISIS are doing all they can to we sure the final months of 2015 will be bloodier than all the others combined. And the repercussions have only just begun.
This weekend’s attacks are perhaps the most politically important terrorist attacks since 9/11. Ideas long shelved are coming back to the forefront of political discussion: intervention in the Middle East and closing the borders of Europe, both considered extreme solutions for a long time are suddenly back on the table. Then of course, there’s the Snooper’s Charter.
If there’s one thing that really ticks me off, it’s when politicians use crises to scare voters into accepting draconian measures that would normally have us up in arms as necessary, even desirable for our own safety. And this is exactly what’s been going on in the aftermath of the Paris attacks with the Surveillance Bill.
Long supported by Theresa May, the government has been facing calls from MPs and peers such as Lord Carlile to rush the act through parliament, giving the government the power to access anybody’s digital communications, whether they’re suspected of a crime or not. Proponents of the charter say that it’s necessary for our safety and to prevent attacks like the ones seen in Paris. Given the hysteria such atrocious attacks cause, we could be forgiven for listening to them, but let’s not be so hasty.
First off, it’s worth noting that existing French surveillance laws look a lot like the proposed ones in the UK. French internet providers are obliged to collect data on their users and hand it over to law enforcement agencies on request. Yet, terrorists still slipped through the net.
This brings us on the the larger and more important point: terrorists don’t communicate using conventional social media. If they did, they’d be rumbled pretty damn fast, as hundreds of would be terror cells already are each year. What makes them so dangerous is that they communicate using hard to trace digital technology: proxies, the deep web, onion browsers, you name it. The Snooper’s Charter would therefore essentially do nothing to increase the powers of the state to prevent terrorism: it would be normal people and regular internet uses who would suddenly become visible, not people who are already doing their best to stay hidden.
Let us also not forget that the police in the UK already have the right to access digital communications of people suspected of a crime, a system which works extremely well for catching terrorists before they strike whilst upholding the principles that one should be innocent until proven guilty.
Spying on our own citizens won’t keep us safe from terrorists: it will only force them to come up with even better methods to stay hidden, making them even more dangerous. Regardless of how politicians spin it, the Snooper’s Charter is no magic bullet to our problems.
Callum Shannon is the Chair of the University of York Labour Club.