Internet Censorship Will Not Help Us
The Internet is a place of wonder: ideas, projects, commerce, and an abundance of other vital processes have been inherited by the encroaching digital world, creating an enormous tract of liberty for independent research, opinion, funding, and business. In any one man’s world, such an invention is a remarkable victory for their ability to express their desires and tailor their world to them; no matter how alone one may be, the Internet immediately provides a platform from which anyone can give with as much capacity as they can take. Even large, complex entities like multinational corporations can accelerate their goals by exploiting the colossal outreach and liberty provided by the Internet. As of today, it is the most powerful tool of influence since the gold coin.
Naturally, such a lenient and tolerant space is a prime target for conquest—The Conservative Party have decided that the only available way to tackle radicalisation and violent extremism in Britain is to ensure that developers of social media and other e-services to loosen their security, which would, in its essence, allow the government to unleash a full-scale invasion on any privacy you may have hoped to cherish. Every snippet of private information and communication you have published could ‘inadvertently’ fall into the hands of the state, placing all the sovereignty you had over your thoughts solely at the behest of vague speech laws, which use words like “grossly offensive” to denote opinions worthy of criminal prosecution. In short, this state of affairs would designate every resident as a potential danger to national security, subjecting them to a level of scrutiny that constricts the free flow of ideas and thoughts to a mere trickle of state-mandated opinions.
However, despite deep ethical ramifications of strictly monitoring the Web, the foremost concern of this ‘solution’ is its efficacy—Will trading all autonomy of thought and action online actually yield some figment of benefit? The answer, of course, Is a resounding no. The reasons for this are numerous and valuable, for they provide the necessary insight to curtail real and valid sources of extremism.
First of all, let’s start at the way in which extremist doctrine is disseminated. Before the tech explosion of the late 1980s, extremism was strictly confined to meetings, pamphlets, and loudspeakers. Despite these shortfalls, extremism successfully thrived, even in places devoid of any feasible communication infrastructure, like Afghanistan. Even today, the country is plagued by a terror threat despite only having 7.8% Internet penetration, portraying that communication over the Internet is not a prevailing factor in extremism. Similar cases are to be made for even earlier extremist organisations: left wing terror groups during the 1970s in Italy gained support via the usage of student and labour organisations, causing great civil unrest and destruction; the Red Army Faction in Germany during the same period had their radicalisation attributed to mostly written communication in books by Marxist writers like Mao Zedong and the emerging Frankfurt School philosophy. These cases illustrate that there is a great number of ways in which a fringe group may manifest itself independent of communication via the Internet.
Indeed, the Internet is merely a catalyst to extremist activity, speeding up the rate at which it emerges and fizzles into obscurity. Yes, the Internet does provide a greater audience to an extremist group, but it does not necessarily engage in radicalising a person’s mindset; instead, it merely collects those that have already been radicalised by speakers or literature, like a vacuum cleaner for gunmen. Hence, one can boldly conclude that the swift disposal of digital freedoms is not a setback to the cultivation of radical ideology, but rather only a means to curb recruitment of those already indoctrinated into it.
For the issue of indoctrination, the solution is more complex than what blunt instruments of state intervention can offer. Extremism has a great variety of sources, some of which we know, and some which we haven’t yet imagined. The important step, however, is starting to act upon the knowledge we do have, intervening in places we know to be harbours of extremist thought. For instance, to tackle Islamic extremism, one would consider an increased grip on mosques, prisons, and primarily Muslim neighbourhoods, where extremism consistently is shown to find a safe place to fester. This could be seen in a considerable number of instances: after the November attack in Paris, which saw one of the attackers find safe refuge inside a Muslim neighbourhood; and before the Westminster attack in March this year, which likely would have never happened if prisons were monitored a trifle more.
Another point of disagreement to the usage of mass surveillance pertains to the massive volume of data the government is seeking to obtain. This is a great disadvantage to anyone wishing to effectively detect potential terrorist activity, as an overbearing amount of data can very easily cover up any actual threats to national security. With thousands of messages to hundreds of different people by every person, it becomes virtually impossible to identify and tackle a threat in good time. Notably, this problem has manifested itself within the NSA in the United States, wherein the agency had hold of so much data, that it was impossible to properly assess and prevent oncoming threats.
In addition, the authority of the state to access so much data this easily also poses a threat to those who do no wrong, as the Conservatives have proposed forcing companies to weaken their security, for the purpose of giving the government a front door to your information. This is a particularly grave danger, as it disregards the idea that such weakening of security would allow criminals, as well as government agencies, to access personal data. This could result in innumerable instances of fraud, identity theft, and other acts of criminal malice, all in the name of security. Such a project, in terms of contradiction, scores just short of an oxymoron.
Based on these faults I can assert confidently that the legislation proposed for Internet monitoring is not only ineffective, but outright hazardous to the safety and wellbeing of the British public. It endangers freedom as we recognise it, it endangers our national security as it stands, and it exposes us to additional threats that would be non-existent in its absence. There is zero justification for what this plan wishes to initiate, and its mere presence in Conservative proposals should be a matter of both deep concern and outrage, as it is a case of national policy acting to control, rather than aid the British people. In the face of adverse danger, a government’s duty is to protect its people. Alas, the implementation of this proposal will only act to exacerbate the danger we already inhabit. In this case, the government is the danger.