The recent revelations from Wikileaks‘ Vault 7 cache of CIA documents caused an uproar in the U.S. and abroad. Citizens and governments were outraged to learn that the CIA had developed the ability to hack into literally every internet-connected device, from your phone to your smart TV, and violate anyone’s privacy rights. While the official government stance on the leaks is one of anger, they’ve also done their due diligence to excuse themselves and make the argument of security over liberty.
While many in the libertarian-right would rather liberty than security, it is not the way most Americans actually feel. Most Americans, and most people for that matter, would rather trade some liberty for security than face the unknown threats of the world. However, while Americans have given up their liberty, it doesn’t seem to have resulted in any greater security.
It isn’t just the NSA and CIA that have invaded people’s personal emails, phone calls, texts, and the like. Governments around the world use similar technologies and tactics to spy on their citizens. Britain has it’s MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service), China has the MSS (Ministry of State Security), and France has the DGSE (Directorate-General for External Security). Yet despite the efforts of these intelligence agencies to protect their citizens, it seems they fail over and over again.
This weekend a man held a female soldier hostage inside Orly Airport in Paris, France. Luckily the man was killed before he could take anyone’s life, but he managed to shout that he was “here to die in the name of Allah”, which immediately raised eyebrows and an investigation began. Was this man a terrorist? Was he a Syrian refugee? Was the event inspired or ordered by ISIS?
The man, Ziyed Ben Belgacem, was not a member of any terrorist organization and was actually a French-born citizen. He was, however, already being monitored by French intelligence. His home had been raided after the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks and he was suspected of having radical Islamic leanings. The French government knew of Belgacem before he attacked, and did nothing to stop it.
This event just adds to the list of terrorist attacks committed by people who were already being watched. The FBI knew about the Orlando shooter. They knew about the San Bernardino shooters prior to that attack as well. If the intelligence community insists on spying on U.S. citizens, shouldn’t they actually use the information they gather?
The trade off of liberty for security is one that many will agree to make, but in the wake of more and more terrorist attacks across the western world, one must ask if giving up liberty actually means gaining security. Thus far, Americans have given up their right not to be spied on, not to have their cell phone data collected, and not to have their names put on watch-lists just for visiting certain websites. What have Americans received from their intelligence community in exchange?