Monday, October 18, 2021

9/11 ushered in the era of comprehensive citizen surveillance

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In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the feeling of guilt for having failed to intercept Al-Qaida terrorists led the United States and its allies to adopt a new security doctrine, that of global surveillance, to try to anticipate such acts. Against the backdrop of the Internet revolution and the digitization of our lives, this decision has upset the relationship between citizens and states – without guaranteeing zero risk – and ushered in the era of the massive collection of personal data. name of the fight against terrorism.

It took more than ten years for opinions and even parliamentarians to become aware of the existence of these tools and of their use by governments having acted in the utmost secrecy. In 2013, Edward Snowden, ex-contractor of the American National Security Agency (NSA), one of the linchpins of the design of this planetary surveillance, revealed its true face and its impact on our democracies: the right to privacy has receded there, and national sovereignties have been weakened by the international intelligence community, erected as a first bulwark against threats.

Read also September 11, 2001-2021: the disruption of the world

The meeting of intelligence and the technological revolution of communications, explains Snowden, offered states an unparalleled power of intrusion into private lives. For the NSA, the list of telephone numbers, Internet connection addresses or credit card payments is much more interesting than the content of conversations. The collection of this so-called technical data, or even “metadata”, he says, is similar “To a continuous census”. It does not matter whether messages or call mentions have been deleted, it does not alter the file in any way. Gold, much of the surveillance systems built by democracies rely on this metadata and its storage.

A gap between law and technology

These mass surveillance systems have functioned for a long time without any real legal framework. States – still flabbergasted by the attacks of September 11 – have favored the spirit of revenge over the law. They broke down legal barriers, which had been adopted to protect personal data before the Internet age, and put in place, from the 2010s, more flexible frameworks so as not to restrict the immense technical capacities of intelligence. At the end of 2012, the Australian and British governments made it compulsory to register telephone and Internet metadata. For democratic societies, this is a first: the examination of events in the past life of any citizen is authorized.

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