When Governments Hit ‘Like’ on the ‘War on Terror’

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This interactive roundtable discussion focused on what is new in the war on terror, and the tools used in combat, without ignoring the perennial tensions between security and freedom of expression.

Anja Mihr, Associate Professor of the Netherland Insitute of Human Rights (SIM), expressed her view that privacy seems to be taking second place, after the right to assemble, organise, and participate in the war on terror, and is increasingly under threat. She went on to express her view that whilst there is not yet a global cyber court, one is needed to issue guidelines and standardise definitions. Conflicting national and regional jurisdictions make the issue very complex.

Mihr emphasised that there is a strong need to have inclusive discussions on this issue, and not exclude non-state actors. Additionally, she stated that governments, such as the UK’s, should resist the new tendency towards criminalising a whole generation of young people before they have even touched a keyboard.

Frank La Rue explained that there is an artificial build-up of the debate through the use of scare tactics directed towards the public. He stated that the protecting citizens is a legitimate responsibility of the state, but it must be carried out through a transparent and democratic process. Unfortunately, in his view, we are seeing intimidation tactics being used by the state to push the boundaries of legitimate law. Intimidation of the general public and specifically of journalists is unacceptable.

La Rue emphasised that it is important to increase knowledge and understanding across cultures with a healthy, and intense social debate about these issues. If there are radical positions these should be discussed from a bottom-up rather than top down perspectives. Young people should be offered alternative forums to share their views. They should not be censored but offered an alternative language to speak in.

There was a consensus that we have been looking at surveillance as a theoretical issue, not a concrete one. The fact that surveillance can be technically carried out does not justify governments doing it. The question arose over whether surveillance tools and technologies should be regulated much like armaments are.

 

By Virginia (Ginger) Paque

 

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