Network or Nodes?

Canadian media coverage has focused on the recent arrests of seventeen Canadians suspected of planning to detonate bombs in Ontario. In addition to the predictable sensationalist, wildy speculative coverage, which truly was awful, reports of Canada’s electronic surveillance capabilities are emerging.

Police credited Internet surveillance with playing a key role in the recent arrests while simultaneously claiming that the technical sophistication of terrorists requires better technology and less restrictions on wiretaps. In conjunction with electronic eavesdropping, Canadian authorities have been moving away from collecting evidence to use in criminal cases and have been engaging in the “disrupting” suspected groups.

However, the RCMP admit that they have never “sought greater authority to conduct monitoring and surveillance” because in Canada, law enforcement only needs Ministerial approval to engage in wholesale surveillance — not specific calls or emails but broad wholesale monitoring.

The arrests come at a time when Canad’s “Anti-Terrorism Act” is set to be renewed by Parliament. Despite the fact that many of the new powers granted law enforcement were never used law enforcement and major news media in Canada want the Act renewed.

As Gwynne Dyer points out in one of the few dissenting articles in this country the rationale behind the need for these increased powers is fundamentally flawed. The case for increased surveillance powers to protect Canadians is based on the presumption of an international terrorist network when in fact the threat is from small, isolated nodes:

Any terrorist attack on Canada is bound to be homegrown, because there is no shadowy but powerful network of international Islamist terrorists waging a war against the West. There are isolated small groups of extremists who blow things up once in a while. There are Web sites and other media through which they can exchange ideas and techniques, but there is no headquarters, no chain of command, no organization that can be defeated, dismantled, and destroyed…

The contrast between the received wisdom—that the world, or at least the West, is engaged in a titanic, unending struggle against a terrorist organisation of global reach—and the not very impressive reality is so great that most people in the West believe the official narrative rather than the evidence of their own eyes. There must be a major terrorist threat; otherwise, the government is wrong or lying, the intelligence agencies are wrong or self-serving, the media are fools or cowards, and the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with fighting terrorism.

The expansion of increased surveillance technology and powers while decreasing the amount of oversight is a threat to the civil liberties and privacy of Canadians. The fact that fear is exploited to push these powers through is deplorable.

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