The Internet is full of terrorists, and other tales of woe

Still relevant

Still relevant

“Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.”
V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is one of my favourite graphic novels, and the movie holds remarkably well. While it is to blame for the iconic Guy Fawkes worn by Anonymous activist and wannabe hackers around the world, it is undoubtedly one of the most astute political commentaries about how a population willingly gives away its freedoms in exchange for security against external threats.

This week I could not stop thinking about V for Vendetta, partly because it is the 5th of November, but also because I read an article from Robert Hannigan, the head of GCHQ, warning against the misuse of technology by ISIS and other Islamic terrorist organisations. He says:

“To those of us who have to tackle the depressing end of human behaviour on the internet, it can seem that some technology companies are in denial about its misuse. I suspect most ordinary users of the internet are ahead of them: they have strong views on the ethics of companies, whether on taxation, child protection or privacy; they do not want the media platforms they use with their friends and families to facilitate murder or child abuse. They know the internet grew out of the values of western democracy, not vice versa. I think those customers would be comfortable with a better, more sustainable relationship between the agencies and the technology companies. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web, we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens. It should be a deal rooted in the democratic values we share. That means addressing some uncomfortable truths. Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence.”

This is almost a caricature of scaremongering, and it is a masterful example of the rhetoric that implies that normal people do not fear control and surveillance. Only terrorists and child molesters fear control, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. The not-so-subtle implication in this article is that if you are against surveillance, then there is something wrong with you. And now we learn that the UK government is making a large number of requests to Facebook and other social media sites in order to have access to user data.

The problem is that giving security agencies unlimited powers to control us often translates into such powers being easily abused. The normalisation of suspicion, the mistrust of The Other, the criminalisation of non-mainstream behaviours, there are historic precedents to this sort of abuse, and with growing political disillusion and lack of engagement, it is easier for more controlling and less liberal ideologies to take over.

Today be on the lookout for the anti-privacy message and stay vigilant, the erosion of basic liberties begins with seemingly innocuous arguments against terrorists and extremists.

And if you haven’t already, watch V for Vendetta.