Thursday, 29 January 2015

Helping terrorists?

I have posted a lot on privacy, encryption, snooping and the like, but I think it may be worth explaining that I am not trying to help terrorists here. I doubt anyone would get that impression, but I was surprised at one "dislike" on one of my videos.

There are lots of ways in which the authorities can catch criminals, and a key part of that is targeted surveillance. For terrorists, it seems to me the most obvious weak link is the people, and that infiltrating terrorists groups is the best way to get information. If you are in the group, none of this privacy and encryption matters as you are at the "plain text" end of the communications anyway. Even if you have suspects, then surveillance of those suspects directly is a key step. It is not as if the authorities have no tools available. In the Paris attacks the authorities had exactly the powers they are asking for already, and it did not help.

There are some key issues with trying to get more powers to track terrorists, some of which I have touched on. One of the main ones is the negative impact of those extra powers on law abiding citizens. The other is the fact that everything that is proposed can be bypassed by someone that is not law abiding (my videos on pen/paper encryption show this). These two together mean anti-terror laws only serve to hinder normal people and fail to serve to stop terrorists.

To give you an idea - if we had a law proposing road blocks and vehicle searches on every motorway exit - that could be argued that it would reduce terrorism. People would find it difficult to move guns or explosives around the country.

Obviously that would be crazy - it would be a massive imposition on the normal law abiding public and a step too far. It would also not be able to cover every road or every means of transport so a determined terrorist could get past it.

Opposing such a law is not "encouraging terrorism", it is explaining reality and trying to strike a reasonable balance of safety and liberty.

Oddly, even though the above does seem crazy we have accepted these steps for travelling around the world, with great inconvenience at airports.

It is also not proportionate to impose new measures. Whist terrorism is an important issue, it pales in to insignificance compared to so many other preventable harm and deaths in society such as road safety. We should spend money and resources where they will do the most good.

Another issue is that whatever powers the authorities get, having just that bit more power would be helpful until you end up in a total police state with thought crimes.

What I think is a step too far is blanket surveillance on the public, and this is the same position taken by the EU court of justice. We have to draw a line and stop freedoms being taken away or else the terrorists have won.


  1. Don't worry about YouTube dislikes. I don't think I've ever seen a video without one.

  2. The problem witn infiltrating terrorist groups using traditional techniques is is means the security services actually have to do some bloody work by good old fashioned fieldwork. They appear to be allergic to this these days. They just want a larger haystack to search for the needle in.

    1. And why not go for the largest possible haystack, so it becomes impossible to find one or two needles in it.