AFTER the uplifting mass demonstrations in France and many other European cities in support of free speech and in solidarity with those who died at the hands of those trying to suppress this basic democratic liberty, comes a reckoning.
People wish to know what governments and their security agencies are doing to protect them against similar acts of fanaticism. David Cameron’s response is that a UK government he leads would seek to extend the online monitoring capabilities of the security agencies, There should be no “means of communication” which “we cannot read”, he said.
This seems to be a terrible irony. Following the murders of people who put their lives on the line in the name of press freedom, and who had fearlessly campaigned for the rights of individuals against encroachment by an over-mighty state, the British government wants to encroach on the rights of individuals to speak to each other without being spied upon.
These are powers, dubbed the “snoopers’ charter”, which were contained in the draft Communications Data Bill 2012 but which was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. It would have covered, for the first time, the state’s right to know details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet, in addition to e-mails and phone calls. The safeguard was that spooks would not have been able to see messages’ contents without a warrant from a judge.
It is an erosion of freedom. Is it justified? The brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre were known to the authorities for their jihadist sympathies and links. They were judged to be a sufficient risk as to be on the American list of people not allowed on US airlines.
It may be that France’s intelligence agencies are so overwhelmed by preventing terror plots that the brothers dropped down the investigation priority list. If so, what evidence is there that they left an electronic trail that the security people failed to pick up, or were legally prevented from so doing?
And is there evidence that Britain’s intelligence agencies would be better equipped to prevent plots if they had these powers? Their big worry, they have said, is now of the “lone wolf” terrorist, not unlike the Charlie Hebdo killers, who may not be communicating with anyone else.
Terrorists have succeeded in infringing a great deal of liberties in western countries. People complain about the delays at airports caused by the need to make security checks on all passengers and their bags, but it is self-evidently a price that has to be paid for safe travel.
Limiting all citizens’ rights to communicate privately may have to be a further price paid. But people need to know why, what beneficial results it will have, that it is a proportionate response, that there will be penalties for misuse of these powers and that the guardians will be painstakingly monitored.
Ebola recovery warms the heart
IT IS excellent news that nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who was diagnosed with Ebola fever shortly after arriving back at Glasgow Airport from Sierra Leone on 29 December, has come off the critical list. There is now every hope that, thanks to the treatment she has received at the Royal Free Hospital in London, she has turned a corner and may make a complete recovery from an extremely dangerous disease.
Knowing the risks facing medical workers fighting the disease which has ravaged several countries in West Africa, the nurse from Cambuslang still selflessly volunteered to work at the Save the Children’s Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone.
Despite, presumably, taking every precaution to avoid infection, Ms Cafferkey did contract it. And for several days, her chances of survival from this deadly condition looked grim.
Acts of heroism are not confined to rescuing people from a burning building or while being shot at. As Ms Cafferkey has shown us, they also come from a quiet decision to travel to a faraway place to nurse terribly afflicted people, helping them to fight an enemy which cannot be seen and does not discriminate among its victims.
She, and all the medics who have gone to West Africa, fully deserve being regarded as heroes. Their work on the front line against Ebola helps to make the world a safer place, including for those of us in Scotland even though we are many thousands of miles away.
We know that our readers will join us in wishing that her recovery from the brink of death continues and is completed quickly. We all owe her, and her colleagues, the massive respect their actions deserve.