Why the British surveillance plan is not just useless, but dangerous

There is an old tale about a dragon that could not be defeated, because every knight that killed it turned into what he fought against — a dragon, living in the same cave.

In a world where politicians are obsessed with fighting terrorism no matter the cost, there’s a risk that they will win by making us adopt the lack of freedoms typical for environments that produce terrorists.

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister that called Facebook a safe haven for terrorists two months ago, yesterday announced he’d ban every means of communication that his government can’t snoop on. As usual, the pretext is terrorism.

The surveillance plans proposed by Mr. Cameron will not help fight real terrorism. There are plenty of ways serious terrorist organizations can circumvent direct eavesdropping. In addition to good old code language, they can set up custom-built software to hide information in invisible graphic noise on funny cat pictures. They can embed information into encrypted noise within harmless voice messages or in metadata of random videos. The possibilities are countless.

As a result Mr. Cameron will be spending taxpayer money in vain. Unless, of course, his true aim lies elsewhere.

If we look at statistics and hard facts, terrorism is by far not the biggest threat we’re facing today. There are hundreds of dreadful diseases that kill thousand times more people than terrorists do, not to mention traffic accidents. As a matter of fact, there are more people dying from slipping on wet bathroom floors than from terrorists’ actions each year. Yet politicians don’t devote a proportional amount of time to any of these issues. Instead, they tend to be interested in areas that can increase their own power and resources — at the expense of our freedom and money.

Of course, terrorist acts capture more of our attention than diseases or accidents, because they attack our values. And this is why Mr. Cameron’s surveillance plan is so dangerous. If the legislation proposed by the British Prime Minister ever goes through, the terrorists will have won beyond their wildest expectations. They will have succeeded in forcing us to betray our values. If the UK — once a beacon of freedom — adopts such restrictive laws, other nations are likely to follow, and the western civilization will begin to change.

By the end of this process, once we have surveillance cameras installed in every bedroom (remember, “this is for your own safety” and “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide”), there will be no bombings. Not because these cameras would actually prevent terrorists from killing us. There will be no bombings because once we’ve accepted their values of fear and control, the terrorists will no longer have any conflict with our civilization.

We will have killed the dragon. And its cave will become our new home.