Undermining democracy in order to save it

Members of my (baby-boomer) generation will remember the grotesque logic sometimes used by the United States in the Vietnam war when US and South Vietnamese troops declared that they had “to burn villages in order to save them” from the Viet Cong. There’s an element of that kind of logic in the wilder justifications for comprehensive surveillance we’ve laboured under ever since 9/11: we have to undermine democracy in order to save it. In that context, Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute has a very informative blog post on “Lawful Interception Capability Requirements” which concludes with this observation:

The European Court of Human Rights has not previously shied away from dealing with intelligence issues, commenting in Leander v Sweden on ‘the risk that a system of secret surveillance for the protection of national security poses of undermining or even destroying democracy on the ground of defending it’ [Application no. 9248/81]. It is not inconceivable that the UK’s sweeping Internet surveillance activities will be found, as the Court did in S. and Marper with the UK’s National DNA Database, to ‘constitute‚Ķ a disproportionate interference’ with privacy that ‘cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society’.¬†