Paris attacks exploited to justify totalitarian crackdown on and offline | What's Left

The aftermath of shock and terror has long been used by the state to push regressive policies that further concentrate power and wealth. One of the most effective means by which to counter such concentrations of power is through broad private and public dissemination of knowledge. It should be no surprise then, that governments (and corporations) throughout history have sought to intercept and monitor any information that could pose a challenge to their totalitarianism.

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The advent of electronic communications has resulted in two important developments. First, new forms of advanced encryption that allow communication to be private and secure. Second, a centralized concentration of information systems that make it easier for those in power to intercept and scrutinize. As Edward Snowden revealed, many governments have gone to extreme lengths to break or circumvent any mechanisms used to keep communications private, against state and corporate enemies alike. Ironically, these same governments are desperate to obscure their actions from the public.

As in the past, attacks like those in Paris are quickly and often easily exploited as excuses to expand and intensify the intrusion on private communications. Every attack is used to promote the message that people will not be safe until the State (and their private contractors) can intercept, catalogue, and examine every word, picture, and video being communicated. The drumbeat of war and terrorism is expertly used to silence those who advocate for measured and thoughtful responses, those who resist the racist, reactionary policies that have so often stained history. Historical and fact-based responses (highlighted most recently in the left by UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn) are denounced and replaced with panicked shrieking from talking heads in corporate media who attempt to justify the dangers of privacy.

Following the most recent attacks in Paris, these apologists for totalitarianism have been practically salivating about the need to eliminate encryption and provide governments with complete access to everyone’s communications. Daily, the media regurgitates the argument that these attacks could have been prevented, if only state security services had not been prevented from reading encrypted communications.

But this is misleading and false.

The truth is, the attackers were not anonymous criminals hiding using sophisticated technology. Most were petty criminals already known to police and communicating through unencrypted text messages and phone calls to coordinate their plans. Text messages are one of the easiest forms of communication to tap, and a standard warrant would have been (and was in fact) granted for the surveillance of these criminals.

The evidence from this and previous attacks shows that well-proven investigative techniques being used by standard police officers continue to be a more effective use of public money than the expensive and unrestricted technologies of mass surveillance advocated by state security services.

In addition to these attacks on privacy and free electronic speech, the French government has also taken the opportunity to clamp down on free speech at the Paris climate talks. While large sporting events, concerts, and other gatherings of mass consumption have been deemed important for demonstrating Freedom™ and a return to normalcy, all public marches and demonstrations around the climate summit have been banned. Such public gatherings are critical contributions to the discourse around the summit. It is through these gatherings that those most deeply impacted by climate change are most likely to be heard.

The worlds of climate change and war are not isolated. It is well understood that terrorism is a symptom of perceived and real desperation – both social and economic – making recruitment easier for these criminal organizations. It is no coincidence that those parts of the world most vulnerable to exploitation, oppression, and violence are also those that have suffered so dramatically (and often silently) at the hands of global capitalism and climate change. It shouldn’t be forgotten that, in 2004, even the Pentagon was arguing that climate change was a greater threat than terrorism.

Socialists need to cut through the nonsense and respond critically to the far-right tendency of ever increasing oppressive state control. Communities must be reminded that attacks such as those in Paris have occurred many times before. History has shown that further totalitarian crack-downs and military actions only assist those who profit from division and stigma. There must be a greater effort at improving the lives of those who have been left to suffer in the wake of capitalism and climate change – not just in Paris but in every corner of the world. Only by standing in solidarity with each other will we be effective in preventing further suffering, hate, and violence.

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