Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Europe under total surveillance

Neither European Parliament President Josep Borrell Fontelles nor European Commission VP Franco Frattini have explained why a new law permitting total, ongoing surveillance and recording of our communications is a “triumph” for Europeans.

Both men, apparently enthused by the margin of approval for the bill, simply lauded the decision, which elevates the EU from a humble pupil of the US to its teacher when it comes to civil rights violations and theft of private data. Now a huge legalized electronic bug has been added to all the countless illegal or semi-legal “spies.” So turning everyone into a suspect on the pretext of pre-empting terrorism or busting gangs that distribute porn on the Net is a “triumph” for Europeans. The deprival of personal liberty is a “triumph” of democracy. Entangling citizens in a paralyzing sense of fear that their slightest movement (a phone call, a text message, logging on to the Internet) might blot their record and enlist them in the ranks of the potential troublemakers) is a “triumph” for a supposedly open and liberal Europe.

Is it any consolation then that our conversations and messages so far are not evaluated? On the contrary, since it has been authoritatively stated that we are “just at the beginning,” sooner or later the content of our interactions will be captured and interpreted. And if that is not happening already, it is not due to the democratic sensibilities of the Euro-authorities and the limits they might impose, but technology’s inability at this stage to fully serve the plans of those who have decided that Big Brother cannot remain a purely literary device forever.

Dissenting to the bill, Euro MP Yiannis Varvitsiotis recalled the statement attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” But if Franklin has no sway in his own country, why should he be listened to here?

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