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Police state creeps-up: secret police force—a force whose house-culture treats all dissent as dangerous—perfects the art of gathering and using information

Posted by gasweek on 9 October, 2007

Ross Anderson, a professor at Cambridge University in Britain, compared the present situation to a “boiled frog”—which failed to jump out of the saucepan as the water gradually heats. If liberty is eroded slowly, people will get used to it. He added a caveat: it was possible the invasion of privacy would reach a critical mass and prompt a revolt. If there is not much sign of that in Western democracies, this may be because most people rightly or wrongly trust their own authorities to fight the good fight against terrorism, and avoid abusing the data they possess, reported The Economist, 29/9/2007, p. 62 What the security wonks say: if the erosion of individual privacy began long before 2001, it had accelerated enormously, since. And by no means always to bad effect: “suicide-bombers, by their very nature, may not be deterred by a CCTV camera (even a talking one), but security wonks say many terrorist plots have been foiled, and lives saved, through increased eavesdropping, computer profiling and “sneak and peek” searches”.

But at what cost to civil liberties? “Privacy is a modern “right”. It is not even mentioned in the 18th-century revolutionaries’ list of demands. Indeed, it was not explicitly enshrined in international human-rights laws and treaties until after the second world war. Few people outside the civil-liberties community seem to be really worried about its loss now”.

The best minds of generation: “The prospect is much scarier in countries like Russia and China, which have embraced capitalist technology and the information revolution without entirely exorcising the ethos of an authoritarian state where dissent, however peaceful, is closely monitored. On the face of things, the information age renders impossible an old-fashioned, file-collecting dictatorship, based on a state monopoly of communications. But imagine what sort of state may emerge as the best brains of a secret police force—a force whose house culture treats all dissent as dangerous—perfect the art of gathering and using information on massive computer banks, not yellowing paper”.

The Economist, 29/9/2007, p. 62

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