We will not give up our freedom (Part One)

2 February 2015

Two days after the horrific terrorist attack on “Charlie Hebdo” and a kosher market in Paris, around 1.5 million people gathered on the Place de la République for a funeral march and a rally for freedom of expression and the press. It was an impressive return to the French nation’s values. Citizens were united by the bond of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Sumptuous images of European leaders marching in show of solidarity with the people on the street lit up television screens throughout the world. The truth emerged afterwards that the crème de la crème of European politics had gathered for photo shoot an hour before the official demonstration for freedom (of speech) at the nearby Place Léon Blum, which was hermetically sealed off by security forces. The photos from the shoot were later inserted in the footage of the funeral march with the huge crowd. Rarely has there been a more “fitting” symbol of the cynicism of politicians. It was right in line with Oscar Wilde’s infamous definition of cynicism as “the art of seeing things as they are, not as they ought to be.”

As the events in Paris show, freedom – that fundamental principle of European democracy – has already politically eroded in many regards. Europeans themselves are often conscious of it only in extreme situations.

Just a week after the massacre, the editors of “Charlie Hebdo” has succeeded in publishing the “Survivors’ Edition” in the amount of 7 million copies worldwide- The financing of this unique journalistic tour de force came from many sources. Google has exploited the barbaric inferno of terror that took place in Paris to its best advantage, turning it into a perfectly staged marketing ploy. 250 thousand U.S. dollars came from the “Digital Publishing Innovation Fund,” which Google launched at a value of 60 million euros in 2013 to deter the French government from taking legal action against its unlawful publication of news snippets from French publishers. Their claim: “Extraordinary events require extraordinary measures.”

Google’s support, while selfishly motivated, nevertheless did some good: donations of similar amounts from French media groups such as Le Monde, France Télévisions and Radio France came in its wake, press distribution companies, led by MLP, waived their commissions and the daily newspaper Liberation granted Charlie Hebdo’s staff the use of its editorial offices. Only as such could the French press have accomplished this “amazing coup de grace,” the magazine Der Spiegel reported.

As a previously unknown southern Frenchman - Jean-Baptiste Bullet - heaped scorn upon the assassins in a viral chanson that drew on the international momentum of the “Je suis Charlie” movement to take YouTube by storm, Europe’s political elite very quickly began harnessing fear of Islamist terror to orchestrate its vision of a global surveillance state.

Yet, while some politicians were paying lip service to the sanctity of freedom of expression in Europe, the Hungarian Viktor Orban was already busy proclaiming the death of multiculturalism from the sidelines. It should thus come as no surprise that once the governmental heads and ministers of justice and the interior had departed the scene in their armoured vehicles, they went right back to business as usual.

The tone shifted towards tightening security on every imaginable front. Accordingly, talk surfaced of revising the “data retention policy,” which the European Court of Justice had overturned last year due to the disproportionality of mass surveillance in relation to civil liberties. The total, non-event-driven and unprovoked retention of citizens’ data collected from every channel of electronic communication is not an adequate means of preventing politically or religiously motivated violence. MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who had a major role in shaping European data protection reform legislation, shares this view. Authorities were well familiar with the Parisian attackers and their ties to radical Islamist groups. However, as with 9/11, the extremists managed to plunge into anonymity after a long period of inconspicuousness and thus escape the attention of the security agencies. Data retention, in any case, which is still a practice in France, failed to stop the attacks from occurring.

The greed of the European security apparatuses, however, was far from satisfied. Thanks to the ambitions of some European ministers of the interior, what has long been the case in exchange with the U.S. – namely, access to flight data (PNR = passenger name record) – is now also to apply to intra-European flights. In addition, policymakers are so committed to their “war on terror” that they will not even be deterred from introducing ID checks within the Schengen Area. There is also discussion of establishing a pan-European intelligence agency. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron vehemently propagates banning the encryption of electronic messages of all kinds as a means of bolstering security in Europe. This is by all appearances an early election campaign kick-off event for the Lower House ballot and a means of positioning himself in contrast to Nigel Farage of the UKIP (The UK Independence Party).

For the global syndicate of tech titans and the security apparatuses, which have long since ceased to be subject to checks and balances, the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists in a time of newly awakened resistance within civil society and the economy is a welcome opportunity to implement their Orwellian vision on a global scale. From their point of view, the flexible rule of law and the freedom of the citizenry are at best side thoughts anyway.

Europe’s politicians should take ownership of their situation in the face of these threats to the freedom of their continent and shoot straight from the hip – like in a bad Western spoof – to stop authorities from enforcing further security measures by whatever means necessary. The constitutionally legitimate monitoring and law enforcement measures that we already have in place are enough to combat such threats as international terrorism. What might truly be helpful would be a stronger European involvement in the ICPO (criminal investigation department) or FRONTEX (European Border Guard). However, as so often is the case in Europe, national vanities block the relevant flow of information from occurring. We need political prudence beyond short-term power calculations to maintain the balance between national security requirements and the freedom of the individual in European society. Moreover, on the sidelines of the discussion surrounding security, which has become heated in the wake of the tragic events in Paris, we need to think about how Europe can combat milieu-related impetuses for the recruitment of “soldiers in the holy war,” such as social isolation, poverty, and the absence of job opportunities due to insufficient qualifications. In addition, we must constantly keep in mind as European nations that freedom forms the foundation of our multi-faceted community.

What is now happening in the minds of Europe’s political elite suggests that our freedom is up for grabs. Just like the citizens whom the Paris bombings rudely awakened from their comfortable slumber, politics must recognize the direness of the impending social regression and put the brakes on the growing juggernaut of a surveillance state. It is really up to all of us – citizens, businesses and European governments – to keep freedom alive in Europe through a new redistribution and the best possible protection of our civil society.

In the second part of this blog, I will deal in depth with the subject of encryption. In doing so, I will focus on economic necessity so that Europe’s ambitious technological and social objectives can be achieved by 2020. The transfer of all sensitive data through the disclosure of security keys for state security institutions surely not the way to bring economic progress into harmony with the achievements of civilisation.