August 28, 2005

A state of fear

There is no denying it - the world is in a state of fear. Nations in the West and Middle East are ravaged by bombings, kidnappings, murders and more. People are locking their doors, arming themselves - doing all they can to protect those they hold most dear.

But at what price?

The measuring stick by which our civilisation gauges its progress is freedom - freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom from persecution, from pain. The Western world has always prided itself in how well it has measured up. That is until fear - fear of persecution, of pain, of death - has started to erode its place in the standing of Nations.

Freedom is being traded for security. Yet it isn't security that can be guaranteed. At best its a sense of security. Freedom is being bartered away by governments in return for National ID cards, the power to hold suspects without charge, the power to shoot to kill, the power to deport suspects, the power to monitor the public around the clock, and more. All these trades are in the name of security and claim to make our society safer from terrorists. But what protects us then from ourselves?

Consider the Social Security Number (SSN) as it is used in the United States - its the de facto national ID. If you can get your hands on it, along with basic details, you can impersonate some one else. Steal their money, their property, ruin their life. That is the danger of a system that can identify some one absolutely - it allows them to be impersonated absolutely.

This is not a problem restricted to SSN - it is a problem that is applicable to any system with the same capabilities. Any such system can be exploited by criminals and by the very people they are designed to protect against - terrorists.

Identification is a major part of security but it is not served by keeping detail records of individuals and through means of absolute identification. It is best served in my opinion through security questions designed by the user - customised to their private life with details away from the prying eyes of governments and corporations. Aside from increased risk of identity theft it will only serve to provide further means through which people can be discriminated against - and few things breed hatred like discrimination.

The invasion of our private life is not something we tolerate normally, yet we are now willing to give up a significant amount of it - National Identification Cards, public cameras, security reviews. We hoped that such measures will some how make our life styles safer, protect us from suicide bombings. Such is the hope offered by governments and the price demanded - yet where is the result?

How long would it be before the price demanded is that we restrict our life style? How long before we are only travel to certain places, only on approved means of transport, allowed to buy only from "safe" shops - all of which tightly controlled by the powers that be in order to make sure those who comply can do no harm?

How long before we protect ourselves by locking ourselves behind bars?

That is the future we are headed towards if we allow the current state of fear determine the development of our societies - we can not allow it to happen. The cliché phrase "terrorism only works if it forces a change in our life style" is bollocks. That terrorism exists is an indicator that our life style, however indirectly, is affecting the life of others - driving them to extremes. To ignore terrorism is akin to ignoring pain from your body . Terrorism won't go away because we ignore it - it will go away when we have resolved the fundamental issues that fires the hearts of men and women who carry out acts of terrorism. Its however evident that politicians are more interested in destroying the symptoms than cure the cause - poverty, oppression, occupation, suffering.

We can not tolerate terrorism - it is never a mean to a good end. Yet at the same time we can not ignore terrorism and continue to live our life as normal - because something is wrong with the world, something that would cause terrorism to contaminate our life. So instead of "terrorism only works if it forces a change in our life style", I propose "terrorism only works if it forces a reduction in our freedom".

The 2 different phrases illustrate 2 different points of view when dealing with terrorism: one advocates we ignore it and continue as normal, burying our heads in the sand while our freedom is slowly leached away into building bars behind which we can hide. The other proposes we do not give up our freedoms in fear, and change the way we live so the cause of terrorism is resolved. Politicians like the former, I much prefer the latter.

Which do you prefer?

Cheers,
Steve

Cheers,
Steve