The manufactured threat of terrorism has once again been used to push what would otherwise be unthinkable. In this case, the United Nations is exploiting the irrational fear of terrorism to justify international internet surveillance.
In a new 148-page UN report released at a conference in Vienna entitled “The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes” the UN claimed that the lack of an “internationally agreed framework for retention of data” is problematic along with open wireless internet networks in public places.
The UN claims that terrorists are utilizing social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread what they call “propaganda.” This perspective is somewhat similar to that presented by groups like the Homeland Security Policy Institute in claiming that a major threat is the “spread of the [terrorist] entity’s narrative.”
This notion is quite dangerous because the nature of this “propaganda” or “narrative” is never clearly outlined. Instead, the door is left open to call anything and everything that is different from the manufactured government account of various events “propaganda” or something which spreads the enemy’s “narrative.”
“Potential terrorists use advanced communications technology often involving the Internet to reach a worldwide audience with relative anonymity and at a low cost,” said Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The report draws some apparently unwarranted conclusions, such as that “one of the major problems confronting all law enforcement agencies is the lack of an internationally agreed framework for retention of data held by ISPs.”
In other words, the UN thinks that one of the greatest problems facing the world in terms of fighting crime is a lack of internet surveillance.
Some countries already have data retention laws which mandate the retention of data for a certain period of time, regardless of any criminal activity.
While CNET notes, “Europe, but not the U.S. or most other nations, has enacted a mandatory data-retention law,” in reality the U.S does indeed retain huge amounts of data on Americans without any link to criminal or terrorist activity.
This is evidenced by the rules adopted by the National Counterterrorism Center which “allow private data on Americans to be held when there is no suspicion of them being tied to terrorism for a whopping five years.”
While it is true that there isn’t a mandatory data retention law as such, it does not mean that guidelines are not in place which mandate the retention of the private information of Americans without any probable cause whatsoever.
Then again, when our government is protected from having to answer for their warrantless surveillance programs, it can’t quite be characterized as surprising.
As CNET correctly points out, this UN report “echoes the U.S. Department of Justice’s lobbying efforts aimed at convincing Congress to require Internet service providers to keep track of their customers — in case police want to review those logs in the future.”
The details of this massive internet surveillance operation are nothing short of disturbing yet the UN’s report calls for even more extreme measures.
The report indicates that they want particular websites like instant messaging services, chatrooms, VoIP services like Skype, etc. to actually maintain detailed records of “communication over the Internet such as chat room postings.”
Even CNET points out that this actually goes far beyond the proposed U.S. legislation which only focuses on the actual providers of broadband and wireless internet services.
The UN’s report calls for “Requiring registration for the use of Wi-Fi networks or cybercafes could provide an important data source for criminal investigations.”
“There is some doubt about the utility of targeting such measures at Internet cafes only when other forms of public Internet access (e.g. airports, libraries and public Wi-Fi hotspots) offer criminals (including terrorists) the same access opportunities and are unregulated,” the report continues, indicating that they would want monitoring on all public internet access points.
The report also promotes the retention of location data which they claim “is also important when used by law enforcement to exclude suspects from crime scenes and to verify alibis.”
Location data requests are already disturbingly high and with the Obama administration claiming that the Constitution does not protect location data, this type of recommendation from the UN is worrisome.
Also consider the fact that scientists have demonstrated the ability to accurately predict future movements based on location data and new microchip technology can make ultra-precise location data even easier to obtain, making the prospect of retention of location data that much more troubling.
Oddly enough, the report even claims that video footage of terrorism and/or video games are also somehow dangerous.
“Video footage of violent acts of terrorism or video games developed by terrorist organizations that simulate acts of terrorism and encourage the user to engage in role-play, by acting the part of a virtual terrorist,” the report states.
The report also calls on “governments [to] provide a clear legal basis for the obligations placed on private sector parties, including […] how the cost of providing such capabilities is to be met.”
In other words, the UN wants governments around the world to create laws which would clearly outline how companies will be forced to essentially conduct surveillance for the government and how they will pay for such measures.
Interestingly, the report was published in collaboration with the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force. This group includes members like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Health Organization and Interpol.