Should we privilege digital privacy over national security?
I will be speaking on whether or not we should consider privacy over national security from the perspective of the European Union. First, we will look at how digital privacy and national security is in the status quo and then what the effect of privileging digital privacy would be. This topic piqued my interest because of the unfortunate terrorist attacks that have occurred right here in the past year. I specifically chose this discussion after finding out from some brief research that the US and EU have very closely intertwined surveillance systems, thus leading me to wonder what the effect of the EU’s perspective would be.
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Currently, the stance of the EU is that personal data should only be processed where it isn’t reasonably feasible to carry out the processing in another manner. According to Statista, Terror attacks in the EU have remained stagnant despite the large efforts made to decrease them. The Washington post furthers, that deaths per month from terrorist attacks have slowly been increasing in Europe. With the constant advancement of technology, anti-terrorism efforts will always get better. Unfortunately, they also may get worse because of this uncontrollable advancement.
Furthermore, Newsweek reports that over 220 million pieces of metadata are collected per day in just Germany alone. Thus, the William Davidson Institute writes that digital privacy in the EU is essentially non-existent. One reason they are in a position to collect such large amounts of data is that of a law that allows them to force companies to store communication data. Unfortunately, according to Forbes, these practices actually break the laws of mass surveillance, violating the basic privacy of citizens.
Ever since the September 11 attacks, the US has been on high guard in order to try to prevent any future terrorist attacks. According to Reuters, the EU has stepped up in a similar way, as they often copy much of the surveillance methods used by the American NSA. In fact, Pierre Berthelet of The Conversation writes in 2017 that the EU has ramped up data collection, has attempted to coordinate strategy better, and has increased cooperation with international bodies in an attempt to decrease terrorism. Unfortunately, all of these have direct implications in increasing the amount of data collected and the availability of that data.
The EFF reports in 2017, that mass surveillance has almost no national security purposes. This is because “Traditional national security threats… are now “privatized” through terrorist networks”. Because of this, an increase in data collection and surveillance would actually be very harmful for national security. Unfortunately, methods of surveillance all over the world use very “rudimentary tools” against these attacks. Because of this, much surveillance and collection of data on the part of governments under the EU become quite useless and just an invasion of privacy. In fact, according to Slate in 2014, surveillance is so ineffective that it makes the jobs of security services much more difficult, all the while making us less secure.
There are three reasons for this being true. First, is that even if a security system has a false positive rate of 1 in 1000 – which no security technology comes anywhere near—every time you asked it for suspects in the U.K. it would flag 60,000 innocent people. Second, is that terrorist attacks are often very different from each other, making them very hard to predict, as anti-terror technology won’t be able to recognize a pattern between attacks. Third, is that anyone deciding whether or not something matches the criteria for a terrorist attack would have a wild amount of bias affecting their opinion, making any manual anti-terror operations unreliable. Because of these anti-terror methods, not only are they ineffective, but they waste trillions of dollars in funding that could go elsewhere.
Problematically, cyberterrorism is yet another issue that will hinder the effectiveness of anti-terror measures. If history shows anything, it is very possible that data may be accessed by a party that should not have that access. Because of this, data collection may sometimes even be a disadvantage, as terrorists may be able to get the collected data and use it to their advantage. The Data Center Journal explains, that this is because with more data, there are more people that need to gain access to secure data in order to properly manage it, thus making it less secure and more prone to attacks. This is extremely problematic for the EU, as Jon Peha of Carnegie Mellon University explains that these data breaches make government infrastructure extremely vulnerable to attacks, which have the possibility to disrupt the whole of the population
In order to increase security and prevent terror in the EU, there are two very promising solutions. First, they must invest more in resilience. According to the European Free Alliance, trillions of dollars have been wasted on anti-terror military programs that could be used much more effectively. In fact, the Radicalisation Awareness Network suggests that “for each euro spent in security measures and external operations, one should be spent on social cohesion, violence prevention and education programs.” This is largely because according to the Journal of Conflict Resolution, education creates more educated people, which discourages terrorism. The New York Times quantifies, that formal education leads to a 16% decrease in the likelihood that kids would get themselves involved in violence. However, they continue in saying this education must also coincide with civic engagement like volunteering and after school activities. Another possible solution would be to get to the root of terror by preventing the financing of terrorist groups. This can be done by following suspicious transactions of money as well as “tightening the rules on virtual currency platforms and anonymous prepaid cards.” This would be especially effective, as it has a direct effect on terrorism.
The current anti-terror methods in the EU seem to have no effect at the moment even though large amounts of data are collected. This is extremely bad, because any increase in data collection will further the likelihood of a data breach, which would be detrimental to their infrastructure, but would also continue to waste money on inefficient tools. The prioritization of digital privacy will have many effects on the citizens of the European Union not only socially, but also economically, as it would better privacy while also being more economical with spending. With the large amounts of money saved in doing this, terrorism can be fought even more effectively by either increasing rates of formal education or by tightening restrictions on anonymous currencies.
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