In last week’s Trouw, former junior defence minister Jack de Vries states that citizens should renounce their right to privacy in order to create a safer society. He’s not the first to trot out this demonstrably fallacious nonsense, says Micha Mos.
To support his claim De Vries cites three arguments which are untrue, ridiculous and dangerous respectively. His first (untrue) is that the government has the right ‘to use whatever means they have to secure our safety [..] A safe society depends on the willingness of its citizens to renounce their right to privacy’. De Vries suggests the government can guarantee our safety (untrue) and that a random collection of data among the population increases safety (untrue).
This comes with an implied slur that people who refuse to sacrifice their right to privacy are endangering the lives of others. They are fifth columnists whose dislike of cameras and directional microphones is opening the door to terrorism.
His second argument (ridiculous) is that as we’re already being scrutinised online by businesses for marketing purposes it would be hypocritical to deny the government the same privilege. De Vries has obviously not thought this one through.
Firstly, government authorities and companies do not have the same level of accountability. Secondly, De Vries takes it for granted that every citizen/consumer knows he’s being spied on and is fine with it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not for nothing do we have European and national rules designed to protect citizens from all this information gathering. Nevertheless De Vries thinks it would be a good thing if the government behaved in exactly the same way: ‘The government at least is trying to ensure our safety.’
De Vries’ final argument (dangerous) is a classic circular argument: when our safety is at stake, transparency – in this case knowing your e-mails are being read – becomes obsolete because our safety is at stake. This effectively sidelines the state of law: if safety is the highest good, only effectively safeguarded by giving carte blanche to our security forces, why stop there? Why not lock people up without a trial? Why have a free press? If torture yields valuable information in the battle against terrorism, then torture it is.
It cannot be denied that preventing terrorist attacks is forcing governments to make tough choices but De Vries’ suggestion is based on fear, uses stealth as a means and will inevitably end in a state of law without laws, a society which lives in fear of its government, a society which will never feel safe again.
Micha Mos is member of the Amsterdam Centre city council for GroenLinks.
This article appeared earlier in Trouw
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