Politicians who do not understand the internet
Politicians like to be seen to take a tough stand on terrorism, and are usually cheered on by those looking for some kind of magic solution to the problem of security, typically, along big-brother-is-watching-you lines. The problem is that such solutions are not always necessarily the right ones. Moreover, when these so-called get-tough measures infringe our rights, the issue becomes even more complex, because it is precisely this loss of rights, that erosion of basic freedoms and human rights that the terrorists sought to achieve. And if the measures don’t even work, then the politician in question is usually out of a job, or should be.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has just narrowly won an election she believed was going to give her a landslide, and now is in a hung parliament situation, reacted to the latest attacks in London by saying “enough is enough” and suggesting that human rights interfere with controlling terrorism. Her hard-hitting statements were intended to boost her popularity, following the tack taken by so many British politicians before her. However, there is a problem: the first and most obvious is that talk is cheap. Saying “enough is enough” is easy, but real solutions to problems are required. It is possible that there is no solution to the current problem, but what is not going to solve it is simply more surveillance and control of the internet and telecommunications.
Quite simply, it has never been easier to carry out a terrorist attack. The communication and coordination required are absolutely minimal: a rented vehicle, a few kitchen knives or even a hammer are more than enough. This “low cost terrorism” renders useless many of the control strategies used so far and makes talk of monitoring people who have kitchen knives or hammers ridiculous. No training or coordination is necessary to drive a car into a crowd of people or to attack a policeman with a hammer. To prevent this would require measures so draconian that they would be unacceptable in a democracy.
It’s the same with the internet: trying to control it or demanding back doors to smartphones or instant messaging apps is a waste of time, and only occurs to those who do not understand the web.
First of all because the variety of tools and methods of communication that are accessible to terrorists is unlimited, and secondly, because there are also low-tech solutions for preparing an attack. While May and her people are putting pressure on technology companies to give them back doors that weaken the security of their products and that would for sure, sooner or later, end up in the hands of criminals, terrorists would continue to communicate through other unmonitored tools, a phone call, or personal contact. The idea of “controlling the internet to prevent terrorism” makes no sense, and also shows tremendous ignorance.
To paraphrase the great and sadly missed Aaron Swartz: “it is no longer appropriate not to understand how the internet works”. Just because these technologies did not exist when you were born or went to school is no excuse. If you are a politician, you have to understand that the internet has become a central element of life and you cannot go around making decisions without understanding how it works, because that makes you, at the very least, a danger, or an idiot, like Donald Trump who seems to think he can call Bill Gates to close down the internet.
Theresa May and other politicians who do not understand the internet are part of a older generation of leaders who should think about retiring or doing something else that impacts less on people’s lives. Either that, or they could take a few classes; after all, many managers in business of a similar age do so all the time.
The solution to terrorism may present itself in many ways and we can take for granted it won’t be an easy one, but it will never be through controlling the internet: all that will do is monitor those of us who are not terrorists. Such strategies hand victory to the terrorists.
(En español, aquí)