HumanIPO reporters Paul Adepoju and Richard Cutcher debate the issues.
The case for: Paul Adepoju
On November 10, 2010, British Police arrested Bilal Zaheer Ahmad, a Briton who solicited
murder for British MPs who voted in favour of the Iraq war. Ahmad was a regular contributor to RevolutionMuslim.com – a US-based jihadist website and was charged on acts of terrorism charges.
His arrest typifies the potential embedded in online data mining for national security purposes.
Many African nations are encumbered with challenges that reduce the amount of national resources available for security. Little wonder the continent is plagued with insurgents and terrorist groups who are recruiting massively in several parts of the continent.
However, post-9/11 countries across the world have stepped up measures to foster security and made it extremely hard for terrorist groups to openly meet. This however has not stopped terrorists from using ICT tools.
The leader of the Boko Haram sect in the northern part of Nigeria frequently post videos on YouTube while several other terrorist organisations have Twitter handles and social media pages that have followers who actively make posts.
With an elaborate system that can help security agencies track these organisations, their loyalists and apologists, African nations can now take preemptive measures in the fight against terrorism.
Like US President Barack Obama rightly said, there cannot be 100 per cent privacy and 100 per cent security, sacrifices need to be made.
Moreover spies spy daily, it’s their job. And as long as necessary steps are taken to secure data gathered and prevent abuse of access, Africans should feel safer knowing that there is a real Big Brother Africa watching over every online event for possible leaks and leads.
The case against: Richard Cutcher
Similar to the immediate fallout from the Wikileaks publications in October 2010, the United States authorities were quick to repeat one line and one line only: security, security, security.
The same pattern of statements has emerged in the past week also, although unlike in 2010 when there could be an argument the publication of military documents and confidential embassy cables threatened security, the idea of US citizens and the wider world simply being enlightened of what their government is up to is hard to argue against.
The fact the US government felt the need to hide their activities with mobile operator Verizon and their harvesting of data from the likes of Facebook also tells its own story.
If it is true that even Facebook and Google were unaware of the government snooping to the extent that has been reporting, it demonstrates the authorities’ own doubts as to how legitimate their activities were.
The question we should be asking of the NSA and other government’s taking part in covert surveillance activity is: why so secretive?
If they truly believe what they were are doing is justified then let citizens know and give them the choice. They might even be surprised by the public’s reaction in endorsing such a move.
Opinion polls in the United States have delivered contrasting reactions. The Rasmussen Poll said just 26 per cent of voters were in favour of the Verizon surveillance, but the Pew Research Center poll which put the entire surveillance programme to voters reported a 46 per cent approval proportion.