Charlie Hebdo Massacre

What's a Terrorist Attack If Not An Excuse for More Domestic Spying?

Driven by a need to appear proactive, and a taste for power, government officials once again exploit a murderous incident to increase their authority over us.


Scott Beale/Foter

Following on last week's terrorist attacks in France, the British government has dusted off a long-sought "snooper's charter"—better known as the Data Communications Bill—to ease the power of officials to track people's private communications. 

"It is too soon to say for certain, but it is highly probable that communications data was used in the Paris attacks to locate the suspects and establish the links between the two attacks," Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament. "Quite simply, if we want the police and the security services to protect the public and save lives, they need this capability.

You get that? There's no evidence that the bill would have prevented the Charlie Hebdo attack, but that incident is why you should pass the bill.

Prime Minister David Cameron even says that messaging services that can't be intercepted should be banned.

Using the latest outrage to inject new life into old security-state legislation isn't a British specialty. When the Patriot Act was introduced in 2001, then-Senator Joseph Biden boasted, "I drafted a terrorism bill after the Oklahoma City bombing. And the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill." This is a game in which politicians everywhere can participate.

Never mind that, as Reason's Ron Bailey pointed out in November, "there is very little evidence that the Internet is making terrorism easier to do." But pretending otherwise, and passing legislation that empowers security services, lets government officials accumulate power and give the appearance of doing something when the public is frightened. Added Bailey:

As [David Benson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago] argues, exaggerating the Internet's usefulness to terrorism has "egregious costs." Some officials, for example, have been calling for a "kill switch" that would allow the government to shut down the Internet in an emergency. Noting how much Americans depend upon the Net for commerce, communication, medical care, and so forth, Benson points out that "It is difficult to imagine a terrorist attack being as costly as turning off the Internet would be."

Terrorism also gives officials an excuse to tighten censorship—especially in jurisdictions, including many democratic countries in Europe, where the whole free speech thing has relatively shallow roots.

So get ready for the ride. Driven by a need to appear proactive, and a preexisting taste for accumulating power, government officials once again exploit a murderous incident to increase their authority over us.

Which escalates the ongoing cold war between people who want to be left alone, and the governments that seek to control them.


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  1. In both the Boston bombing and this, the people who did it were well known to the authorities as dangerous lunatics. Yet, they authorities did nothing to stop the attacks. So what exactly do the authorities think they are going to find out through spying when they can’t seem to act in these cases?

    1. Intelligence does not equal intelligence.

    2. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that you don’t find a needle in a haystack by making the haystack bigger.

      1. No kidding. Or that no amount of intelligence allows you to read someone’s mind. The guys in both of these cases were obviously dangerous, but it wasn’t obvious that they were going to act on it. There are a ton of other people who look just as dangerous but will never do anything. So, even if you have a ton of information on the right person, that doesn’t mean you can tell what they are going to do.

        1. I’m still not convinced that the Tsarnaev brothers weren’t part of an FBI sting that got away from them.

          1. WE will never know if it was. But it is entirely possible.

    3. Stated intentions are bullshit. I’m sure they’ve got a long list of power grabs that are just waiting for excuses like this. Power is an end, not a means.

      1. You mean like the wish-list of surveillance power they wanted for years, and then used 9/11 as an excuse to pass it by calling it the PATRIOT Act?

        1. It’s so weird. I remember a coalition of banks, consumer advocates, and others fighting and killing almost all of the attempts of the Clinton administration to implement many parts of what later got passed in the USA Patriot Act. That was just a few years before 9/11.

          1. Some of it was attempted during HW’s administration, too–IIRC.

            1. Oh, sure. I don’t mean to suggest that attacks on our liberty don’t come from every iteration of TEAM BE RULED.

      2. the “PATRIOT” act was drafted LONG before 9/11. It was just waiting for a disaster to become another disaster.

  2. We had fewer terrorist attacks back when all of this domestic spying was illegal. Yes, back when we were a much freer and more open society with a smaller government and a lower propensity for international violence, people seemed less interested in blowing us up. Think about it–from a pure security standpoint, we were more vulnerable then, yet fewer attacks or even attempted attacks occurred. Why?

    1. Didn’t you get the memo? 9/11 changed EVERYTHING.

      1. It’s sickening how much things like that are used to oppress people who had nothing to do with the attacks. The real victims of 9/11 are who they were in the first place–the people killed, their families, and the rest of us. And the real benefactor wasn’t al Qaeda, which got slowly killed off as a result, along with seeing two Muslim governments overthrown, it was the government. And no, I’m not saying the government was happy about or had anything to do with 9/11, but they damned sure took advantage of the opportunity.

        1. You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.
          Rahm Emanuel

          1. Yes, it’s hard not to think of his philosophy when talking about this sort of thing. Sadly, as bad as he and Obama are, this is the central tenet of much of our national security apparatus.

            Free and open societies do have more vulnerabilities, but the free and open part is worth far, far more than increased security, which has limited utility in a country our size, anyway.

            1. The fact is that there is no such thing as 100% security, and you can not completely stop one or two nuts with no regard for their own safety. The best way to mitigate the potential for damage is to have an armed citizenry. A Charlie Hebdo-style attack would not likely get too far in Texas or Arizona, but it would be very effective in a New Jersey shopping mall where all the citizens are unarmed victims.

              1. A free society is the best weapon against such things, especially when that free society has the wealth and much greater wealth potential of the U.S. It’s not like even a not-very-interventionist U.S. couldn’t still blow up people who attack the country, so it’s not a matter of giving up defense or running away. Our lives and liberty are infinitely more important than worrying about some moral primitives who might kill some of us.

                1. Our lives and liberty are infinitely more important than worrying about some moral primitives who might kill some of us.

                  I don’t understand why so many people fail to grasp this.

                  1. Liberty has become a bad word. It equals chaos and anarchy. How can you know you’re doing something right if you haven’t asked permission or been given orders from someone in authority? You can’t. That’s why liberty is bad. You’re only free if someone is giving you permission and telling you what to do and how to do it.

                    1. Wealth and comfort have their drawbacks. We’ve lost the will to fight for our liberty in the most important battleground–right here. The terrorists, as awful as they are, will never destroy us. But our government not only can, it most likely will.

    2. I also seem to recall that the terrorists who hit the WTC back in ’93 managed just fine without the intertubez – for that matter, the cops had no problem tracking them down.

      1. That’s impossible!

    3. The 70′,80’and 90’s were full of attacks world wide. Of course regular murders,robberies then.Remember all the air line highjackings in the 70″s?Attacks all over Europe form groups funded by the USSR? Now though it’s 911,911 ,911 911

      1. Yep! Even groups planning to take commit acts of terrorism in US cities to stir up a war with Cuba… oh wait. That was Operation Northwoods courtesy of the CIA.

        Which ones are the terrorists again?

    4. Careful, that’s getting dangerously close to “blowback” and then Cytotoxic will come in here and tell us how they only hate us for our freedom.

      *Before anyone dogpiles on me: I think it, like most things, is complicated as all fuck and not an either/or issue.

  3. WTF is on that chick’s leg (the one on the left)? Is that the mother of all birthmarks, or does she have ebola?

    1. I’m gonna guess a shitty tat.

      1. It should be an apology from whoever did that to her hair.

      2. A small pox virus shot scar. Obviously she’s autistic now.

      3. It sort of looks like a Tudor rose.

    2. That’s a chick?

  4. if we want the police and the security services to protect the public and save lives, they need this capability

    This is where someone needs to stand up and say “I want the police and security services to protect the rights of the people, and yes, their lives too, but not at all costs.” But no one is going to tell people that there are things worth dying for, and frankly, for a politician to do so would be pretty disigenuous since they certainly aren’t putting their asses on the line. But then again, neither are the overwhelming majority of citizens in Western countries.

  5. Satire is Dead (librul but not too bad)

  6. “I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”
    Douglas MacArthur

  7. it is highly probable that communications data was used in the Paris attacks to locate the suspects and establish the links between the two attacks,

    Was it a big fucking mystery that the attacks were linked?

    Was comm data really used to find the suspects? If you really are tracking a cell phone, you know exactly, within a few feet, where it is. That’s not really the widespread manhunt I recall.

    They came after a gas station attendant reportedly said the armed brothers threatened him near Villers-Cotterets in Picardy, stole gas and food, then drove off late Thursday morning.…..-shooting/

    Sounds like a tip, to me. Not ultra-techy hacker stuff.

    1. There’s a joke in there somewhere.

      Q: “How many French cops does it take to trace a cell phone?”

      A: 80,000

      No, really. 80,000.

  8. Just before I saw the paycheck which was of $9215 , I did not believe that my brothers friend was really making money part time from their computer. . there sisters neighbor has done this 4 only about seven months and recently paid for the loans on their home and purchased a great Fiat Panda .
    all visit this page ********

  9. my neighbor’s ex-wife makes $77 hourly on the internet . She has been out of a job for nine months but last month her check was $18454 just working on the internet for a few hours. read………….

  10. There’s no evidence that the bill would have prevented the Charlie Hebdo attack, but that incident is why you should pass the bill.

    “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

    1. Prime Minister David Cameron even says that messaging services that can’t be intercepted should be banned.

      Because: When you ban things, they disappear!

  11. Control freaks’ get a big stiffy every time there’s even the suggestion of a terror attack. They haven’t had it so good since the drug war was fresh and new and the average person had no clue it was just being used to create fear so they’d have no problem watching their liberties being shredded one after another.

  12. First of all, lets go to the principle of primary responsibility. In other words it is the primary fault of the Islamic terrorists that any of these policies exist.

    Yes some of the policies are ridiculous and overly intrusive, however, we have literally thousands of Islamic extremists who want to harm western society a hell of a lot more than just reading our emails. It is a credit to our intelligence community that we are able to continue to live our lives without the constant fear of terrorist attacks.

    Remember, war is not the same as peace and we are NOT at peace right now. We are at war with an enemy who doesn’t care about our concepts of freedom, or privacy much less any respect for the rule of law. All they care about is killing as many people who stand in the way of a world wide Islamic Caliphate.
    Many of you libertarian utopianists are in denial of this fact – the fact that many people in the world aren’t going to play by the rules, and that extraordinary measures are going to have to be used to contain pirates murderers and terrorists.

    1. Do you think libertarians are cowards, since they want to be left alone!!? The denial seems to be coming from you. If you think those in power are thinking of all of the rest of us, I think you don’t understand the self-preservation mind! I bet a lot of those libertarian minded are also the ones that don’t have the problem with the second amendment that the liberals have. Too many assumptions can make one look like an ass! Extraordinary actions, in my opinion, would equal getting rid of all the gun laws that have been introduced, during the past two hundred years, that limit our ability to arm and defend ourselves.

    2. And yet they’re letting Muslims overrun France (and South Americans overrun America) to benefit whom, exactly?

      Slam the borders shut. Let them live in the countries they make.

  13. Oh! I know! I know!

    There was a terrorist attack in Paris so… let’s give everyone an enema!

    THAT will show the terrorists who’s who! (And what’s what.)

    I mean, is that any worse than what the retarded politicians are proposing? Or any less effective?

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