The threat of terrorism has always hung over the heads of all countries in the world, especially western nations. However, with the surge of terrorist attacks plaguing countries in recent years, there have been calls for individual States to assume a larger role, and to do whatever it takes to eliminate the threat of terrorism. This implies that States should have unrestricted authority, even allowing them to conduct practices that are at the moment, unlawful.
While the State rightfully labours to keep the general populace safe, removing critical restraints on government power grants the State leave to tap on vast intelligence resources like wiretaps and government sanctioned encryption backdoors. The consequential abuse of power by the police state constitutes a threat to good citizens and would ultimately ruin the nation. Even if more power allowed significant headway in tackling terrorism, exchanging an external threat for an internal threat would do the nation no good.
Conversely, having complete power might allow for more comprehensive counter-terrorism efforts.
If legal and constitutional checks on government power were lifted, the State would be free to disregard human rights such as freedom of movement and freedom of association that are currently being exploited by terrorist groups, which often operate covertly in small, loosely, organized cells. Selective and appropriate restrictions on individual rights and freedoms are but a small cost in comparison to the disasters that could be wreaked by these terrorist cells. (Counter with zero risk bias)
The Internal Security Act (ISA) of Singapore is a polarising policy, with some claiming it infringes on the privacy of citizens and its detention processes are not transparent. However, the ISA has been quite instrumental in detecting terrorist activities, such as detaining a 22-year-old woman in July 2017 who was radicalized, wanting to be a “martyr’s widow” for ISIS, and 2 more men in September for “intending to undertake armed violence overseas” with ISIS.
Given the real threat terrorism poses to the country, the State ought to do everything in its power to defend the nation against impending terrorist plots, including expanding the number of options with which to deal with any threats.
On the other hand, operating without heed to international guidelines will inevitably cause States to rely on inhumane treatment towards alleged terrorists as an intelligence tactic.
Elaboration: Under the justification of a “ticking time bomb”, the State will begin to endorse the doctrine of “dirty hands”, and turn to torture tactics and degrading treatment to extract information, a dangerous path to arbitrary and excessive cruelty. Furthermore, individuals under duress will say whatever it takes save themselves, even falsities. The intelligence gained will thus be unreliable.
Guantanamo Bay is infamous for its poor living conditions for its prisoners, who are alleged terrorists incarcerated by the USA. The suspects are tortured during interrogation which tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and even force-fed when they go on hunger strikes. A 2013 Institute on Medicine as a Profession report concluded that health professionals working with the military and intelligence services were even ordered to ignore ethical standards during involvement in abusive interrogation. While the camp has been widely criticized by international humans’ right organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, the camp remains open, with officers who operate the camp facing no charges for their gross act of crimes against humanity.
Link: Hence, total power endowed to the State leads to repressive policies and indiscriminate violation of human rights, and may even produce counter-productive results.
The State, with unlimited power, can direct discrimination and persecution towards a particular ethnic group. As a whole, this can amount to the breakdown of a cohesive society.
Ethnicities which are largely Muslim have been targeted and branded as terrorists, facing discrimination in their home countries. This has also been translated into policies, where certain ethnicities have been disadvantaged because of their religious background which is affiliated with terrorism. This is inequitable and is a social ill that the government is promoting.
Racial profiling and arbitrary searching against ethnicities with Muslim descent, especially at airports and public areas is a form of discrimination and causes tensions between races. Donald Trump and other right wing populist parties have been targeting immigrants particularly from the middle east, calling them a terrorist threat, resulting in the Travel Ban on 7 Muslim countries.
States should not have the power to impose widespread prejudice while being exempt from consequences.
Draconian responses including over surveillance can infringe on the privacy of its citizens, and even the privacy of other nations.
By having unfettered access to data, the State threatens the sovereignty of other nations, and tramples the fundamental right to privacy of individuals.
Leaks from whistle blower intelligence agent Edward Snowden has revealed Singapore has conducted intelligence tapping on the SEA-ME-WE-3 internet cable allowing secret access to Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s communications data. Singapore’s Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act has also been amended to let the government compel organizations to do pre-emptive surveillance.
Government surveillance make citizens feel uneasy, even if it is for a good cause. A Reuters survey in 2017 reported that 75% of adults said they would not let investigators tap into their Internet activity to help the U.S. combat terrorism.
Furthermore, these efforts are futile, considering that terrorist organizations usually use end-to-end encrypted messaging systems, such as Telegram, to communicate.
Therefore, having unrestricted access to online data not only does not nip the problem in the bud, but causes mistrust between the State and its citizens.
While the threat of terrorism grows, so does the fear of governments worldwide. This translates to a desire for greater control over its citizens and a heightened need to improve its intelligence on terrorist networks. Nonetheless, the State should not be given complete power to unleash its plans to clamp down on terrorism, as it allows for inhumane and illegal activities to be carried out with impunity, under the name of preventing terrorist attacks. States should not have the power to use fear-mongering tactics to have unrestrained authority over its citizens. Instead, there should be other organizations and an awareness that allows for check and balances against the State’s power.