Those who would give up essential Liberty..

Martin Brinkmann
May 20, 2008
Updated • Dec 8, 2014

Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. This quote by one of the founding fathers of the United States dates back more than 200 years ago but it has a huge relevance to the current situation in our world.

The so called democratic countries of the West are reducing the rights of their population in every legislation by tracking and spying on them, storing information about them and controlling them all for the sake of fighting terrorism (so they say).

Data Retention Laws (firmly pushed by the United Kingdom) are already in place which forces every European Internet Service Provider to record communication data of their customers whether they like it or not.

Apparently though that is not enough for the British Home Office who announced plans to create a database of electronic information holding details of every phone call and e-mail sent in the UK according to the BBC.

All for the sake of national security, fighting terrorism and crime of course. The data will be "subject to strict safeguards to ensure the right balance between privacy and protecting the public" which, as we have seen in the past, has failed numerous times with important information being leaked to the public or third-parties in the process.

Am I the only one thinking that all those laws that reduce the liberty of the individual and the population are way out of proportion? There is zero difference between some laws in Europe and the United States and some oppressive regime in the rest of the world.

I'm sorry that it got a bit political but this is an issue that is affecting everyone living in those countries.


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  1. Tobey said on May 21, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks for digging out my comment Martin, now I finally know where my comments end from time to time. I was suspicious about spam filter from the beginning but didn’t know it was so aggressive.

    Daniel, I’m not sure if I correctly made out what you were trying to say but the truth is there are of course some individuals in the government who do care and who are not neccessarily vicious and evil just because of becoming high level representatives. However, most of their efforts get spoiled along the way as small selfish groups within the government misuse and abuse everything it imposes upon the nation. And that’s where we’re getting to the point of distinguishing good and bad people which is yet another topic. The problem is that technology in general brings immense power to those who can afford handling it and who would otherwise never obtain such. I’m very interested in technology myself, a rather geekish person but when it comes to integration of technology with people in such intimate ways, I just can’t stand that because I can unlike most ordinary people at least imagine how easily this can be abused and turned against those who at first demanded it for better security. Sci-fi literature has for some time been kind of a mirror of things to come in the future and I hate the idea of monolithic futuristic society totally bound to and dependent on vulnerable and easily exploitable technology. I’m not saying we should climb back to treetops in the forests, I’m just VERY paranoic when it comes to technology parasiting on teh society.

    In regard to GRTerrero’s comment, I’ve become increasingly concerned about things going on abroad, especially thanks to the opportunity of watching various documentaries and reading documents available on the Net which often provide information in total contrary with what official media reports say since those are usually based on more or less fabricated/adjusted intelligence. I’ve never been interested in politics and don’t want to talk on politics in here but when one opens their mind and frees themselves from corrupt mass-media corporations to find out what’s really going on in the world, it’s just so hard to withdraw the loud scream that’s crawling onto the surface. Empires have ruled hard throughout centuries and it’s sad to see that nothing has changed to this day, not even in the so called democracy (has it been renamed to oilocracy yet ?).

    I wish my English abilities helped me to express it better.

  2. GRTerrero said on May 21, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Unfortunately those who are afraid of being blown up in the subway overlook one thing: the combined intelligence powers of the United States and its key allies (namely, the Brits) failed them in regards to Irak. Their intelligence told us that Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (yes, I have NOT forgotten that reason for an unwarranted and unconstitutional war). That intelligence was not only flawed, but nonsense.

    The idea that you can achieve “the right balance between privacy and protecting the public” after you have actively invaded the public’s privacy is also nonsense. It’s like being a little bit pregnant. You either invade the public’s privacy or you don’t.

    Paranoid nations need to make a choice.

  3. Daniel said on May 20, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Hi Guys!

    I thought I’d be bashed around a bit, but thanks for arguing in a sensible manner, it’s quite rare.

    I think that you’re right in the fact that it’s debatable weather this mass spying essentially is needed. Let me explain a bit more what I think liberty means.

    For me is when people abuse the information to undermine my rights (other than privacy of course). Like if a company secretly hears me saying I want to get promoted 3 months after they hire me or else I quit, so therefore they don’t hire me at all. This means that you are right, the problem lies not in the mass collection of data, but in the controlling mechanism.

    Now here’s where the problem is. Would you ban cars because some people cause accidents? I mean it’s a fairly valid argument that more harm comes of driving than of spying, even if they do mistreat the data.

    If I get in the car and kill someone unintentionally I go to prison, if someone manhandles data they get a fine, or go to prison to, or whatever.

    The question will never be how can we stop data mistreatment. It will be how to minimize this and how to punish people who do.

    I think I speak up for this law because I think people are trying to stop it for the wrong reasons. People probably mistreat your data now and some are caught and punished some are not. If there is mass collection some people will indeed be mistreated and the miscreants will sometimes get away with it, and sometimes they won’t, but this is how everything works is it not?

    So what I’m arguing is that data collection en masse is not a bad thing. I mean it could possibly do a load of good for psychology, economics and so on and it does help anti terrorist people, although I agree, probably the added benefit just from that point is not as great as the cost. The problem is with the controlling of the data and as with everything, they won’t get it right first time around. They’ll pass bills here and there, problems will arise, and more parliamentary stuff and so on.

    I think we should accept this as a necessary bad thing and when we see mishandling then join forces and force some good bills out of the decision makers, this is the only way anything can work.

    Also, one more comment to Tobey. My father used to work quite high in the government, and although he wasn’t a party member I got to see and know a lot of people. I think governments sort of work along the “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” rule. A group of people say, wow, let’s start collecting data so we can protect everyone from harm. And people who agree find them, and also those who disagree do, because they can then use the data for their own good. So in essence most of what a government does s good, but sadly a lot of it gets lost in the interference.

    I’m sure I ranted on and on, so sorry if you can’t understand half of this :D It’s good to be able to discuss something where profanity and hate doesn’t overrule everything.

  4. Martin said on May 20, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    It went right into the spam folder because it did contain to many links ;) Found it there though

  5. Tobey said on May 20, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    My elaborate comment got lost somewhere in the process so the only way I’ll respond to this is by saying totally agreed. The situation is sick and getting even worse. If you think your government has ever really cared about you or anyone else, you’re wrong. If you think these measures are to ensure security for you and your family, then you’re double wrong.

    Learn history. You may need it one day. :-(

  6. Jack said on May 20, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    “I’d rather have a government official eavesdropping than getting blown up in a subway.”

    Unfortunately, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Eavesdropping en masse isn’t just ineffective as far as anti-terrorism goes, it actually ties up valuable resources. Only a complete fool could imagine a terrorist openly stating his intentions in an email or phone call? It’s far more likely to be a case of “Meet you at Walmart next Wednesday” – the type of message that just cannot be decoded.

    And as for official eavesdropping – why is he/she listening in the first place? To combat terrorism, or because they get their jollies from petty power? Anti-terrorism laws are a gift to the sort of chap in a peaked cap whose influence used to be limited to making our lives a misery when trying to park.

    Here in the UK, in the 3 or so years since the computer databases of the Inland Revenue and Customs were combined (with assurances of data security) there have been over 600 cases of unauthorised access – 600 so serious they had no choice but to admit to them, that is.

    And as for our “anti-terrorist” surveillance laws – to date they’ve been used mainly on anti-govt protesters, animals rights organisations. And – in a recent case – on a family trying to get their kid into a school outside their residential area.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – indeed….

  7. Tobey said on May 20, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Well said Martin and I have no other choice but agree with you. The situation with liberty overall is becoming pretty scary. The more “developed” country you live in, the worse the situation is. Crowds of people get caught in the trap of false and overused arguments including that giving up part of your human rights will bring you more security for you and your family. Bullshit. It will only bring more control to those, who have already had too much of it thus being able to bring the system of massive control to an even higher level. It’s really sad to watch the masses believe that mind-washing propaganda in favor of supporting any means of imposing more control upon them and to watch that these people in the end actually DEMAND such attitude towards themselves for the false feeling of security against the so much abused vicious terrorism. Did CCTV in UK or any other similar system anywhere else prevent those evil terrorists (allegedly) from attacking any target? I don’t think so. But they keep watching you wherever you go, day by day and are themselves a considerable threat to your security when misused. And as you said, it’s not just about cameras or whatever, we are beginning to live in a globaly controlled world where technology brings significant power into the hands of certain organizations or even individuals and we’d better give it a damn and start to care or else we may find ourselves in the position of guinea pigs with no rights whatsoever very soon. Hard to elaborate on this topic in a single comment but I’m sure those who are interested will be able to learn more since we still have the neutral and free (for how long, that’s another question) internet, where one can get educated rather easily.

    Should you want to watch some documentaries showing governments tricking and failing thier very own citizens for centuries, these links may come in handy.

  8. Kieran said on May 20, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I completely agree with you. I think the whole thing is absurd. I live in the UK and am endlessly disappointed with the nonsense laws and policies that get pushed.

    And (sorry to kinda quote you Daniel) then people get this overblown image of terrorism despite it having been in a steady downward decline since the start of the nineties. So it becomes much more acceptable to push through all this stuff.

  9. Transcontinental said on May 20, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Concern for others is also a rule of democracy. I can only agree with Stephan, in a way freedom requires activism, it does not only relate to one’s own ability to counter-act on intrusion on his privacy, but as well as to inform others who live, move, and communicate blind.

    I think Martin here is in the stream of a growing anticipation on privacy concerns which is actually a growing concern on well-informed (if I may say) Web circles.

    Privacy and advertisers, and ISPs, and government, and you name it. Personal data has become gold oil. I’m afraid some will always consider this attitude as paranoid ; may those ask themselves if catching someone investigating their home is paranoia?

    You have to fight to get there, you have to struggle to stay there : in Freedom as well as in Privacy lands.

  10. Martin said on May 20, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Daniel one of the main problems with data retention laws is control. Who controls the information, who makes sure there is no abuse, no naughty bureaucrat that likes to snoop on private conversations, listen to phone sex, see videos and images from you and your friends and so on.

    The answer is no one can make sure that this will not happen, that part of the database will leak to the Internet, the mails where you said your boss is an ass for instance, explicit emails from another women that your wife reads.

    Privacy should be a human right. I don’t have problems if they start investigating and recording if they got proof that something fishy is going on and the approval of a judge.

    The “I have nothing to hide therefor I’m not against it” does not cut it. I suggest you read the following excellent essay on the topic:

  11. Daniel said on May 20, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I only agree with you somewhat. I don’t really care if the government sees my emails or phone calls, why should I?

    I don’t believe that the recording of info itself reduces my liberty and freedom. The comparison I can make is that people kill people, not guns (I don’t support gun owning by the way).

    Until they start sending me emails that I shouldn’t say naughty stuff about the government in my phone calls I’m fine with it.

    I’d rather have a government official eavesdropping than getting blown up in a subway.

  12. Stefan said on May 20, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Martin wrote:
    I’m sorry that it got a bit political but this is an issue that is affecting everyone living in those countries.

    *shakeshead* No need for excuses. This is important stuff, and it’s especially important for our tech-savvy readers out there.

    We, the geeks, know how to protect our privacy or have little trouble finding the knowledge we need fir it. But think of your little sister, your mom, a friend of yours whose dad is from Pakistan using the PC only for surfing and casual gaming…
    Someone like him is bound to be a primary target for any terrorism-related database-search. Someone like me would’ve been a primary target some years ago when they were looking for potential school-shooters.

    ATM there are laws in discussion that could put these primary targets under surveillance, meaning they would search the content of my telephone calls, emails, my hard drive, and those of the people that are close to me, just to make sure.

    It sounds a lot like hacker-romance, but _we_ are able to avoid that kind of measures or at least render them pretty useless. But most people are not, and I think it’s part of our “duty” or better responsibility that comes with the job to help them and sensitise them to the topic.

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