Big Brother and Misplaced Fear

Today, Don Hodges wrote an article in The Telegraph calling for more Big Brother, not less. This article was written in response to the UK Government’s plan to increase surveillance of e-mail, telephone calls, and internet traffic.

Hodges first writes:

My idea of the perfect society is one where every street corner has a CCTV camera, everyone has a nice shiny ID card tucked in their wallet and no extremist can even think of logging onto a dodgy website without an SAS squad abseiling swiftly through their window.

Hodges calls for a bigger Big Brother out of a fear of a future terrorist plot. He believes that those who wish to protect their e-mails and internet traffic will inadvertently allow terrorists to strike again. In Hodges mind, the fear of terrorism outweighs the love of privacy. And he’s okay with tipping the scales toward surveillance because he has a benign view of the state and the intelligence services.

Hodges’s overarching fear of terrorism is misplaced. First, the chances of a terrorist attack are low to begin with. Second, installing new surveillance technology will only cause terrorists to shift their methods; surveillance will not deter terrorism. Third, terrorist movements come and go. But the installation of a Big Brother surveillance system will become permanent. Hodges is writing from the UK. Perhaps if he had grown up in China or North Korea, he would understand the oppression of Big Brother. He would come to fear the State, not terrorists, because such a system is bound to create huge government files, and who knows how they will be used? Just look at all the false positives that have put people on no-fly lists in the US. Citizens have no way of learning why they are on the list or of clearing their names. Widespread surveillance will create a myriad of these false positives.

Risk is a part of life. You can never eliminate it. You can reduce it. But widespread surveillance of e-mail, phone calls, and internet traffic will harm more people far more than it would protect. Don’t listen to Hodges.