Will Charlie Hebdo attacks make spying acceptable again?

Will Charlie Hebdo attacks make spying acceptable again?

French Security Forces Respond To Market-Attack

Will the tragedy that unfolded last week in Paris change how the world looks at governments’ efforts to spy on potential terrorists? I pray this horror will remind us that evil exists on a global scale and it seeks to kill us and our families.

But will we rise to the occasion and stop the hand-wringing over the government’s ever watchful eyes and ears?

Specifically, will technology people — folks like you and me — who the public looks to in this debate, become less strident in opposition to the NSA, CIA, FBI and other agencies sworn to protect us as best they know how?

If electronic surveillance that we might have done — but stopped — could have prevented the attacks, would that change anyone’s mind?

I have long said that if reading my email and listening to my calls will help derail a terrorist, please start yesterday. Make sure I never know, but do what you must to safeguard my family and my nation.

For just as long, my privacy-obsessed friends have told me that government cannot be trusted when given access to our personal communications. Yet, government has long had such access and I cannot tell that I am in any way the worse for it.

Prompting change


Will the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent killing of hostages cause people to think a little more clearly about the dangers that confront us?

Might that prompt an assessment that the heroes of the world aren’t the Snowdens and their followers but the tens of thousands whose names we will never know, those who take their oath to “preserve, protect and defend” quite seriously?

French law enforcement, like that in Boston not so long ago, did an excellent job containing the incident. Suppose the terrorists had escaped and simply disappeared? How much more frightened would we be and what might that fear cause?

Something makes me think electronic surveillance helped put a quick end to the incident and that more surveillance, pursued with full legal authority, might have prevented it. Yet, like so much that happens in the shadows, we will never know and should never know.

In a few days, the privacy crazed will again hold sway. During normal times, their arguments sort of make sense, though I remain searching for innocent people our NSA programs have actually damaged.

But today, fresh from the grip of horrific violence that challenges the freedoms we hold most dear, I have to wonder if we aren’t talking personal privacy so seriously that our safety is at stake.

If you are tempted to fire back at me with a wildly misquoted statement from Ben Franklin about liberty and safety, please read TechCrunch’s takedown first.

We have the challenge of living in a world filled with friendly Muslims who mean harm to no one, but with a tiny smattering of killers among them. Better electronic surveillance, carried out in secret, beats more intrusive and up-close-and-personal methods of separating evil from good.

Maybe these attacks will wake up Europe the way 9/11 briefly woke up the U.S. Maybe we will enact reasonable laws that don’t put us at a disadvantage to killers yet protect our freedoms. Maybe the Snowdenistas will take a rest.

Time will tell, but I fear time is not on our side.

(As a personal aside, here is a video of French security storming the supermarket. While we often rightly criticize law enforcement, who else can we turn to for this sort of bravery?)


photo credit: Nick Kenrick. via photopin cc