Fast-tracking the UK’s mass surveillance bill won’t keep Britons safe from terrorists

Fast-tracking the UK’s mass surveillance bill won’t keep Britons safe from terrorists
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Politicians in the UK are calling for the anti-privacy Investigatory Powers bill to be fast-tracked, in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

They are right to worry in the light of recent events. But fast-tracking the Investigatory Powers bill would only put in place a bulk data collection system that we are yet to fully understand and benefit from — and not a real solution to the problem at hand.

More surveillance doesn’t equate to more intelligence. France already has laws that allow its security agencies to monitor phone calls and emails of citizens suspected of terrorist activity, without a court’s approval. In addition, ISPs are required to capture users’ data and flag instances of suspicious activity.

Law commentator David Allen Green pointed out the biggest problem with increased surveillance.

London mayor Boris Johnson said that he had “less and less sympathy” for those opposing the bill.

To some people the whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero; not to me. It is pretty clear that his bean-spilling has taught some of the nastiest people on the planet how to avoid being caught; and when the story of the Paris massacre is explained, I would like a better understanding of how so many operatives were able to conspire, and attack multiple locations, without some of their electronic chatter reaching the ears of the police.

That understanding is exactly what’s lacking. Fast-tracking the Investigatory Powers bill would do little to help, particularly in its current state just two weeks after being published.

To further illustrate that merely acquiring more data isn’t the answer to our security woes, consider the fact that senior Iraqi intelligence officials warned France about the imminent attacks a day before they took place, but it wasn’t acted upon. A French security officer said this sort of communication came through all the time, every day.

Passing legislation like the Investigatory Powers bill could lead the UK down a slippery slope: the powers it introduces might have safeguards against misuse like the requirement of court orders and parliamentary oversight. However, it’s entirely possible that over time, these will be eroded and allow larger and larger groups of people unbridled access to citizens’ private data.

What you’ll be left with is a nation in fear of terrorist attacks with no privacy or liberty for its citizens. That spells victory for terrorists and a sad self-inflicted defeat for the UK.

I suspect that implementing mass surveillance in a panicked state means forcing security agencies to rely on bulk data and the processes of sifting through it all — which may not always be the best way to track terrorist activity.

So far, mass surveillance has only served to cost taxpayers more money than before and to make us paranoid. If we want to thwart terrorist plots, we need to resist the urge to usher in new laws that will impact people lives and privacy based purely on fear.

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