The right to privacy and the fight against terrorism

A few issues, such as terrorism and the resulting "war on terror", have been at the center of global attention since the beginning of the millennium .

September 11 changed the world, as we all know. Sadly, the terrorist attacks - whether of domestic origin or of any matrix - multiplied in the following years. 

As terrorism has become one of the main threats - if not the main threat - for every country, national security strategies to counter the phenomenon have become increasingly important.

In fact, countering the threat of terrorism has become a key point on the international agenda: in 2006 all the member states of the United Nations agreed to coordinate their respective counter-terrorism efforts, in order to actually organize a global strategy.

This agreement stressed the necessity to ensure the protection of human rights and the rule of law in the fight against terror. 

This point is of particular interest since, unfortunately, too often we have witnessed the violation of human rights in this context.

It's worth asking the question, can we accept these violations since they are defined as necessary for our safety?

Among the human rights that have been violated in attempt to achive "security" are the prohibition of discrimination and torture, and the protection of privacy -all recognized and safeguarded by regional and international conventions.

In this neverending fight against terrorism, one of the main focuses of states has been - and still is- the collection of citizens' data. The spread of the internet and of new global media, such as social networks, has created new organization and opportunities for terrorist groups, and at the same time made it possible for governments to monitor and collect data from every citizen.

Numerous governments have in fact, more or less secretly, put in place an intense surveillance system of national and international communications, supporting the absolute need for such measures to combat the phenomenon of terrorism.

Concerns about the protection of privacy are well founded, especially since several problems arise from the collection of data. First of all, data and privacy vulnerabilities could be exploited by anyone. Secondly, although certain individuals or groups are more "targeted" than others - and therefore the question of discrimination is added - anyone becomes a potential suspect. There is also the question of the balance and the control of powers: is there control by the judiciary in this case?

We might be used to the idea that our data are collected and our lives are essentially controlled, but there must be awareness that this means a limitation and violation of rights and freedom of citizens, and this cannot be normalized. The thesis that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", cannot be valid as a justification for the violation itself.

Justifying the violation of these rights and freedoms, which are what tend to make our life safer, with the assertion that it is for our safety, is at least a contradiction.

The news regarding the collection of data and communications - therefore of the violation of the rights and freedoms of citizens - are manifold. For example, in 2013 Edward Snowden, a former CIA technician who had also worked for the NSA (the US National Security Agency), leaked confidential documents, revealing that the Five Eyes (the alliance between the intelligence services of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) had long been engaged in mass surveillance activities.

Surveillance has been called essential to the goal of security, but while there is the possibility - and not the certainty - that we are all safer from terrorist attacks, whether they are domestic or perpetrated by international terrorist organizations, we are all always less secure with regard to data, privacy and the freedom associated with them.

Another important example is France and, more specifically, the law of June 24, 2015, which essentially affirmed security as a goal and mass surveillance as a mean.

In recent years France has been shaken by terrorist attacks several times, as have other European and non-European nations, and since these events, citizens have lived in a state of permanent restlessness and alert. Following the Paris attack in January 2015, the authorities have -once again- stressed the insecurity.

The main characteristic of the terror threath is its unpredictability and indiscrimination, and therefore it is - undoubtedly - necessary to prevent it. However the difference between a democracy and authoritary state is the law and the safeguard of freedoms and rights of citizens. 

A key point is represented by the fact that the hunt for data, carried out in an undifferentiated way on the whole population, no longer occurs following the authorization of a judge.

The data collection nowadays benefits from a form of voluntary submission, but it cannot be naive or unconscious. The main objective of the state is to ensure the safety of citizens, meaning any security

The liberal democracy recognize an important value in individual freedoms and their guarantee; limiting the private life of citizens by justifying a situation of constant danger, is also dangerous. The threat is that of a state of mass surveillance, a dystopia that becomes reality.

All these considerations lead to various questions and issues, especially with respect to the balance between national security - more precisely counter-terrorism - and the safeguarding of the rule of law, human rights and freedoms, which are essential in every nation - and which in particular should be preserved in democracy - as much as citizens' safety against violence and terror.

Will states, especially democracies, continue to repudiate their fundamental values ​​and the fundamental rights of their citizens in the fight against terrorism?

Translated by Valeria Pasquali

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  • L'Autore

    Greta Thierry

    Greta Thierry vive in provincia di Pavia. Ha conseguito la laurea triennale in Scienze Politiche e Relazioni Internazionali presso l'Università degli Studi di Pavia e attualmente è al termine della Laurea Magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali, curriculum International Cooperation and Human Rights, presso l'Università degli Studi di Milano.
    L'ampio interesse per le relazioni internazionali e i diritti umani, le ha permesso - tra le altre cose - di entrare in contatto con Mondo Internazionale Post, dove ricopre il ruolo di autrice per l'area tematica Diritti Umani, nonché i ruoli di revisore e traduttrice.


From the World Sections Human Rights International Security Society 2030 Agenda Peace, justice and strong institutions


Privacy anti-terrorism invidivual freedom metadatas

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