Politicians, Stop Exploiting Terror for Surveillance. It Won't Make Us More Secure.

Terror attacks are tragic. Terror attacks make each one of us long for security. That's why politicians repeatedly call for more surveillance after every terror attack. Most famously Theresa May, who wants to rip up human rights laws to fight terrorism. However, compelling data shows that more surveillance won't help at all: Every identified Islamist terrorist in Europe who killed innocent people with a terror attack since 2014 was already known to the authorities prior to the attack.

Since 2014 there have been 13 Islamist terrorist attacks during which innocent people were killed. These were committed by 24 identified offenders - and all of them, 100 per cent have already been known to the authorities. In addition

  • all 24 have been classified as violent by the authorities,

  • 22 have been in contact with known Islamists or Islamist networks,

  • 21 were on different terror lists,

  • 17 had a previous conviction,

  • 12 have already been wanted by the police and/or have been put under constant surveillance.

What becomes clear from this data is that the methods used by the police to identify people who could become a terrorist threat already work. Obviously, there is no need for general surveillance of the public.

Analysis needed why the police failed 24 times

It becomes also clear that the police already has a lot of information on possible terrorist threats. The questions is: What happens then? What happens with the data, and what are the measures that the police undertake to ward off these threats?

Of course, it is possible that theoretically hundreds of attacks already have been prevented in Europe by the police forces. There is no way to find out. However, what we can see, needs to be analyzed in detail: How was it possible that 24 people known to the authorities were able to commit terrorist attacks? Such an analysis, however, is very complex - just as complex as a possible solution.

Preventing terrorist attacks is hard

The authorities already have a lot of data on potential terrorist threats. The hard part is to identify the individuals that pose the greatest threat and, thus, need to put under constant surveillance.

At the same time, the police need to keep these kind of investigations, the defined behavioral patterns that lead to constant surveillance under tight wraps so that potential terrorists cannot deliberately change their way of life.

This kind of terrorist prevention needs a lot of staff, a lot of training, a lot of money. And it is not easy to communicate to the electorate. This is why politicians choose something else.

Politicians take the easy way out by propagating harsher laws

Politicians take the easy way out by demanding ever harsher surveillance laws. Even though everybody knows by now that all recent terrorist attacks have not been committed by innocent people unknown to the authorities, politicians still claim that more surveillance would make it possible to prevent future terrorist attacks. It will not.

Mass surveillance could even make us less secure

With more surveillance, the police forces will have more and more data that they need to sort. However, the fact that recent terrorist attacks have all been committed by people already known to the police forces suggests that more data will not make any difference. In a worst case scenario it will only make us less secure because the police will be busy sorting all the data accumulated, instead of focusing on the biggest threats.

In a next step, the UK government plans to ban encrypted communication, alternatively they want to force tech companies to build in backdoors for the authorities - even though everybody knows that there can never be a backdoor that only lets the good guys in.

Plus, banning encryption will not help, but make the internet as whole a less secure place for everyone. Here is a very good overview why this is technically utterly insane.

We don't need propaganda for new laws

Taken together it becomes clear that we don't need politicians' propaganda. We don't need more surveillance, we don't need to break the security backbone of the internet by banning encryption, we don't need to change human rights and privacy laws that are protecting millions of people.

The recent terrorist attacks are proof of one thing, and one thing alone: Security forces already have the right information. They don't need new laws to do their job, but they need to be able to better understand and interpret the information they already have.

Protect our freedoms instead of destroying them!

That's why we ask of politicians to stay true to their responsibility: Protect the freedoms we have gained over the last decades that are the foundation of our modern democracies and that make our countries so secure to live in - no matter what race, belief, political or sexual orientation. We need to keep it that way and not give in to intangible terrorist threats.

Our freedoms - fortunately - include our right to whisper, to have a private conversation, also online. If we give up these freedoms, the terrorists have already won. Why? Because our democracies, our values and our liberty will be lost. What comes next can only be devastating - or can you remember any surveillance state in history where people were able to live freely and happily? Well, we as Germans can't.

That's why we ask politicians, despite or because of the terrorist threat, to stay strong. To fight for our values and our freedom. Protect the values of our democracies instead of destroying them!

Free your data from mass spying!

and get your encrypted mailbox for free now.

Arne is co-founder and developer of Tutanota. I fight for privacy because that’s the cornerstone of freedom and democracy.

Posted on: 2017-06-08

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