I first addressed this question three years ago in my seldom-updated Geek Gripes blog in response to Deb Shinder’s editorial piece in Issue #285 of WXP News. With increasing evidence that terrorists are using our networks for nefarious purposes, the issue continues to be relevant. Shinder had this to say in her original piece:
Certainly none of us want to make it easier for terrorists to accomplish their missions – but I can’t help wondering where an all-out effort to do away with everything that might aid the bad guys will lead us. After all, it’s well documented that terrorists also use cell phones and email to further their plotting. Does that mean we should shut down those communications systems, as well?
If you think about it, it’s a slippery slope. Do you take away tools that have valuable legitimate uses by law abiding citizens just because criminals can use them to commit crimes? That’s the premise of gun control laws, but in the U.S., those laws have had dismal success records. Do we really want to extend that philosophy to Internet sites and services?
Deb is not proposing such action, of course (she’s way too level-headed to suggest such a thing); she’s asking the hard questions. But there are even harder questions to ask, questions that go well beyond restricting communication lines, and I’m not shy when it comes to speaking out against further restrictions to our liberty based upon some perceived threat. These questions may seem extreme, but use your imagination. How bad could it get?
Terrorists have to eat; do we refuse to sell food to anyone on a terrorist watch list? Does the government take over food distribution? Terrorists drive motor vehicles; does every driver have to be pre-screened before getting a license and then “approved” to buy a vehicle? Will farmers, who use nitrate fertilizers capable of being turned into explosives, be subject to purchase limits based on the number of acres they farm? After all, a terrorist posing as a farmer could buy tons of the stuff and then blow up half a town.
Anything a “normal” human being does or uses in the course of day-to-day living would also be done or used by a terrorist; they are, after all, human beings, too.
I’ll tell you where an all-out effort to do away with everything that might aid the bad guys will lead us: a total police state–your every move monitored, every purchase you make subject to scrutiny and/or approval, every communication medium you use monitored 24/7, everything you say subject to interpretation by Homeland Security. The whole country would be a prison, a guard at every street corner, dusk-to-dawn curfews in force, shopping and visits with friends and family monitored and subject to time limits.
Any atrocity you can imagine would be possible–and likely. It would make the dystopia depicted in George Orwell’s novel, “1984,” seem like utopia.
What do you think?